Making Waves

Mark Wagner and the other coaches of the Redding Swim Team want their charges to develop into healthy, well-rounded individuals. If those individuals also swim fast, it’s a bonus.

The real testament to the success of the program may have more to do with a film reel than a lap pool: several former swimmers have taken the initiative to produce a fundraiser for their beloved team. They’re bringing the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour to the Cascade Theatre. The festival offers short films of skiing, snowboarding, climbing and other outdoor adventures that will make your palms sweat and heart race. The former swimmers organizing the event have arranged everything from selecting films, garnering sponsors to offset costs and promoting the event to the community.

As Wagner sees it, “(Their effort) speaks volumes for our program but also speaks for what kind of kids these are. All were either (adult) swimmers or swam with me as little kids; they’ve come back and want to have a great event for the community.”

The legacy they’re building upon began when the Redding Swim Team was formed in 1952. The original team practiced in Caldwell Park and has since grown to a year-round, all-ages program using pools at Shasta College, the Redding Aquatic Center and Shasta High School. The team belongs to Sierra Nevada Swimming, and its youth-based programs alone make up the largest sports organization in the North State. The Aqua Ducks, for 4- to 18-year-olds, compete against 53 other club teams. Recreational swimmers have fun and improve their skills in the Summer Ducks program, and adults participate competitively or recreationally in the Masters program.

“Last year, two ladies from our Masters program went to Nationals,” recalls Wagner. “We also have a men’s team that did the Trans Tahoe Relay, where a team of five guys swim 30-minute lengths across Lake Tahoe.”

Aqua Ducks team members come from Weaverville and Mount Shasta as well as Cottonwood, Igo and everywhere in between. Participation often leads to opportunities; Wagner can list graduated swimmers who’ve swum at the University of Washington, Cal Berkeley, University of the Pacific and Arizona State, among others. One Duck is currently being recruited by the University of Santa Barbara. Since swimming recruiters only need a magic number – the swimmer’s best time – it broadens the possibilities for athletes without school teams. “It doesn’t matter if you swim with a school or a club, the underlying time is all (recruiters) care about,” Wagner says.

Funding for the program comes from swimmers’ monthly dues and money raised through local competitions hosted by the Ducks throughout the year. The team also fundraises by hosting a gala dinner and holding lapathons; the efforts help compensate the five coaches and keep dues low, but the team dreams big. “The biggest challenge is always making sure we have enough funds to do everything we can,” Wagner summarizes. “My ‘want list’ is huge.”

The philosophy of the team has always been “people first, swimmers second.” Wagner isn’t the type to focus on times and trophies: “I really only care about if you develop as a person. I enjoy seeing kids blossom into young adults, so when I hear about these guys that go off to college and come home and want to do something for the team, it just keeps getting better.”

Tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour are available at the Cascade Theatre box office; seats are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the show, April 17. All proceeds benefit the Redding Swim Team.

Published in Enjoy Magazine, April 2010