The Andersons are a tight-knit family. They do everything together, especially when it involves a pool.
Gary Anderson and his wife, Paula, coach the SouthLake Christian School swim team. Their oldest daughter, Mattie, is a senior third-year captain on the team and their youngest, Moriah, is a freshman swimmer.
But this is nothing new for the Anderson's. Gary is the program director for the SwimMAC swim school in Huntersville, which feeds into the SwimMAC club team, based at Charlotte Latin. Paula also works with the program, and Mattie is one of the instructors. Moriah will start teaching this winter.
"So all four of us will be here once again, which is very common for us," said Gary. "We pretty much do everything together."
Gary has been with SwimMAC almost three years, has coached the Lake Norman YMCA winter team for nine years and has coached summer leagues (assisted by his wife and daughters) for six years. But his latest coaching position with SouthLake came unexpectedly.
Two years ago, Gary went to the headmaster to talk about having his girls enrolled in the school. The high school dean's daughter had taken lessons at Gary's school and asked if he had any interest in starting a swim club at SouthLake.
"We had our first initial meeting and 40-something people showed up," said Gary. "I went back into his office the next day and said, 'I think we have more than a club.' "
The SouthLake swim team was formed virtually overnight.
"We had no meets; we had no bathing suits; we had no - nothing," said Gary. "There was nothing prepared for us."
In their first year, the team went to state finals. The girls finished tenth and the boys finished 12th out of 28 teams.
"We learned a lot. We worked harder the next season, gained some new swimmers," said Gary. "Last year we went fourth (place) girls and fifth (place) guys. We made a huge leap."
Now, with his two daughters together on the high school team for the first year, Gary wants his team to take the next step.
Mattie, 18, and Moriah, 14, say they enjoy having their father as their coach.
"Everybody says we get special treatment because it's our dad but we don't," said Mattie. Paula and Gary base everything on performance, using race times to decide who races on the main relay team and who races certain races.
They struggled with choosing Mattie as captain before the first year, but decided her performance was enough reason to choose her.
"There are always going to be some people that think I'm going to favor them," said Gary. "But we've tried to keep that balanced and make sure that we don't give them any special treatment."
The sisters also enjoy the friendly competition that comes with being on the same team. It pushes them to get better and improve their times.
"We are competitive because she almost beats me in butterfly," said Mattie.
Moriah didn't agree. "Almost?"
"Well, she's beaten me before in butterfly," admitted Mattie. "But we're on the same relay together so it's a lot of fun."
But Mattie and Moriah might never have gotten into the pool without a little encouragement from their parents.
"I was nine, and they tricked me into joining a swim team," she said. Her parents told her they were going to get her a new bathing suit. Paula asked that Mattie give it one year, and then, if she didn't want to do it anymore, she could quit.
At her first meet, Mattie was asked to swim the individual medley, a difficult event that involves swimming all four strokes (backstroke, freestyle, breast and butterfly) in one event.
"They were experimenting at that time to see if 9-year-olds should swim the IM," she said.
What did they decide?
"They decided that we should, but I didn't agree with it."
Mattie enjoyed the sport and kept swimming the medley for her team.
Moriah started earlier, at 7 years old, but with just as much hesitation.
"My first meet I was sitting on the (starting) block and I was crying and said I was going to throw up," said Moriah. "So mom had to push me off the block, and I swam and I won."
"Her goggles were filling up with tears," said Paula.
Like Mattie, Moriah fell in love with the sport and kept competing on club and summer teams after winning that first race.
"We always have to be pushed into something before we like it," said Mattie.
Unlike their daughters, Gary and Paula didn't swim competitively in high school. Gary only swam competitively on a rec team before going to school at Charlotte Christian, which had no swim team.
Paula grew up in a county in Illinois with one swimming pool.
"On Saturday's we'd get on a bus to ride over to be able to swim in a pool, so that was a big deal," she said.
Gary taught swimming at a summer camp when he was younger but never expected to be doing it later.
Gary was a pastor at King of Kings Family Church in Huntersville before he started coaching swimming.
"I hit a place of burnout in ministry, and we had to find a place that I could spend time with (my daughters) and they could spend time with me and we could spend time as a family outside the church world," said Gary. "Swimming opened up and became a natural place."
The family still regularly attends church and at SouthLake Christian, they have the flexibility to integrate their ministry into the sport, like having devotions before meets.
The girls also bring their other interests into swimming. They both sing and Mattie has sung the national anthem at several meets. They also do ballet stretches that they learned from years of dance classes before swimming. Mattie played volleyball as a freshman at Hopewell and as a sophomore at SouthLake. Moriah was on the dance team at Bradley Middle School.
The two girls have also been teaching lessons and helping their parents coach, which Gary likes because it's something they can do for the rest of their lives.
"I like teaching more than I do anything," said Mattie. "I like working with kids, too, so putting two things I love together is definitely something that I enjoy doing."
For Gary, teaching is what he loves most about the sport, and he's glad that he could pass that on to his daughters.
"That was one of our goals also: to give them a passion for something but also something they can use to help others," he said. "We're doing this because we're going to reach a lot of kids' lives."