"It doesn't get any better than that," Barry Schumer, assistant executive director at the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center, said of new Aquatics Coordinator Casey Bogarad. "We're thrilled that a homegrown athlete-participant has now evolved to the point of being a full-time professional."
A native Charlottean, Bogarad, 22, started taking swim lessons at the Levine JCC when she was 4 years old.
From age 5 to 18, Bogarad was on the Levine JCC JAWS swim team and also coached for two years while she was swimming competitively on the team. She camped at Camp Mindy, worked at Camp Mindy and has been a lifeguard at the Levine JCC almost every year since she was 15.
Bogarad grew up at the Levine JCC.
After graduating in August with a bachelor of science degree in sport management from Western Carolina University, Bogarad came back to south Charlotte to see what opportunities were available. She was offered the full-time aquatics coordinator position.
"We are very excited to have her because of a lot of reasons: her history here, knowing members and knowing the kids, ability to interact with kids and their parents," said Aquatics Director Peter Perers. "Her enthusiasm is off the charts."
"I absolutely love swimming," said Bogarad. "It's my main passion."
Bogarad said she prefers sprinting over distance swimming. She said she likes freestyle and backstroke but quickly adds, "I enjoy all four (strokes)."
As aquatics coordinator, Bogarad's main responsibilities include being head coach of the Levine JCC JAWS swim team, being the swim instructor for the JAWS swim school, assisting the aquatics director and assistant director with responsibilities, and performing pool maintenance.
Bogarad said she takes her coaching inspiration from her former JAWS head coach, Ali Nikrooz, 37. Bogarad met Nikrooz when she was 7 years old, and his philosophy of a strict work ethic stuck with her.
"In swimming, I pushed the kids hard to get better and was strict in what I demanded from them," said Nikrooz. "However, I made sure that the kids enjoyed their time with me and the team."
Bogarad learned well and worked hard, said Nikrooz.
"She was very fast for her age group ... and was often moved to higher age groups to fill in for missing swimmers," he said. Once, as an 8-year-old, Bogarad swam the last leg of a winning relay for the 13-14 age group.
Nikrooz was such an influence on Bogarad, she said, that "I wouldn't be who I am if it wasn't for him."
"I want to provide the kids what Ali gave me," she said: A strong foundation in all strokes and a sense of respect and accountability.
Respect is a cornerstone of Bogarad's philosophy. "Talk in a respectful manner," she tells the children. Come to practice on time and join the team poolside. Don't get in the water before it's your assigned time to practice. Learn each other's names.
"No 'Hey, you!'" said Bogarad.
Feedback from both parents and participating children has been positive.
"We're already getting comments - she's been here a month - on the quality of the coaching of the swim team," said Schumer.
"Casey has brought a new level of energy to the team, with her hands-on instruction and her obvious commitment to each and every child that is participating," said Staci Mond. Mond has two children - Lauren, 9, and David, 7 - who have been swimming with the Levine JCC JAWS for more than four years.
Swimming is a craft, and it is Bogarad's goal, she says, to see the children learn it well. She and Perers said they hope that, with the addition of the Pool Bubble - an inflatable dome over the outdoor pool, which allows for twice as much year-round swimming - the swim team will continue to grow in quality and numbers.
The goal is to turn the swim team from a seasonal program to a year-round one under Bogarad's guidance. With Bogarad's commitment to swimming and the additional training space, it is sure to happen.