South Charlotte

Former swimmer shares pool with her kids

For a few thousand kids and their parents, June in Charlotte means one thing: swim team.

And when Kelly Ingram's three daughters put on their Park Crossing suits and dive off the starting block, this south Charlotte mom will be cheering them on.

Ingram, 40, grew up in Charlotte and graduated from East Mecklenburg High School. She and her husband, Frank, and family live in the Park Crossing neighborhood in south Charlotte.

The life of a swimmer is one Ingram knows best. She started taking swim lessons when she was 3 1/2, and by age 10 she was swimming for SwimMAC Carolina, formerly Mecklenburg Aquatic Club (MAC).

She excelled in backstroke and breaststroke, and her life quickly started to revolve around swimming. She started her day with morning practice, then went to school, only to hop back in the pool for afternoon swim practice before heading home.

Weekends often meant swim meets squeezed between family time, friendships, homework and other obligations. In the summer, she continued swimming for MAC and also suited up for the former Heritage Woods neighborhood.

The grind of staying competitive and the pressure to perform got to be too much, and when high school ended, so did Ingram's swimming career.

"I did have the option to swim in college, but by then I was so wiped out I could not see myself swimming for four more years," she said.

She walked away from the sport with valuable life lessons and lasting friendships.

"It teaches you discipline," she said. "You learn to juggle school, and it keeps you out of trouble."

The birth of her children brought a renewed interest in swimming and competition - luckily, the wisdom of age and experience followed.

Her oldest daughter, Korey Smith, 20, had no interest in sports, said Ingram. Smith is creative, and her lack of desire to participate in sports was fine with Ingram.

But the spark was renewed when Paige, 6, came along.

Paige's interest in swim competition was not immediate and the young girl got a quick lesson in how stressful situations can bring out the best and worst in people.

The first time Paige participated in time trials for the Park Crossing swim team, she was startled and surprised by the loud yelling and intense cheering coming from the parents.

"She got out of the pool and said, 'I'm not swimming anymore. You people are crazy,'" said Ingram.

That was two years ago, and Ingram and her daughter walked away from the sport.

"It's hard for a mom who is a swimmer to walk away from that," Ingram said.

Luckily, Paige made a full recovery and is going into her second year of swim team at Park Crossing, where she excels in backstroke and occasionally swims up an age group.

Ingram said Paige will also try out for SwimMAC Carolina's Junior Swim League this year. Ingram isn't the only parent returning to SwimMAC Carolina with prodigy in hand.

"There are several of us back out at MAC with our kids," she said.

Ingram's twin daughters Abby and Phoebe are almost 5 and will join the Park Crossing swim team for the first time this year. Ingram plans on being supportive but won't go overboard.

"It's hard as a swimmer not to push your kids, because you know where you want them to be," she said. "But not everybody has the same ability. I will not push like I was pushed."

After a 20-year hiatus, Ingram is excited to head back to the pool and back to MAC as a member of its Masters swim team. The program is open to anyone over 18 interested in fitness, triathlon training or competition.

Ingram is looking forward to picking up where she left off.

"I never want swimming to go away from my life," she said. "It is something that sticks with you forever. You always have it in you."