South Charlotte

New club tries different strokes for faster folks

In a small pool in the Stone Creek Ranch neighborhood off Ardrey Kell Road, three swimmers dive into the water early one weekday morning.

If Jeff George has his way, this is the beginning of Charlotte's newest elite swim club.

Ultra Aquatics started in the first week of May and has only five members this summer. Its goal is to be a south Charlotte alternative to bigger local clubs like SwimMAC.

"I want to make sure each swimmer coming in can maximize his or her ability to be the best swimmer he can be," said team coach Jeff George.

George, 51, said he got the idea for the club about four years ago when he watched his daughter, Kylah, at a local swim camp.

"At the swim camp was when it really opened my eyes that what my daughter was being taught here ... wasn't what she really needed," he said.

George has been training athletes most of his life and is the founder of Ultra Sports Performance, a training facility in south Charlotte for high school, college and professional athletes. He also trained in martial arts growing up and coached boxing during his military service with the Army and Navy.

George had never coached swimming before, but after watching his daughter at the camp he started researching the sport, attending several camps a year at places including the University of Georgia and the University of Southern California.

Even though the club started just a couple months ago, George said, the idea has been around for three or four years.

Kylah, 15, who will be a sophomore at Ardrey Kell next year, swam for SwimMAC before coming to Ultra, and she said she already has dropped her time in races.

Sam Benson, whose father, Dave, volunteers with the team, also moved over from SwimMAC. She said she looked at a picture of herself from last year and thought her upper body looked "scrawny."

"I'm so much bigger now, and it really helps my swimming," said Benson, 15, who will also be a sophomore at Ardrey Kell next year.

In addition to three high school swimmers, two college swimmers from UNC Chapel Hill and Queens University are swimming with Ultra this summer.

Kylah and Benson said George's training style is different than other clubs. Swimmers at Ultra use resistance bands, parachutes and kickboards underwater to train, adding difficulty to shorter distances rather than swimming farther. Benson said that when she was at MAC, most practices involved swimming a lot of yards.

"Why do 3,000 (yards) when you could do 1,000 well?" she said.

George said he wants to train his swimmers so they're ready to race.

"If you want to become a faster runner, I've got to train you on speed work," he said. "I can't have you jogging every day and then on race day say, 'Hey buddy, I want you to run fast.'"

Before they start practicing, George puts his swimmers through a health assessment so he knows more about what they can and can't do in the water.

"I have to assess each kid first to see where their strength lies and where the weaknesses lie," he said. If he knows a swimmer has a certain injury or a problem with one of their joints, he can customize the workouts to that individual, he said.

George is able to focus on each swimmer because of the size of the club. He hopes to add more swimmers, but no more than 20 unless he can get an assistant coach who follows his philosophy.

Joining the club costs from $175-$200 a month.

"I like how there aren't that many people here," said Kylah.

"You get a lot more personal instruction geared to you," said Sam. "When it's a smaller team, you know you have someone watching every stroke."

The team has already had success in the two meets it has competed in. In the Sharks Aquatics Club Summer Invitational in June in Shelby, George said, Benson finished first in four of the five events she entered.

Both swimmers said they enjoyed swimming at SwimMAC but that Ultra just fits them better. Benson's sister, Emily, still swims for SwimMAC.

SwimMAC "is a good team, but I'm doing better here," said Kylah.

Kylah said she was worried about being coached by her dad but that it has worked out well.

"I feel a better bond with my dad now," she said.

But that doesn't mean practices are any easier. "If you're not here to work, then you shouldn't come to practice," said Kylah.