By Chet Dudzinski
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. If that is true, what does it take for a generation of youth to rise up out of poverty? How could some of the most under-served children in the world possibly be introduced to leadership and educational skills? What it takes is passion… and the sport of swimming.
Water surrounds Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. To the east is the Caribbean and to the west is the Pacific Ocean. In the middle are Central America’s largest natural lakes. Despite that, when Timmy Hayes moved to Nicaragua in 2013, he realized very few of the locals knew how to swim. More troubling was the extreme poverty he witnessed.
Two years removed from college, Timmy began working with a nonprofit in Managua, Nicaragua. Assigned to help improve classes at a local public school in the outskirts of Managua, he began to develop meaningful relationships with a small group of students. Timmy often asked himself “Why can’t I do more for the citizens of Nicaragua, and how can I make the difference?” His answer was to invite a few kids over to a backyard pool of a home owned by a mission group to teach them how to swim. Enter the Nica Nadadores. Timmy, Kyle Shoemaker, and Scot Robison all swam collegiately; Timmy and Scot at the University of Virginia and Kyle at Clemson. Each a lifelong swimmer, they personally know the benefits of the student-athlete lessons they learned along the way— hard work, goal setting, dedication, and commitment—provide lifelong skills destined to lead to success. But while this notion is second nature to those in the United States, could it also be true in a country with the many challenges of Nicaragua? They were ready to find out… and now, four years later, are realizing the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
The program began with only a handful of swimmers in a kidney shaped pool, where kids formerly afraid of water began to learn how to blow bubbles while wearing jeans and T-shirts because they had no swim suits. After four years of growth and moving to a pool at a nearby mission that is a “whopping” three lanes and 20 yards long, they are looking to purchase their own property on which to build an aquatics facility. Their vision? Their own eight-lane, 25-meter competition pool, a learning facility, computer lab, recreational area, and dorms for the frequent visitors and interns whom they host.
How does Upper St. Clair tie into this equation? Plenty. Timmy and Scot swam at the University of Virginia, where they met Kyle Dudzinski. Kyle began swimming for Upper St. Clair Swim Club at the age of eight, further developing his athletic talent and love for swimming through high school and college. Upon graduation as a student-athlete from Virginia with a bachelor’s degree and from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree, he began working in the Washington, DC area and volunteered to assist the Nadadores from afar. Through this volunteer position, Kyle learned that the three founding Nadadores board members were looking to expand board membership. Enter the writer of this article, Chet Dudzinski, who now sits on the board of the Nadadores. But that is not all. The Upper St. Clair High School swim team permitted an informational booth to be set up at their annual Black and White scrimmage in the fall of 2017, where approximately $2000 was raised. Additionally, Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics (PEAQ) aligned with USC and held a 2018 summer swim meet where Chet and Kyle Shoemaker provided information about the Nadadores. As a result of this effort, dozens of pieces of swimming equipment, including hard-to-find snorkels, were donated by PEAQ and the Dudzinskis to the Nadadores this past summer.
During a summer 2018 board trip to Nicaragua, Chet toured the area scouring land where the Nadadores could feasibly build its own facility. All of this effort seems to be working, although slower than hoped.
“Most of these children in our program could not swim when we started the program,” said Timmy. “Our home base of Chiquilistagua is in a very poor area of Nicaragua, secluded from any signs of wealth, including swimming pools. The children enjoy little amenities, and recreational swimming (also a survival skill) is not among them. More importantly, the main mission of our program is to secure educational scholarships to private schools for every child who shows a commitment to our swim program. Let’s just say that the only way these children can maximize their potential is through private education. We’re very proud of that,” Timmy continued.
Indeed, the first generation of student-athletes are coming of age. The program now boasts more than 100 swimmers, all who have learned many valuable life lessons that the sport of swimming ingrains. A few of these children dream of traveling to America, perhaps on swimming scholarships. More importantly, the lessons they are learning are, hopefully, translating into expanded life-long opportunities.
The Nica Nadadores’ mission—Using the sport of swimming to empower the next generation of leaders in underserved Nicaraguan communities—is seemingly working. Most of these children never had a reason to say “Yes, I can do that in my life.” They don’t usually get the positive reinforcement prevalent (and sometimes taken for granted) in America. “We are beginning to change that outlook. And we whole-heartedly believe that this transformation will lead them to become future leaders of Nicaragua,” said Timmy.
Funding does not come easy. The Nicaraguan government has problems of its own, although a long-course 50-meter pool owned by the government is made available to the Nadadores twice a week. The national swimming federation does not support the Nadadores. Funding for the program comes from donations mainly raised in the United States.
“We have a strong group of core supporters, mostly our friends and family,” said Timmy. “To take the next step to create our own facility, we certainly will have to expand our current reach.”
So, how many people does it take to support this “village” of an idea and fund the Nadadores program, which is already transforming lives? How do you amplify a program that has its foot gently placed on the gas pedal? It takes people like you and me who can offer our care and support of a program that is making a noticeable and enormous difference for the next generation of citizens of our world.
Want to learn more and find ways to help? Visit the Nica Nadadores site at http://nicanadadores.org or contact Chet Dudzinski locally at 412-953-0672.