By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- A two-time Olympian is making waves at the Brandon Aquatics Center.
Nim Shapira is in the water daily as the owner/founder of Aqua Club, which oversees operations of the pool located at Brandon High School, and his goal now is to increase the number of swimmers in the community. Perhaps he will even find one of Olympic caliber like himself, but most importantly, Shapira wants to reduce drownings, a tragedy that nearly befell him as a child in Israel, when he sank to the bottom of a pool during a birthday party. He was saved by an adult who witnessed the incident, and his parents soon enrolled their 7-year-old son in swim lessons.
“There are 10 drownings every single day in the United States,” said Shapira, now 28. “The biggest cause of death for children under 5 is drowning. As a two-time Olympian who has traveled all over the world, this is shocking for me. It’s the biggest reason I became a coach. We can lower the statistics and make swimming a fun sport.”
Shapira resisted going to swim lessons, but after he suffered an injury in basketball at age 11, he joined the swim team and found his new passion.
He never returned to basketball and at the age of 13, Shapira and his father moved to England, his mother’s native country, so he could pursue competitive swimming. England was one of three “big dogs” in the sport, which also includes the U.S. and Australia. He trained at the National Centre for Swimming at the University of Bath, alongside British Olympians, who called him “the baby.” It was a very good time for Shapira, who stayed in England for two years before moving to the U.S. at the age of 15 and training at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. He watched the Athens Games in 2004, and knew where he wanted to be four years later.
His goal was to be an Olympic champion and over the next few years, he never stayed complacent, training every day, anywhere from two to 10 hours in the pool, but he notes there is no singular path to becoming an Olympian.
“I took the approach of 20 different ways, but I always had fun,” said Shapira. “If I wasn’t having fun or feeling passionate about it, I changed something. There were years of once a day training and sometimes twice a day. It’s not as intimidating as you think. You can be in the best shape and the strongest person physically, but at the end of the day, it’s all about what is between your ears, your mindset. The best swimmers pay attention to detail, have the right attitude and know how to coach themselves.”
His mental fortitude and training earned him a spot on the Israeli 2008 Olympic swim team and 10 days after making the cut, he traveled with them to the Beijing Summer Games, where he competed in the 200m freestyle, advancing to the semifinals before being eliminated.
Those first games he was relaxed and having fun. In an atmosphere of what he remembers as positive energy, Shapira said he raced amazingly well. He called the Beijing Games “top-notch” with a “cool pool” and felt he was living in a dream. In 2012, he again was named an Olympic swimmer for the Israeli team and headed off to the London Games. He was to have an encore in the 200m freestyle, but his performance didn’t get him as far.. He finished 22nd in preliminary heats, short of making it to the semi-finals.
“There wasn’t the same culture at the 2012 Games as 2008,” said Shapira. “I didn’t do as well— simpler and slower is sometimes faster. Just enjoy the moment.”
That is what he tries to teach the swimmers he now mentors at the Brandon Aquatics Center, as well as the other school pools Aqua Club oversees as facility managers.
“We are not the hardest training team, we don’t want to burn out athletes or kids,” said Shapira, who besides being an Olympic alumni, also achieved success as an NCAA champion at his alma mater, University of Arizona. “We want them to enjoy the sport and have fun. We want them to be the smartest swimmers and have the best team culture.”
Aqua Club, which Shapira founded in 2013, aims to teach the love of swimming to the community and accepts to the pool babies as young as 2-months, as well as seasoned swimmers enjoying their golden years. Classes for all ability levels are available, as well as open swim.
“The only way to make the sport bigger is to make it accessible for people of all ages and skill levels,” said Shapira. “We need to make sure people know there is a pool and it’s a very nice, large pool. We are part of the USA Swimming League and have tournaments. This is a very good community and we want to grow and be successful.”
For more information on Aqua Club, visit www.aquaclub.com. Details on the Brandon Aquatics Center can be found at www.brandonschooldistrict.org.