Lake Wales Blue Marlins

LAKE WALES — Ana Pizarro arrived in Lake Wales a couple of years ago and, after taking the job coaching the Lake Wales High swim team, realized the program did not have a club swim team to function as a feeder.

Pizarro, who swam in college at the University of Puerto Rico and has coached in Louisiana and Kansas, learned about established club teams in Haines City, Lakeland and Winter Haven.

So, she set out to change that, starting the Lake Wales Blue Marlins a little less than one year ago — and she is working to get the word out.

“Not everybody knows that Lake Wales has a swim team,” Pizarro said. “Other teams are well-known — Lake Wales didn’t have one.”

The Blue Marlins started with just five swimmers and in need of accreditations from organizations such as USA Swimming. Less than a year later, the team is accredited and is up to 22 swimmers. Pizarro has even added an assistant coach, Christopher “Wade” Roberts.

Those swimmers are seeing improvements, too.

The Blue Marlins have only competed in a handful of USA Swimming-sanctioned meets so far, but the most recent one in Lakeland saw all 17 Blue Marlin who competed set new personal-best times.

Angel Valdez, whose son Angel Valdez Jr. plays soccer as his main sport, said he has been encouraged by the way his son, who is 10, has taken to a second sport.

“He’s liked it since he started and he’s grown dramatically,” Valdez said. “Ana pushes him … she’s really good with the kids and she works with them.”

The program has also seen results beyond what can be seen in the pool, too. Jessica Radloff said being on the team has been helpful for her daughter, Zoey, 11, and niece Madelyn Macon, 10.

“It’s helped my Zoey with her self-esteem,” Radloff said. “She’s made a lot of friends and so has Madelyn.”

The team’s activity may have been impacted by precautions from the spread of coronavirus, but in general Pizarro says the Blue Marlins are recruiting new swimmers from the Lake Wales area, with kids ages 6-and-up welcome to join. Swimmers must be able to swim two laps as a starting point.

To learn more or get involved, visit the team’s Facebook page — facebook.com/ymcabluemarlins/ — or call the Lake Wales Family YMCA.

While Pizarro is excited to see her swimmers grow and compete with some of Polk’s more established club teams, she says she is most excited by seeing participation and enthusiasm grow.

“Just seeing our lanes full of kids, it’s a dream come true,” Pizarro said.

Contact Steven Ryzewski at sryzewski@d-r.media.