Looking at Swimming through the DADDY GOGGLES

By Maurice Culley – June 1, 2013
Photo by Yaz Akrout

I’ve coached adult swimmers for over 16 years now. I tend to come across families that include a husband and wife swimming duo, but I have never come across a three generation swimming family! I’m going to tell you about these SWIMMING DADS who are very passionate about their sport and making sure that the next generation doesn’t go without.

I met Yaz Akrout about 18 years ago. I was the head coach of the Bowie High School swim team and he was a young swimmer at Westlake High School. One of my swimmers was a close friend of Yaz’s and so we were introduced; I kept up with Yaz as he became a standout on the Westlake squad and ended up with a great high school swimming career. He started to swim in college at Purdue University but wound up playing soccer instead.

I ran into Yaz about three years ago and he mentioned that he felt really out of shape and had not swam since his youth; he also said he had been playing adult club soccer after college, had a few injuries, and wanted to try something new. I told him that I was still coaching but only adults now, many of whom (with or without a swimming background) balance their lives with low-impact swim training. He laughed and said, “I don’t know; I haven’t put on a swimsuit since those high school/college days!”

Yaz has been swimming ever since that conversation. A few months after he started, he asked, “Hey, do you think my dad can try this out?” He mentioned that his dad Chekib used to swim back in his youth in Tunisia. I replied that we didn’t have an age cap—swimming is a life-long sport, and we have athletes of all ages in our program. Sure enough, I got to meet Chekib and soon after, I had them both swimming a few lanes apart from each other.

A few years later, both have been improving since their start with Masters swim training. Chekib, 54, has really improved his health and trimmed down a bit in the last two years. He has even begun to get competitive with the folks around him, some 20-30 years younger, which is quite fun to see. Yaz has also lost weight, gotten in pretty good shape, and is keeping up with the faster swimmers. One of these fast folks is former pro-swimmer Brendan Hansen, who we in Austin know as a former Longhorn superstar, three-time Olympian, and multi-gold medalist. Like his dad, Yaz can get competitive during swim sets in practices. Sometimes, he becomes frustrated with his training performances though he keeps it all in fun. I enjoy watching how competitive father and son can be and how swimming has really brought back that passion they both had as young athletes.

Yaz, now a new dad at the age of 30, will be celebrating Father’s Day for the first time. Since his son Nicolas’ birth, I’ve seen Yaz face the struggles of a having a newborn for the first time, complete with sleepless nights and busier days. I noticed his attendance go down a bit and saw Yaz getting out of shape for the first few months. Now, nine months later, Yaz is in full swing again, swimming 4-5 days per week and back in good form. He also enjoys spending time with Nicolas during his Saturday swim lessons at the YMCA: “There's a combination of social interaction with other kids which we think is important,” said Yaz. “But the most important I think is how he relates to the person holding him in the pool, and that's me!” Due to work, Yaz doesn’t see his son as much as he’d like during the week, so swimming is a solid 30 minutes of “daddy time.” “Nicolas develops a strong bond with me and you can tell he trusts me, which makes him unafraid of trying things out in the water,” explained the proud papa.

I asked Yaz why he got Nicolas involved in swimming so early (I mean, the kid isn’t one year old!) and he responded that he wants him to be safe in the water at a young age; he’d also like to see whether Nicolas will take a competitive approach like Yaz and Chekib once did: “I'd like for him to give it a try and see if he can swim competitively one day. But of course, the sport he'll play is his choice… I really believe that swimming is the best in terms of what it teaches you about life. It taught me strong discipline and to not quit so easy—and you tend to project those skills later in life.”

Both Yaz and his dad agree that swimming is a strong sport that instills great attributes that stay with you beyond any competitive swimming days. Chekib said, “It's very important to have my grandson Nicolas in swimming very early on, so he can learn how to swim and learn to appreciate the world of swimming with all its beneficial attributes as the best school of life,” and he believes that those early morning practices gave Yaz the discipline he has today. He likes that Yaz still swims as an adult, and he knows that pushing limits as a kid helped make Yaz the husband and father he is today. Chekib sees Yaz continuing to develop that competitive spirit and push himself as an adult and reflected that “all these are great attributes to being successful in life and raising a family”.

I asked Chekib if he thought his grandson was going to be a better swimmer than his son. “Although Nicolas is at a very young age, I see him becoming a very strong swimmer with high level of discipline and good competitive spirit,” Chekib replied. “He may get better than Yaz but that is not the goal. As similar to my case, the sport of swimming will continue to evolve; so there is a good chance he would beat Yaz's best records at a much younger age.” Regardless of the outcome, I know both are very interested to keep Nicolas swimming for years to come.

Yaz and Chekib see what swimming has done for each of them from an early age and what it is doing for them later on in life. Yaz mentioned his dad had health issues a few years ago but, since his return to swimming, has all but gotten rid of those conditions. Yaz also said that when he goes a day or two without his swimming, he feels out of balance and struggles without the exercise: “I stay more alert and awake when I get my swimming in during my early morning practice.” As a father, Yaz has a new morning routine and plans ahead with his wife Cara to make sure he gets back in time to help with father duties. Even so, he may now miss a few minutes of practice here and there but he sure doesn’t go without his swimming.

One day, I’d like to have Nicolas in my swim group. I’d like to see how closely he resembles his grandfather or his dad who are very different but also very similar. I know they both try hard to keep up with their swimming, and both are definitely very successful and competitive individuals. They are also the nicest people you’ll come across—and I know swimming has something to do with that, too. Either way, I’m planning to keep coaching until I’m 60 years old…Nicolas will be about 22 years old then, and that would be the first time for me to coach three generations of swimmers all in the same pool!


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