Get To Know: Tara Witt

September 24, 2013

By Deb Carneol, Social Media & Birthday Party Coordinator

As summer ends, and we start a new school year, we have a few new faces that our families will be seeing throughout the JCC, and we want to welcome and introduce them to you.

We are pleased to introduce Tara Witt, the JCC’s new Director of Aquatics Progamming.  I sat down with Tara to learn more about her background, experiences, and excitement in joining the JCC’s Aquatics team!

Deb Carneol: How long have you been working in Aquatics?

Tara Witt: I have been working in aquatics since I was 14, so about 11 years.  I started lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons, much like our aquatic staff here, but at a community center in Arlington Heights, IL, where I grew up.  I taught both group and private lessons, along with lifeguarding. These jobs were always been part time though, until I started to work here.

DC: Seems like it has been a natural progression into the Aquatics field then?

TW: Actually, I didn’t always know I was going to end up back in Aquatics. I knew I loved being in an athletic environment and I knew I loved to help people be healthy, so when I went to school at the University of Iowa, I decided to major in Health Promotion.  That led me to various work opportunities, most of which were in educational environments.  I interned with the US Department of Defense where I developed summer swim lesson programming in Okinawa, Japan, and after I graduated college, I continued working with the Department of Defense as an after school-curriculum coordinator in Schweinfurt, Germany. When I returned to Chicago, I began working for a local nonprofit as a Health Educator for 3rd - 8th grade students all throughout Chicago land.  So for most of my professional career, aquatics had not been the major focus, but it was something I was always good at and it was still my preference for exercise. I swam competitively from the time I was 6 until I was 18, and like I said before, did various part time aquatics jobs throughout my teen years, so when I moved to Milwaukee and saw this job posting, I realized that working in aquatics could be a realistic option.  I am glad I found the job.  It is comforting to be back in a pool setting.

DC: So you were a competitive swimmer for a long time. What was your best event?

TW: The race I did was the 200 IM (Individual Medley, a combination of 50 yard intervals of freestyle, back stroke, breast stroke, and butterfly).  I would have spurts of time where I would be outstanding at a stroke and then would all of a sudden be terrible at it, so to keep me balanced I think my coaches liked to keep me doing all four strokes.  I loved it, and actually I still use my IMs when I exercise because I know I am getting a well-rounded work out and not over-using any one particular muscle group.

DC: Obviously you can swim all four strokes pretty well if you did that competitively, but what is your favorite stroke to teach?

TW: I actually have two answers for this one. For younger kids, I love to teach them the breast stroke, because it is just the world’s cutest thing to see that little head bobbing in and out of the water.  For older kids, I love to teach the butterfly. I enjoy the progression the kids take -- going from the dolphin kick, to adding the arm movements, and eventually turning that into what the kids thought was a very complicated stroke. Butterfly is definitely a challenge and I like to see these kids overcome that challenge.

DC: Great, we now know your favorite stroke to teach, but what is your favorite part about teaching?

TW: I have two answers for this one as well. For preschool age children, I love helping them overcome their fears.  I love when I get that child who is totally afraid of water at the beginning of my time with them, and then by the end of the session, I can hardly keep them out of the water! I grew up with swimming being a huge part of my life, and I love being in the water. So, for me, there is nothing better than helping kids develop that same love. For older kids, it would be seeing them achieve something new or unexpected.  In so many cases, by the time a kid is 10, 11, or 12, they’re already starting to hone in on the sports or activities where they have been told they excel naturally. But swim lessons are about learning something new so there is no expectation that the kids are naturals or experts when they walk through our doors. This gives us a great opportunity to help some of the older kids learn or explore a talent that they maybe didn’t know they had or just took a little longer to notice! When they achieve something new or gain confidence trying different skills and pushing their boundaries - that is what learning is all about and I believe swim lessons is the perfect place for kids to do that.

DC: Okay, now onto a little bit more about you. What is your favorite stroke to swim?

TW: Of course the go-to stroke for any fitness swimmer is freestyle (front crawl), but when I’m not doing that, my personal favorite is back stroke. I feel like backstroke is the most beneficial for the muscles I’m trying to work out. It just feels great!

DC: Growing up, what is one of your favorite “pool/swimming” memories?

TW: You know how certain songs or scents are tied to our memories? Well, when I hear early 2000’s alternative rock, it immediately takes me back to my 12 years swimming on a summer team near my home in Arlington Heights, IL. That just happened to be the kind of music that played over the loud speaker during practice, so needless to say I have some really great memories tied to some very random music. I also look back very fondly on my high school swimming experience – having pasta parties the night before a big meet or literally falling into the pool still half asleep for a 5 am practice. Okay, that second one doesn’t sound so good, but being that motivated and feeling that responsible for being a part of a team are definitely things I miss now that I’m older!

DC: Where are you from? Why did you choose to move to Milwaukee? Do you have any pets?

TW: So I grew up near Arlington Heights, IL, and went to college at the University of Iowa where I got my degree in Health Promotion.  I actually decided to move to Milwaukee because I was already doing some consulting for Northwestern Mutual here in Milwaukee and I just really loved the city.  It was the perfect time to make a change in my life, so I decided Milwaukee was the perfect place. 

I don’t have any pets right now, but I did have a family dog, Reese. She was a Golden Retriever, and just about the best dog ever (although, everyone probably says that about their dog). I am a huge sucker for big, fluffy dogs though. There’s just nothing cuter! And if my apartment would allow me to have one, I would certainly be telling you a different story!

DC: Me too!  So I know this is totally random, but if there could be one album that could be playing while you were swimming, what album would that be?

TW: I have a varied taste in music. You will find me listening to Michael Buble and other Jazz artists while I’m at work (it is really easy to work to), country will be on in the car, and I grew up listening to the Beatles.  But when it comes to my work outs, I need something that will really pump me up. Since I am a child of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I have to say old school Destiny’s Child, Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync would be my albums of choice.

DC: I can totally relate to having a vast taste in music as well, but you need different soundtracks for the different parts of your life.  Anyway, now that you are a part of the JCC family, what are you looking forward to most?

TW: I am looking forward to exploring Jewish culture, being back in the water, and working with the families and children.  

DC: Anything else you want to share?

TW: I guess that I have a different approach to the way I teach my swim lessons.  I do not like to teach lessons with “props” (noodles, kickboards, floaties, etc.)  When a child learns to swim, they need to get used to the water naturally.  9/10  times in an emergency situation they will not have floatation devices, so right off the bat, I want my students to feel confident moving around in the water without too much help from props. Plus, kids tend to be much more confident and learn skills quicker once all of the vests, floaties, noodles, kickboards, and goggles are off.