Jessica Aaron, the eldest of the 12 children of James and Rita Aaron of Pulaski, is what is known in the swim biz as a “water baby.” A “water baby” is the type of toddler you could virtually toss in the pool, and who would naturally do what all babies do inside their mommas, that is, swim effortlessly. That is not quite what happened with Jessica, but she started taking swim lessons at the old Athens City pool at the tender age of 3, and her former coach, Robin Holland, could already tell that Jessica was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the water.
Twenty five years ago, when Jessica first “jumped in,” the city swim team was known as “Neptune’s Crew,” and she started competing with them at the age of 7. For the next 8 years, she was a fierce contender, racking up a total of 11 gold medals for our state, and setting several records. She took 3 triple golds at the ages of 10, 12, and 14. Her best event was breast stroke, followed by back stroke, and then freestyle.
However, her dad, James, (himself a Tennessee Hall of Fame athlete,) said that “she always swam hardest when she was swimming for others.” Put her on a relay team, and she would swim her heart out. That “heart” drove her to then begin coaching at the age of 16, and she has been the head coach of the Athens Gators since 2005. Mind you, in addition to coaching, this woman works nights at the Huntsville Hospital ER as a nurse practitioner, and often goes to work with the kids at the pool before she goes home to get some sleep.
Robin told me, “the name Aaron is now synonymous with the Athens Swim Team,” as several of Jessica’s siblings followed in her footsteps, and one broke her state records. Robin had more to say. “She had ability; that was obvious from the beginning. She also had focus, and worked hard. When I told kids to go swim laps, she always did it. She didn’t “lose track,” of the number of her completed laps, and try and convince me she was finished, or go down to the end of the pool and play around for awhile. I could count on her, and she inspired her team mates.”
I asked Robin, “What sets her apart as a coach?” She replied, “She knows her strokes, and knows how to teach them. Her dad told me that as a coach, Jessica has the ability to “balance the will to win with recreational swimming,” which isn’t easy to do. By that he means that a swim team is made up of all kinds of swimmers; some are highly competitive, some are there more for recreation, and a good coach does not drive too hard, or go too easy. Her mom, Rita, added, “I couldn’t be prouder of her—She’s invested in other peoples’ kids.” She misted up and said, “She’s poured her whole life into the team, and there is lots of planning all year long, not just during swim season.” Robin has gone on from being head coach to having kids of her own who swim for AST, and finished by saying, I have been so proud to watch her go from a swimmer to a leader, and as a parent, I am appreciative of her time and effort.”
So, what about this team that Jessica coaches? They are one of the “winning-est” swim teams in the Alabama Parks and Rec system, and from May 18th through May 22nd, they are going to be conducting their annual Swim Clinic. If you have a child who is interested in becoming a member of the Athens Swim Team, for $35, your child can come and swim for the week under the watchful eye of the coach to ascertain their ability, give them tips, and help them improve. The minimum requirement is being able to swim at least 25 yards without touching bottom. At the end of the week, depending on their age and performance, they are assigned to 4 competitive groups. The Minnows are mostly for swimmers 8 and under, Dolphins are 9 and 10 year olds, Stingrays are generally 11, (and begin doing timed laps), and the Sharks are from 11-12, and go to 18.
There are several advantages to being a member of the Athens Swim Team, the Aarons told me. “It’s local, very family oriented, and several kids of several ages can be at the same sport at the same time.” So, if you have a “water baby,” or just want to see to it that your children are “water proof,” put them under the capable coaching and tutelage of Jessica Aaron, and when you do, be sure to congratulate her on 25 years of making Athens a better place to live. For more information, go to www.athensgators.org, or call the Parks and Recreation Office at 256-233-8740.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner