By Demi M. Cruz
MWR Marketing

The American Red Cross recognizes the Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) Aquatics Department as the fifth top aquatics provider in the state of Florida for December 2016.

The Aquatics Department of NAS Jacksonville is one of the many facilities throughout the United States who offer American Red Cross Training and Certification classes. Classes offered here include First Aid/CPR and AED, Lifeguard Classes, Learn to Swim Lessons, Water Safety Instructor Courses and the NAS Jax Ducks Swim Team.

The Top 60 Aquatics Providers list from the American Red Cross ranked Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces in first place, with Discovery Cove, City of St. Petersburg Parks & Recreation and Seaworld of Florida following in rank respectively.  

Having outranked facilities in cities and schools, such as Miami, Florida State University, Orlando and Pensacola State College-to name a few-MWR's Aquatics Department is proud of this accomplishment and leads the way as the only military base in Florida to receive this award.

When asked what this means for the aquatics program at NAS Jacksonville, MWR Aquatics Coordinator Colin Hardy responded, "I think it means that we're building ourselves the right way as a priority provider for the Red Cross. We offer quality programs at an affordable and discounted rate." Hardy has been the MWR Aquatics Coordinator for the past two years and is the co-founder of the NAS Jax Ducks Swim Team.

NAS Jax MWR Fitness Director Jill Sheppard said, "It's so nice to be recognized. Some of the things we do within MWR are stellar, but they can go unnoticed. For Colin to be recognized in the Top 5 for holding these classes was pretty amazing."

American Red Cross Learn to Swim lessons are available for anyone ages six months and older. Courses include Baby & Me, Preschool, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 & 4, Level 5 & 6, Adult Beginner and Adult Advanced. The NAS Jax Ducks Swim Team is available for ages 5 - 18 years old as an advanced option for those who can swim effectively and wish to develop their stroke techniques.

While the swim team is an in-house program, American Red Cross lessons and instructions are used to develop participants.

Chastity WynterCyrillien is a parent who has signed up her daughter, Ashley, in the Learn to Swim classes for the fourth time, consecutively. WynterCyrillien said, "She (Ashley) never knew how to swim, not even to doggy-paddle. She knows how to do all of that now."

Her daughter Ashley is currently enrolled in the Level 1 course. WynterCyrillien went on to brag about Ashley's instructor, Tazaria Cacho, who has worked with MWR's Aquatics Department for the past year.

"She's a great teacher. As soon as Ashley finishes, I will register her for the next period so she can learn more. This is a really great program," she said.

It is a requirement for MWR's Fitness employees to have certification from the Red Cross for CPR/First Aid and Safety. Classes are offered to all MWR employees and all patrons who meet the course requirements. Lifeguard classes are offered monthly at NAS Jax for only $55. These classes can commonly cost anywhere from $200-$300. Water Safety Instructor courses are held as needed for $50, as opposed to $500 in other locations. In addition, Learn to Swim lessons and the NAS Jax Ducks Swim Team practices are held year-round and cost $50 each, in contrast to $100 classes offered in town. 

While not a participant of any of the American Red Cross programs, Carlos Garabis, retiree, enjoys swimming at the Indoor Pool to stay as healthy as possible. 

"The best part about the whole thing is you can come here the whole year because they control the temperature, so you can always swim-in the summer when it's too hot or in the winter when it's too cold. We can come in here and exercise and feel better about life," Garabis said.

Garabis is one of many swimmers who have participated in the NAS Jax Aquatics Department's swim challenges, including Swim to Cuba and Swim Madness. After coming in second place in the most recent challenge, he is already making plans to participate in the upcoming Breaking the Ice swim challenge from Feb. 6-April 2. 

"I really like what I do here," Garabis said. "Especially the convenience of knowing the people here. It's wonderful."