John MacLeod, left, learning the ropes from mum Jill McLean before taking over her swim school. PHOTO/EMMA BROWN

Swim school staying in the family

EMMA BROWN
emma.brown@age.co.nz

For more than 41 years, Jill McLean has been a household name in Wairarapa when it comes to teaching children to swim.

But after 47 years of coaching, Jill has decided it is time for a change and is training her son John MacLeod to take over her beloved swim school.

As a teenager, Jill represented New Zealand and held five records, before becoming a professional coach at the age of 18 in 1972.

Although living in Taupo, Jill was already sharing her skills in Wairarapa during Christmas holidays while running a two-week coaching programme.

The permanent move to Masterton eventually came in 1988, when she gained the professional coaching rights for the Masterton pool.

In 2004, when CLM took over running the pool, Jill lost her rights to teach learn-to-swim at the complex.

She decided to fight back, and with the support of the community, bought her own house, which included a pool.

She kitted out the back of her house with changing rooms, covered and heated the pool, and started what became the renowned Jill’s Swim School.

“It turns out to be the best move I have ever made,” she said.

She continued as head coach of Aquajet’s swim club at the Trust House Recreation Centre but two years ago was another stressful time when a further 100 of her Aquajet’s swimmers had to find a new venue – the Copthorne Hotel pool.

Just over a year ago Jill started to think about what she wanted to do with her business and how she would like to pass it on.

“When you have had the swim school for 47 years … it becomes very special,” Jill said.

The idea came to go into partnership, and she approached her son, who had been teaching in a Slovakian secondary school for the past 20 years.

After a year and a half of emails, John made the move back to Wairarapa to fully immerse himself in the business.

He said he was worried about getting use to the lifestyle here again but said it has taken no time at all to feel at home.

“Everyone is friendly and welcoming.”

Jill said she was “so stoked” to keep it in the family and “super proud” of what John was doing.

She is hoping to slowly take more of a background position and said people should not worry about any sudden changes happening.

“Even though I may not be on the books, I am still mum – I’m not leaving,” she said.

“Not only does he need to become a good coach, but the best coach, so he can coach other coaches.”

John is concentrating on getting to know the business, the administration – and all the kids’ names.

“I am looking forward to taking over more and more,” he said.

“Mum’s set it up so well, the [ability] levels set up so beautifully, with great progression throughout the year.

“All this experience, I don’t want to go to waste.

“This business is like her baby, her letting go completely … I’d like to see that,” he said.

He is looking to make his own name as “the” swim coach in Wairarapa eventually, and hopes to break his mother’s record of having 600 students on the books at one time.