Laurel Anderson’s love for teaching children was immediately obvious as she began a recent preschool swim class at the Si View Community Center pool in North Bend.
“Ready, set, hop!” she exclaimed, as excited 4- and 5-year-olds jumped in the pool.
Anderson led them through a series of imaginative exercises designed to build their confidence in the water, and cheered ecstatically when they made progress. Anderson’s goal is to provide these children with an activity they can enjoy their whole lives.
“Swimming is so great for your health, and so enjoyable. Even though I’m an adult, I’m frolicking in the water,” said Anderson, who grew up swimming miles around the lakes of Minnesota.
A few moms watching Anderson’s class said parents sometimes fight over who gets to enroll their children in Anderson’s sessions.
“We’ve been coming here for years, and Laurel is by far the most enthusiastic instructor. You’ve got to motivate the kids, and she’s awesome at it,” said Carol Ann Jenkins while her 4-year-old daughter, Amy, swam in Anderson’s class.
Anderson, who started working as a lifeguard at the pool three years ago, said she loves her job because of the friendships she’s made, and also because it combines many of her passions.
Anderson studied fine arts and psychology at the University of North Dakota, and worked as a full-time portraitist, muralist and figurative artist for 10 years in Georgia and Washington. She does some portrait work when she’s not at the pool, where she puts in 20 to 30 hours a week.
“Swimming is an art form,” she said. “There’s such a grace to it, a fluidness that can be taught.”
Anderson has also worked with children with varying degrees of mental disabilities at the North Dakota School for the Blind. With her background in psychology and education, she is often assigned to teach children who are afraid of the water. She said her strategy is to “hide the big pool” and encourage young swimmers to focus on the area just in front of them.
Anderson also makes swimming fun, instructing the little ones to “ribbit” like frogs as they exhale underwater, and pretend to be pirates “walking the gangplank” into the pool.
In addition to teaching tots, Anderson leads aerobics classes for adults, serves as a lifeguard for open swim sessions, and trains staff.
A definite people person with an ever-present smile, Anderson said she loves interacting with everyone who walks into the community center.
“I’ve made some beautiful friendships and met some really inspiring athletes” ranging from Iron Man competitors to Maxine Dovenberg, a woman who has been using the center since it opened in 1938, Anderson said.
Dovenberg “came in and had a hard time walking, but when she got in the pool, she just glided,” Anderson said. “It was one of the neatest moments.”
Anderson would like to see more people with disabilities use the pool, which features a rarely-utilized wheelchair lift.
“We can accommodate people who don’t even know we have” the lift, she said. “And at 86 degrees, it’s almost a therapy pool.”
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