- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Donna Boone does not look like the typical small-business owner. The tanned blonde wears a bright blue swimsuit instead of a business suit at least three times a week at her swimming facility in Ashburn.

Ms. Boone, 38, is president and head swim instructor of Potomac Swim School Inc., a private indoor pool facility that opened in December.

On this evening, Ms. Boone is instructing four toddlers during a “water babies” class. She and her staff of 15 instructors teach children ranging from 6 months to 13 years old.

One parent per student is allowed in the water for the class.

“It’s important that parents are in the water for the kids. It’s nice for [the children] to submerge and come up seeing their mom or dad,” Ms. Boone says, coaxing each toddler to jump from their perch on the side of the pool into the water.

She gives each child a hug before handing him or her off to the parent.

The parents, three moms and one dad, take their toddlers and do some treading in the 89-degree water at the shallow end of the pool.

Then Ms. Boone initiates a series of sing-song games such as “Ring Around the Rosie” and “The Wheels on the Bus” while the parents help the toddlers kick and flail their arms.

“What we’re really doing is teaching them developmental swim skills and some survival techniques. But in kids’ terms,” Ms. Boone explains after the class.

For example, one exercise that involves the parents holding the toddlers on their backs and playing “London Bridge Is Falling Down” is used to teach the youngsters how to maintain a back float.

“The idea is teaching children to flip over on their backs if they accidentally fall in the water and keep that position so they can yell for help,” Ms. Boone says.

After about 15 minutes of group exercises, the parents work with their children while Ms. Boone gives individual attention to each child in sequence. All four toddlers push off from their parents in the water and take a few struggling strokes toward Ms. Boone.

“Some of the babies like Katie are at the point now where they will start focusing on getting a front breath,” or swimming with their head above the water, Ms. Boone says.

Katie Winklosky, 22 months old, makes several lunges at Ms. Boone before the instructor heads to another pupil.

Ms. Boone stresses the most important lesson is teaching the children and their parents to be comfortable in the water.

Ashburn resident Nicole Helfen says she brings her 21-month-old daughter Abbey to the lessons to get her ready for the summer pool season.

“I want to make sure Abbey knows what to do in the water,” Mrs. Helfen says.

Ms. Boone keeps the tone light during the lesson. After Karleigh Pollock, 2, does a series of kicks, she and Ms. Boone indulge in blowing bubbles in the water.

The job is not always easy. Brock Lippy, 2, cried when getting in the water for the first four weeks of the session. “He would cry for the first 31 minutes” during the half-hour class, says mother and Ashburn resident, Sandi.

But Mrs. Lippy says she simply stuck with the classes and Brock now jumps into the water without a whimper.

Parents pay about $250 for 12 classes lasting 30 minutes each at the facility. Ms. Boone forecasts the school’s annual revenue will reach $500,000 in its first year.

Ms. Boone grew up swimming in North Carolina and swam competitively while attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

She was a stay-at-home mom and volunteer swim coach for several years before starting her own fee-based lessons.

“After my divorce, I realized I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom and be financially secure. So I decided to merge my passion of swimming with my knowledge of finances,” she explains.

Ms. Boone started lessons in 2001 at the Tysons Sport and Health Club in McLean, where she leased two lanes of the club’s pool.

She had about 100 clients in two years and took a majority of them with her when she opened the center in Ashburn.

“It’s amazing how many parents make a 30-to-40 minute drive to let their children have lessons here,” she says.

Ms. Boone plans to open another facility in the near future. “But I’m in no hurry,” she adds. “I want to take this slow since finding quality staff is the hardest part of my job.”

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