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Russian delegation Visits Hall of Fame

For The Miami Herald

Members of the Pine Crest School swim team recently served as international ambassadors for the United States-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission's Swimming Exchange.

The exchange was created by President Obama and President Medvedev, hoping for a fresh start and bond between the countries by partnering in areas of mutual interest, such as swimming.

The U.S. Department of State's SportsUnited Office and the U.S. Olympic Committee hosted the Russian delegation as part of the Swimming Sports Visitor Program.

The visit occurred at the school's Fort Lauderdale campus from July 16-30. The Russian contingent consisted of 12 boys and seven girls, ages 13-16. The team also brought four coaches and one team leader.

Russian swim team head coach Lidia Kapkova said, ``We are open to the world, and the world is open to us, and this program is a confirmation of that.''

The team had daily swim practice from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., similar to its practice schedule in Russia.

Jay Fitzgerald, the USA Swimming national team coach, led the camp. The Russians learned new techniques, participated in SportsUnited core sessions on sport and conflict resolution and visited local community organizations.

The Pine Crest swim team, also under the direction of Fitzgerald, offered professional coaching instructions to children of all ages and skill. The Russian team had a variety of evening activities planned, such as a snorkeling trip, a beach night and a visit to the Swimming Hall of Fame.

Most of the Russians witnessed many things for the first time, such as the ocean and a warm summer. Other than the language barrier, the children from America and Russia shared many things, including their goals and affection toward swimming. The two groups built strong friendships.

Fitzgerald hopes he can send his Pine Crest swimmers to Russia for a similar program.

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