Role models: Waterford Stingray coaches set positive example in, out of pool

Published 12:10 am Thursday, July 13, 2023

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CLEMMONS — Kelly and Abby Smith are not related, but they do have a lot in common.

They both live in Waterford and are managers and lifeguards at the Waterford Pool. They both coach the Waterford Stingrays swim team, and they are the previous two valedictorians at West Forsyth High School.

Giving back to their community has been rewarding in numerous ways, and the swimmers discovered that sharing what they know can be as satisfying as competing.

“It was always my dream to coach for Waterford,” Kelly said. “When I was little, the coaches were the coolest people on earth, and that is what I always wanted to do. I was super lucky to get the opportunity to do that when I turned 17.”

Kelly graduated in 2022 and just wrapped up her first year at Virginia Tech. She wants to study material science and engineering. Before college, she ran track and cross country for four years at West Forsyth and was on the swim team for her final three years as a Titan.

Meanwhile, Abby just graduated. She plans to study engineering at N.C. State in the upcoming year.

Kelly began swimming with the local organization when she was five. Abby started when she was nine.

“I enjoy working with the kids,” Abby said. “It is fun to work with the ones who have not been around the pool a lot.”

It might look like an ordinary pool to the untrained eye, but to Abby and Kelly, it’s a classroom.

“Our 7-and 8-year-olds learn all four of the swim strokes,” Abby said. “It’s always awesome to see them figure out how to swim butterfly or breaststroke when it all comes together. It’s definitely a great monument as a coach.”

Abby’s favorite stroke has always been the freestyle.

“It’s one of the easier technique strokes, but I do like teaching the breaststroke and the butterfly,” Abby said.

Kelly added, “I enjoy just getting to share all the things that I love about swimming with them. It’s always really fun when they finally do butterfly legally for the first time, and something clicks or even just when they put their face in the water for the first time.”

Besides coaching, Kelly also leads beginning swimmer instruction.

“It’s filled with those moments of their first time doing something,” Kelly said. “I really enjoy witnessing those firsts. Having done it for a few years, I have gotten to watch the kids grow every summer when they come back. Sometimes, I don’t even recognize them because they have gotten so much bigger.”

Seeing her pupils compete is rewarding, and Abby has not lost her competitive drive.

“I have swam with them this summer,” Abby said. “It’s my last year, but it’s fun to be both a swimmer and a coach and be able to experience both sides of that. My favorite part about coaching has been building the relationships with the swimmers, getting out there and having a fun time all summer.”

Kelly laments that 2023 will probably be her last summer coaching, at least for Waterford.

“Potentially, when I am older, if I come back, or at some point coach a high school swim team, maybe that is something I might do in the future,” Kelly said. “All good things come to an end, but the pool is just a place that I call home, and I think the swim team has influenced my personality and values a lot over the years, so it will be hard to let go.

“It gave me something to be passionate about. This is my fifth summer as a lifeguard. I have worked really hard over the past few years to make it a place that the kids could enjoy, and so that is definitely something I learned to put my all into.”

Abby’s future with the Stingrays is also unclear. She hopes to return next summer but doesn’t know the future. An internship could keep her out of the water next year, but she is not ruling anything out.

She did sign up for swimming and has her physical education class at N.C. State next year.