When Anitra Fulton was just 15 years old, she embarked on her first job: teaching swimming to young children at the YMCA. She held roles there as an instructor and lifeguard and went on to add other out-of-the-pool jobs like teaching fitness classes to her plate as well. The longer she was there, she realized that the more training and certifications she received for teaching fitness classes, the more perks there were, including more pay. She noticed that those things weren’t true for her roles in the pool. It felt odd to her that in the water she was teaching truly life-saving skills but that these things weren’t regarded as highly, it seemed, as everything else.
Anitra made the switch to a higher-end sports club in town, thinking surely things would be different…but they weren’t. On top of this, she was a Pre-Med/Biology major in college who was also training to be a paramedic. What she was often seeing through that lens was the high number of “non-swimming” related drownings that take place, meaning that a family isn’t out by the pool enjoying a summer day or out on the lake for an afternoon when tragedy strikes—it’s often children wandering over to a neighbor’s pool and no one noticing, etc.
In the summer of 1999, Anitra decided to take matters into her own hands and started Swim Fanatics in Greensboro. She wanted to a create a company that truly invested in employees who were doing the life-saving work of teaching children—and adults—how to swim and how to properly take care of themselves both in and around water.
All Swim Fanatics instructors are certified technical coaches through USA Swimming and have been properly trained in developmental learning phases of ages and stages established by the American Academy of Pediatrics as their guide. Instruction is focused on knowledge of proper techniques that are appropriate based on the developmental phases of childhood.
Swim Fanatics employs between 6 and 20 instructors, depending on the time of year, and all instructors—regardless of past experience—must complete the same 8 weeks of USA Swimming training and certification. “We must, must, must invest in swim instructors,” says Anitra. “There’s a lack there.” Through pool time at Hinson Farms in Summerfield, Greensboro College, UNCG and Wake Forest over the years, Swim Fanatics has made a splash, so to speak, in the Piedmont Triad as a leader in swim safety and instruction. Swim Fanatics serves more than 2,000 swimmers a year from the age of 4 months up through adulthood.
A partnership with the City of Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department in 2019, though, struck a particular chord with Anitra and her staff. In exchange for the use of pools around the city, Swim Fanatics would not have to pay rental fees, but instead was asked to provide scholarships for kids in need in the area. “The bottom line there,” Anitra says. “Is that kids in low-income families very often do not have access to swim lessons, and this makes the risk for them around water much, much higher. Being safe in the water is a life skill, and one that everyone deserves to know.”
The result, for Anitra, was the recent formation of the Swim Fanatics Foundation, which will strive to provide more swim instruction to anyone and everyone who needs it, regardless of their personal resources. Swim Fanatics is also on track to open its own facility in Greensboro in 2021. All of this made this year’s NorthState Tech Lab cohort a great fit for Swim Fanatics. “I’ve been fortunate to have a profitable business since I started Swim Fanatics more than 20 years ago,” Anitra says. “But the Foundation being a nonprofit is a completely different project from what I know, and the outside expertise and help in forming ideas that will come from being a part of this Tech Lab will be invaluable in helping shape all of that.”
For more information about Swim Fanatics, visit swimfanatics.com.