Written By: Devin Lessard
Like so many other post grad swimmers do, I found myself out of the water and on deck coaching. Swimming was something I was very familiar with and still enjoyed being around. I worked at a swim school right after graduation where I taught safety swim lessons and coached 8 hours a day. I learned the basis for how I still continue to teach swim lessons to children of all abilities and developed the way I coach beginner swimmers in the water.
After coaching a team in Wilmington for two years, my first experience as a coach facing hardship and disappointment was upon me. I was let go without warning in December of 2018 for reasons everyone is still unclear on. I was 27 years old and a full-time post grad student. I went home for the holidays, completely ready to move on from swimming forever. Little did I know, what I thought was the end, was only just the beginning for my coaching career.
A few extremely special and stubborn (in the best way possible) families left the team the day I was let go and convinced me to continue taking their swimmers to meets. We called ourselves the “Unattached Unicorns”. I came to the realization that I wanted my swimmers to know that I believe in them every single day and the belief they had in my vision conquered any fear I had of all the “what ifs” in our future.
Our first meet was far from Wilmington. To see how happy these seven kids were to be together and still successfully race really hit home for me. I realized that it doesn’t matter the size of your team or how beautiful your facility is, it’s how happy your swimmers are that really matters.
By the end of January, our team had 15 swimmers. We faced obstacle after obstacle. You would think that our town would accept us with open arms regarding pool space, but that wasn’t the case. Pool space was almost impossible to find and I was even banned from a pool deck in Wilmington. My swimmers swam multiple times a week without a coach before school early in the morning, sometimes all the way in Myrtle Beach. They were so motivated to achieve their goals and just be together, nothing was going to stop them or me.
At the end of January 2019, we attended our first meet near Wilmington with all the local teams invited (shout out to Paul White of BAC for welcoming us with no hesitation). I was nauseous the entire day. I understood the statement that I was making in our town by stepping on a pool deck, bringing my own team, and facing the team I had just been dismissed from. We didn’t even have a team logo or name at that point. I was just wearing a shirt with state of North Carolina on it and the word swim under it. The parents all surprised me that weekend and showed up with shirts that matched mine and it was just the right “swim family” feeling I needed. That Friday night, I had three girls swim the 500 and they collectively dropped over :45 seconds. By the end of the weekend, we had 3 swimmers who had qualified for age group championships and age group sectionals meets.
Before the end of the 2019 short course season, I was coaching roughly 25 swimmers. We were still driving all over the place for pool space and using a local gym (shoutout to Anita Harrell and FITMO) for dryland. Realizing how hard it was to secure pool space, we began to also recognize the shortage of swim lessons in this community. I’ve always had a huge passion for teaching swim lessons and never stopped giving them since my first job out of college.
With the help of some pretty incredible parents on my team, we were able to call one of Wilmington’s city pools our home and began teaching community swim lessons to the Northside Neighborhood every Saturday. This pool didn’t have lines on the bottom, no Ts on the walls, no blocks, no lane lines, no backstroke flags. Our original lane lines were made out of rope and noodles from the Dollar Tree. But you honestly would have had no idea that our pool was less than perfect. Our swimmers were so excited to have a pool of our own and continue doing what they love to do, swim. This presented an even better opportunity to me as a coach. I was able to teach my swimmers how to teach water safety skills to others.
In November 2019, we had two boys swim the 50 yard free at a meet in Wilmington. These boys didn’t even know how to swim 2 months prior. The coolest part about this was most of the older swimmers on the team were a part of their success in learning how to swim. It was a very emotional night for everyone in our swim family and only motivated us more. Before COVID hit, we had two more swimmers from our community swim lessons swim in a meet and our state championship team grew to eight swimmers that February.
Fast forward to me writing this in November 2020. Our team currently has 70 swimmers with a waiting list. Our state championship team is currently over 10 swimmers and continues to grow.
If you told me 5 years ago I would have started a swim team, I would’ve called you crazy. A huge thank you goes to the families who believed in me from day one, ones who continue to today, the parent leaders of our swim team for keeping things running smoothly every day and last but not least my two amazing assistant coaches who have as much of a passion for this sport as I do.
When obstacles hit (which they do frequently), I continue to ask myself why I’m still doing this. From my days as a swimmer, I learned to persevere and believe in yourself to achieve your goals. I’ve instilled that drive and passion into my swimmers and I’m extremely proud of how far we’ve come. We will never be the largest team, have the prettiest pool and might not have Olympians, but I can guarantee you when you walk on our pool deck you’ll be infected with the positivity, passion and motivation that surrounds our swimmers. Oh, and look out for us come race time. ☺
Prior to being the Head Coach for NSEA Swim, Coach Devin Lessard helped lead the Cape Fear Aquatic Club swimmers from a 16th place finish in Spring 2017 to a 12th place finish in Spring 2018 at the NC SCY Age Group Championships. She was also the primary coach for the best 9-10-year-old boy swimmer in NC, the best 9-10-year-old boy in the ESSZ sectionals, a swimmer with a top 10 time in 50 Fly in USA Swimming and multiple swimmers with top 5 all-time records in the state. Devin’s success has not gone unnoticed. She was recently nominated for North Carolina Age Group Coach of the Year by her peers for her success during the 2017-18 swim season. Devin grew up in Maryland being a multi-sport athlete. She started swimming early and at 13 years old, she qualified for Y-Nationals both individually and as part of top 16 relay team. In high school, Devin was named Female Swimmer of the Year 3 years in a row. In addition to being captain of the schools' field hockey, swim and girls' lacrosse teams, her senior year swimming was always a special love leading her high school team to a state championship title. She went four years without a loss in individual dual-meet competition, and finished with eight state titles -- four individual, and four relay. In 2014, she was inducted into her high school's sports hall of fame. Coach Devin holds a level 2 ASCA certification. She also has degrees in Psychology and Public Relations from Susquehanna University. While there, she was named Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year her freshman year and Female Swimmer of the Year both her junior and senior years. Devin capped off her college career year by placing 5th in the 200 fly at the 2013 NCAA Championships and earning an All-American Swimmer title and is still the only one named in the program’s history. She was inducted into her college’s sports hall of fame in 2019. In addition to her coaching duties at NSEA Swim, Devin is a Physical Therapy Assistant at Raise the Bar Therapy Services. Her long term goal is to be able to provide aquatic therapy to rehabilitate, prevent and maintain the specific needs of individuals of all ages.