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Area youths catch the wave; Phelps inspires young swimmers.

Byline: Jay Gearan

GARDNER - In golf it was known as the "Tiger Boom" in the mid-1990s, when so many people began playing the game, inspired by the extraordinary success of Tiger Woods.

As we approach the fall season, it seems the "Michael Phelps Swimming Boom" has arrived. Proof can be found at the Greenwood Swim Club, based in Gardner.

"Since the end of summer and into our fall programs, we've doubled our number of new swimmers," said Greenwood age-group coach Chris Woolridge. "And it hasn't been advertising from us. All that Olympic exposure on television has led to a lot more kids in the water."

Even before the Olympics began, the Greenwood Swim Club was reaching out to areas beyond Gardner. The Greenwood team has a satellite station at the college pool at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Three nights a week and on Saturdays, young swimmers learn the basics and also get additional dry-land training under the guidance of Mr. Woolridge.

Last week, ready to jump into the WPI pool and practice his freestyle stroke, 11-year-old Andrew Huang of Shrewsbury talked about his newest sports hero, Michael Phelps.

Andrew has been swimming since he was 6, but his interest has rocketed this fall. Pointing to his swim cap with "Phelps" lettered on the side, Andrew said, "My mom ordered it online. He's my favorite. In Beijing he won eight gold medals, and I want to get his autograph someday."

"Having the use of the WPI pool has been great, especially for young swimmers from the Worcester area," Mr. Woolridge said. "Some kids divide their time between Gardner and WPI, while others, especially the newer ones in the development programs, stay at WPI. It's pretty exciting. Since the success of Phelps and the other Olympic swimming stars, a lot of kids really want to be a part of this sport."

He praised the WPI facility. "We come in after the college teams practice. It's a 20-yard, four-lane pool that was built in the 1920s and has been kept in great condition. It's perfect for the younger age groups in learning the basics of swimming. We have kids here ranging in ages from 6 to 15 years old."

"So many people watched the Olympics and saw the excitement created by swimming," Greenwood Swim Club head coach Don Lemieux said. "It advertised our sport in a great way. Just hearing other Olympic athletes, like basketball players, commenting on the success of Phelps and the other swimmers was great because it seemed like everyone was into it."

"For our Greenwood Club, it's great to be able to offer kids a chance to develop in swimming and, like Michael Phelps, start working toward a dream," Mr. Lemieux said. "Not everyone can achieve an Olympic dream, and what Phelps did was incredible, but he inspired so many young people and that's the good thing."

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Greenwood Swim Club coach Chris Woolridge with Andrew Huang of Shrewsbury, one of the many young swimmers inspired by Michael Phelps.

PHOTOG: JAY GEARAN
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 11, 2008
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