Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

If you happen to be at the Soledad Pool (or, more correctly the Soledad-Mission Recreation District) at about 6 a.m., you will see Coach Tessa and her student athletes. Mostly I catch sight of them when I am racing in for water aerobics at 7:10 a.m. and they are just leaving.

I had seen a GoFundMe post for the Dolphins Swim Team (a satellite team of the Seaside Aquatics Club) and, with a small donation later, my curiosity had grown. How was a Seaside swim club lost in Soledad and how on earth was this young lady motivating these young people to voluntarily be at the pool like clockwork at 6 a.m.?

I asked Tessa Mauro, the coach who I had helped years ago purchase her home here in Soledad, and she told me her story.

“I grew up in Seaside with a deep love for swimming. My passion for water began early, and in high school, I joined the swim team, where my competitive spirit was nurtured. Coach Ken Fittro, who started as a volunteer coach at Seaside High School and grew the team into the dynasty it once was, became my mentor, teaching me everything from flip turns to side breathing. Under his guidance, I joined the Seaside Aquatic Club between my freshman and sophomore years.”

(My thoughts: OK, so we have established the Seaside connection!)

“Swimming played a crucial role in my life, especially after my father passed away when I was 16. Living with my grandparents during my junior and senior years, I worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor to support myself. This experience continued when I moved south for college, where I worked as a head lifeguard and swim instructor. My first coaching opportunity came when the college pool team needed an assistant coach, and I have been passionate about coaching ever since.”

(Youth team coaches have to be some of the most valuable people on the planet. Look what Tessa’s coach did for her and now what she does for numerous other young lives!)

“In 2001, I returned home and began working with Coach Ken as an age group coach at the Seaside Aquatic Club. I also started coaching at Seaside High School, my alma mater, where I eventually became a teacher. My personal and professional life blossomed there; I got married on the Seaside High football field, earned my teaching credential and master’s degree, and raised my oldest son, Tyler, all while working and coaching with the Dolphins and at Seaside High School. In 2017, I also received the Golden Whistle Award, which was presented during my last day of coaching at Seaside High School in 2017.”

(Oh, my goodness, so well deserved. It should be a real gold whistle!)

“In 2017, my family and I bought a home in Soledad, (I remember!) seeking to establish roots in Monterey County. Although it was challenging to leave Seaside High School and its swim community, I transitioned to Main Street Middle School as a seventh/eighth grade English teacher while coaching the Soledad High Swim team alongside Coach Jess in 2019. His mentorship helped me grow further as a coach.”

(Don’t you love this? It’s like these coaches are branches off the same tree, all mentoring and motivating each other. Such a concept!)

Coach Tessa Mauro (far left) and the Dolphins Swim Team gather before a swim meet. (Contributed)

“Currently, I am the English Learner Specialist at North Salinas High School. Due to the demands of my role and the commute, coaching at Soledad High became untenable. However, I did serve as the head coach for North Salinas High School’s swim team in 2020, although our season was cut short due to the pandemic.”

(Who wasn’t cut short by the 2020-21 pandemic? Aren’t we all so glad to be free again?)

“When my son Tyler started high school and joined the Soledad High swim team two years ago, I reconnected with my passion for coaching. I even announced Soledad High’s first home meet, celebrating our community’s achievements. Before I started with the senior group, we had a very small number of swimmers swimming with our satellite program in the age group (younger swimmers) who were moving up from the pre-team that the Mission Rec pool offers. Recognizing the need for more robust swim programs, I collaborated with Coach Ken to establish a new satellite program in Soledad under the Seaside Aquatic Club.”

(Be a part of the change you wish to see!)

“This senior group has thrived, demonstrating incredible dedication and commitment, with young swimmers showing up at 6 a.m. to train.”

(That’s what got my attention! Can you imagine, being anywhere at 6 a.m. when you are a teenager and you have a choice?)

“Our first swim meet of the season is on June 15, with additional meets scheduled and a league championship in Hollister from July 19-21. Last year, our swimmers helped Seaside Aquatic secure a first-place victory, and I aim to replicate that success this year. As our program grows, we face challenges like securing more pool time and resources. We are currently working on getting team-specific suits to foster unity and pride.”

(I am so impressed by Coach Tessa and others like her who take time away from their own families and lives to enhance and enrich other young people, other people’s children. They may never know just how invaluable their lessons are for these young minds, swimming or not; but I can imagine where some of them would be without such lead-by-example outlooks that you see when the coach steps forward and the others follow.)

“I am excited to see where this season takes us and look forward to continuing to contribute to our vibrant swim community.”

(I shall be watching the Dolphins Swim Team and, hopefully, contributing to their needs when I am able. We all need to be standing firmly behind youth sports and these very special coaches who are shaping the youth of today into the leaders of tomorrow. I am in awe of their patience and commitment to such a worthwhile cause.)

Go Dolphins! Coach Tessa would love some extra help with fundraising for her team to be able to purchase team bathing suits with their logos. These are $100 each and there are 25 swimmers. If you would like to contribute to this wonderful cause, go to GoFundMe under the Soledad Dolphins Summer Swim Team.

In other news, there is so much going on at the Soledad-Mission Recreation District this summer — so much more than just a pool! Check it out at soledadrec.org.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].