It's not that Kristy Ford dislikes competitive swimming. She grew up with it on the national level, in fact.
It's just that Ford the Payson Park and Recreation Department's swim team coach for this season doesn't believe that real, hard-boiled competition has any place in a small town where the pool is only available a couple of months out of the year.
"Competitive swimming is year-round and the kids are in the pool 12 months out of every year," Ford said. "I don't think it would be fair to the children of Payson to put them on that kind of scale without giving them the facilities and the wherewithal to successfully compete."
With that coaching philosophy in mind, Ford and the Parks and Rec team will present all swimmers who participate in all swim meets (during the current season, which ends July 27) with a ribbon for every race they enter.
"We want to reward them for making the effort to try the race," she said. "This is a small town, and this is recreational swimming. I think of it as an esteem-building program, because they get better every day, acquire new skills and have fun in a positive atmosphere.
"When it's competitive swimming, it isn't always fun, and very often, it's not positive. It's hyper-competitive."
Ford would know. Starting at the age of 11, she spent the better part of seven years in the pool as part of the Amateur Athletic Union Competitive Swimming Circuit (now called U.S. Swim). That's the national league which places young aqua-boys and girls in the Olympics and Junior Olympics.
The high point of that period in Ford's life, she said, was when one of her coaches "made me swim the 200 butterfly in a regional meet, and no other girls signed up for the race. So I swam against a full field of boys and I medaled."
Years later, when Ford and her husband Troy moved their family from the Valley to Payson in 1991, she jumped back in the water.
"Jason Anderson was coaching the team at that time and needed a little bit of help, and I was happy to volunteer," she said. And ever since, Ford has been sharing her specialty "breaking strokes down and teaching the techniques behind them" with the Rim country's young people.
"I was basically what they called 'the stroke coach,'" she said.
The team's official name, due to what Ford calls "legal issues involving the town's sponsorship," is the rather ungainly "Payson Parks and Recreation Swim Team." More popular and traditional, she said, is the nickname "the Payson Pikes," which started out as moniker for the team's original booster organization, which no longer exists.
Ford has a short answer to those who want to know it Parks and Rec will ever officially adopt the name: "We just don't know."
Although a clunky name doesn't hurt the team, the loss of a head coach does and that's what happened earlier this year, when head coach Dani Hatch decided to resign.
"I was asked to fill in until they found a permanent replacement," Ford said. "Well, apparently no one applied for the job, so they asked me to stay on the job for the rest of the year."
And Christy Ford, whose love of swimming is only surpassed by her love of young people, is happy to do it.
"Swimming is the best exercise any child will ever have," she said, "and learning how to swim strokes correctly teaches all manner of muscular coordination. It takes everything working together legs, head, arms, breathing to get it right. When kids do get it right, they feel so accomplished. And it's a lot of fun.
"The biggest kick I get is seeing a swimmer get a stroke for the first time and I can really see it click as they take off and do it. To me, that's everything. We've had that happen with so many kids, and it's always exciting to see. Always."
Anyone wanting a slice of that excitement should contact The Payson Parks and Rec Department, which is always on the lookout for much-needed volunteers and is already actively recruiting coaches for next season.
Anyone who's interested should call the Parks and Rec office at 474-5242, ext. 7, or Christy Ford at 474-8665.