STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — If you live in this borough, you live on an island.
And anyone who lives on an island — no matter how large — must know how to swim.
There are plenty of places to learn. The YMCA and the College of Staten Island offer classes; so do the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and the city’s Parks Department, to name a few.
But there’s another group that is committed not only to getting youngsters — and interested adults — comfortable in the water, but in perfecting their technique, whether they swim breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke or freestyle. The name of the group is Avantis Swimming Academy, and it has operated out of the JCC in Sea View since 2009.
The academy was founded and is run by Albert Finkelshteyn, managing director, and Nikolay Shevchenko, athletic director. This year, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, they are looking for two families whose budgets don’t allow for swimming lessons, because Avantis has two scholarships to offer.
The first is for an eight-week session of swimming lessons, valued at $250. The lessons focus on development and technique, not competition. Beginners practice for 30 minutes; intermediates for 45 minutes, and advanced swimmers for an hour.
The second scholarship will pay for a youngster to attend a week at the academy’s Training Sleep Away Camp in Glen Spey, N.Y. The value of this training is $1,000. The camp extends over two weeks and includes two to three daily swim practices, plus other activities like jogging and water polo.
Avantis has already donated two swimming lessons each to one boy and one girl who attend PS 45 in West Brighton and PS 48 in Concord.
If you’re looking to improve your swim skills but lack the means for lessons and are a resident of Staten Island, you can fill out an application online at www.AvantisSA.com. If you don’t have access to a computer, call 347-380-8777.
In addition to filling out the form, applicants must submit two letters of recommendation — one from a teacher and one from a swim coach, and compose an essay about why you want to improve your swimming skills and why you should be selected.
Winners will be chosen in July.
Shevchenko is also the associate program director for Richmond Aquatics Club, which swims out of the JCC. The aquatics director at the JCC is Claudia McLaughlin. The JCC is at 1466 Manor Rd., Sea View.
Nicolay Shevchenko has been swimming for 25 years. These days, he wears two hats. He is the associate program director of the Richmond Aquatic Club, a competitive team swimming out of the Jewish Community Center (JCC), and the athletic director of Avantis Swim Academy, a non-competitive group that focuses on technique and development.
Shevchenko grew up in Russia where his parents had him in the pool at the age of 3. “Swimming became my life,” he said, even though he had to travel quite aways to find a place to practice. He arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 6, 2006, already a national star in his native land. He swam competitively for the College of Staten Island (CSI), in the NCAA Division III grouping.
Shevchenko said he had a dream to study and practice in one place. “I saw a lot of movies about New York at that time,” he said, and the coach of the CSI swim team was Russian. He thought the fit could be a good one. Indeed, it was. Nicolay went on to be a Division III winner; his main strokes are butterfly and the Individual Medley, a combination of all four of the major strokes, swum in a specific order during one race.
Along the way, he’s had to learn how to speak English, which he’s accomplished. He could be up on the medal stand for that too. He’s been coaching swimmers for the past nine years.
To find out more about the Avantis learn-to-swim program, call 347-380-8777 or visit www.AvantisSA.com. To learn about the Richmond Aquatic Club, call Claudia McLaughlin at the JCC, 718-475-5215 or email at email@example.com.