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Feature by Swimming World intern Celeste Cirillo-Penn
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, January 15. PETER Barry, the head coach of Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge, N.J., has one aim in mind when coaching – helping his swimmers achieve their goals. He also uses his club as a platform to infuse his swimmers with a sense of community by offering outreach programs for special needs individuals.
"Our team is surrounded by people that understand volunteering and giving back to the sport," Barry said
One Saturday each month, swimmers from the program aged 13 or older work with special needs swimmers for an hour in the gym and then an hour in the pool. This program, called Saturdays in Motion, allows the swimmers to use their talent and love of the sport to help others.
"It's amazing," Barry said. "The families it touches, not just the participants, but the actual swimmers that volunteer."
Barry is no stranger to coaching. He first started coaching swimming at age 15.
"Back in the day, the older swimmers would coach younger swimmers. I started as an age group coach, working with the 12-and-unders," Barry said of his first coaching experience.
Barry went on to be the assistant coach the women's swim team at Columbia University during his time as a swimmer there.
"When Columbia went coed, I coached the women's team," Barry said. "I did that my sophomore, junior and senior years."
Upon graduation, Barry went on to coach age groups, be an assistant coach and finally gained the role of head coach at Somerset Hills. Barry loves the atmosphere at Somerset Hills, and really enjoys his time coaching his athletes there.
"Tom Wilkens [an Olympic bronze medalist from Stanford University] came to speak to our team one year, and one of our swimmers [James Ross] when he was 9 years old heard him speak. From that day on he wanted to go to Stanford," Barry said. "Now he's going there," Barry added with a smile.
This type of outcome is typical of Barry's achievement in helping swimmers strive for their dreams. This year, Barry has swimmers going to Stanford, Pennsylvania and Cornell. Nevertheless, Barry admits that reaching these goals is not always easy.
"[The biggest challenge] is understanding and respecting the individual needs of each swimmer," Barry said of his job as a head coach at the club level.
Barry looks to continue helping his swimmers not only achieve their goals, but also give back to their community.