London Olympics
Courtesy of: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
PHOENIX, Arizona, May 8. EXPANDING swimming is one of Arena USA's primary goals as the title sponsor of USA Swimming's Grand Prix Series. To do this, Arena targets young fans at each of the stops in the series, introducing the Shark Tank in Orlando, the Arena Grand PrixView in Mesa, and now the Arena Swim Experience in Charlotte.

"It's an evolution, we're trying new things and looking at every avenue we can think of to elevate the event and improve the fan experience," Arena spokeswoman Jamie Olsen told Swimming World.

The Arena Swim Experience is a free event created in conjunction with the Arena Grand Prix. It is targeted at kids across Charlotte's local community and will run Friday, May 10, through Sunday, May 12, 9 am till 6 pm daily outside the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center. Although she is not swimming in the meet because of injury, Arena Elite athlete Rebecca Soni will be appearing at the Arena Swim Experience to sign autographs for young fans and speak about her Olympic experience.


"[The event] is a pilot in Charlotte. It's a way for us to open up our doors to more potential fans and reach outside of the swim community to invite the general community in," said Olsen. "It's modeled after a fan expo. We want to use it to broaden our reach to families in the community that maybe didn't know about the event that we can then expose to the sport."

Arena saw great success with the Shark Tank in Orlando and Mesa. The Shark Tank is created by sectioning off a seating area near the awards stand, devoting it entirely to young local fans. The top three finishers in each event are given a stuffed shark to autograph and toss into the Shark Tank.

Below, young fans cheer for Breeja Larson from the Shark Tank after her 200 breaststroke win in Mesa:


"We borrowed the idea from international swimming as a way to get kids to interact with their heroes," said Olsen. Arena is taking this idea further by implementing the Arena Swim Experience in Charlotte.

The event includes an Interactive Kids' Zone and Autograph Arena to give young fans the opportunity to interact one on one with the swimmers competing. In between sessions, kids have access to a bounce house, face painting and balloon animal artists. Meanwhile, parents and other community members can participate in events like The Arena Post-Work Workout or the MasterSpas Swim Challenge.

"It's an interactive event. We'll have Master Spas on site, so people will have the opportunity to actually get in the water. USA Swimming will be promoting their swimming-themed Xbox games, and we'll have a kid's area with crafts and a main stage for autographs."

"We want the [Arena Swim Experience] to grow in the coming years to include more vendors and more activities. It's something completely different. We're trying to think outside of the box and think about the fan first."

"We want to not just grow our brand, but to also elevate the profile of swimming in general. Swimming is not just a one in every four years spectacle; it's something that people should have the opportunity to come enjoy and experience generally. We're using the Grand Prix as that vehicle."

The Arena Swim Experience Fan Expo Outside the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte

WHEN: Friday, May 10 -- Sunday, May 12, 9 a.m. -- 6 p.m. daily

WHERE: Mecklenburg Aquatic Center

COST: Free

WHY: Some of the world's top swimmers will be in Charlotte for this highly-competitive meet, the Swim Experience celebrates the sport and those who enjoy it

Interactive Kids' Zone: Daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Bring your little ones to enjoy our bounce house, face painter, balloon animal artist and interactive activities. Kids can decorate their own swim caps, play USA Swimming's swim themed Xbox games AND get autographs from their favorite swimmers -- all while enjoying some music in our outdoor tent.

Autograph Arena: Saturday and Sunday only, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Kids and adults alike are invited to the Autograph Arena directly following each session, as athletes depart the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center. The special waiting area provides access to high fives, autographs and glimpses of favorite athletes. Please note, athletes do not leave on a set schedule and autographs by specific athletes are not guaranteed.

Scheduled Autographs:
Arena has scheduled the following athletes for formal autograph sessions in the Swim Experience Tent:
12:30 p.m., Saturday -- Rebecca Soni autographs and photo opportunity
4:30 p.m., Saturday -- Rebecca Soni autographs and photo opportunity * IN ARENA STORE
Other athletes may be added to this schedule. Please check the sandwich boards in the Swim Experience daily for a full schedule

The Arena Post-Work Workout: Friday, 4:30-6pm
Local expert Jeremy Boone will lead a 45 minute dry-land exercise program, targeted at Charlotte's business community. Join us after work on Friday for a strength-training workout, followed by a social in our Beer Garden. All participants will receive a free beverage, and are invited to watch the meet on televisions in the Beer Garden.

Mom's Morning Out: Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Local moms are invited to attend special parent-themed programming on Saturday morning. We'll kick off with a special talk and Q&A on "How to be a great sports parent" with Lesley Berens, mom to Charlotte's own Olympic gold medalist Ricky Berens. At 10:30, learn about water safety, and how to keep your kids safe this summer with a special session hosted by Brian Coffey. At 11, Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder Rebecca Soni will join participants in a special pilates session- just for women. At 11:30, local nutritionist Jennifer Brunelli will teach moms about healthy eating, and provide suggestions on how to keep your family on the right track. We'll wrap up with a special photo op and meet and greet with Soni.

MasterSpas Swim Challenge: Daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Bring your suit and see how fast you can swim in one of two MasterSpas onsite. MasterSpas is proud to present the Michael Phelps Swim Challenge- a nationwide contest that allows you the chance to experience how an Olympian warms up. Participants will swim at Phelps' warmup pace, and see where they rank among a national field of competitors. MasterSpas will also provide underwater video, so participants can view and analyze their stroke!

Stroke Analysis for Swimmers: 11:00 a.m. Sunday
Come watch Team USA's Sports Performance Consultant Russell Mark as he conducts a full analysis of Soni's stroke. Mark will explain stroke mechanics and offer tips on improving your efficiency. This unique opportunity is geared for experienced competitive swimmers.

Rebecca Soni's Olympic Experience: 2:00 p.m. Sunday
Hear first-hand what it's like to stand atop the Olympic podium direct from 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Rebecca Soni. Soni will share her experience at two Olympic Games (2008 and 2012) where she broke multiple world records. Fans are invited to meet Soni after, and view her Olympic hardware.