Durham Magazine February/March 2022

Page 64

kids & family

ABOVE PhD Swim School owner Katie Cleary and Liam Heijboer, 5. RIGHT Charlie Scruggs, 6, floats on her back while instructors Daisha Workman and Jamie Fedor assist. BELOW Macon King, 4, takes direction from instructor Alasha Thornton.

safe harbor


penguinembellished yellow border lines the light teal walls of PhD Swim School’s 2,300-squarefoot location, which is housed in a strip mall off of Highway 54. Animal-shaped foam kickboards and baskets of colorful toys line the perimeters of the two 16-by16-foot, above-ground pools. Next to the reception desk are some bleachers, a waiting room and an office. It’s an efficient use of space that is welcoming to its young clientele and very different from owner Katie Cleary’s backyard pool where the business began in 2013. Katie grew up in South Carolina, where she was a competitive swimmer and instructor. “Summer swimming was the one place I 62




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Kids and instructors alike find their happy place at local swim school B Y J EN N IF ER ADLER PHOTOG RAPHY B Y J OHN MICHAEL SIMPSO N

felt safe and happy,” she says. “It opened up everything in my life. It’s my job now. I eat, sleep and dream it.” She moved to Durham for graduate school in 2008 and discovered Survival Swim – a water survival program designed to teach independent swimming and self-rescue skills to infants, toddlers and young children – while she was pursuing her doctorate in neurobiology at UNC. “A lot of my coursework was human behavior related, and I looked at [survival swimming], and I said, ‘This is amazing … I want to do this,’” she says. As a student, she didn’t have the thousands of dollars that it cost to become certified in infant swim rescue, but through her schoolwork and YouTube videos, she put together a program that transitioned