For many children, the summer is synonymous with the thwap of diving boards and after-smell of chlorine. And for many Benicia families, summer mornings begin with the ritual of swim practice. As a kid, I remember eyeing steam rising off the water’s edge, taking a moment to stall before the plunge. But after dilly-dallying on the deck in a swimsuit (especially on foggy mornings), the water often felt warm by comparison.

This season, more than 100 families will take part in daily swim practice at the James Lemos Pool and weekend swim meets around the Bay Area for the Benicia Stingray Swim Team. It’s a big commitment for kids and parents, with big rewards. The Stingray’s mission statement is to “provide competitive swimmer development in a fun, safe, and supportive environment through training, competition, and team social events.” Kids benefit from being part of a structured, enthusiastically competitive and friendly team environment.

Kids ages 4-18 can join in the fun, and there are many ways for each to shine—with individual events in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and the Individual Medley (combining all four); as well as team relays. Swimmers can race against each other and race to better their own times in each event. Weekend meets mean trips to the snack shack, play time between races, and cheers from compatriots, coaches and parents.

Growing up, swim team kept my sister and me in shape and immersed in a positive environment. Nowadays, when swimming at the local pool, I still remember tips from Stingray coaches—keep the stroke long, fingers relaxed, and kick, kick, kick!

Because swimming is low-impact on the joints and muscles, it’s a great exercise for wee ones, grandparents and everyone in between. It conditions and tones the whole body, stretching, building and lengthening muscles at the same time (have you noticed the long and muscular stature of Olympic swimmers)? It builds cardiovascular strength without putting stress or strain on the heart. It improves posture and blood pressure too. I find swimming to be a great stress release, because when I get into the rhythm of counting my strokes and breaths, I forget about everything else. Being underwater is like being in another world, with a unique soundscape, buoyancy and the soft feel of bubbles on the skin.

Water fitness has a place for the serious, Olympic-bound athlete and the aqua-phobe alike—walking and running in water is still a great workout, and many find it easier than running on land. Learning to swim and be comfortable in the water builds confidence.

The James Lemos Pool offers shallow water aerobics, lap swim and swim lessons for all ages and abilities. The Stingrays are still accepting registration, and swimmers don’t need to be Benicia residents. For more information on the team, visit