All-American swimmer teaches local kids to swim
January 23, 2009
Jackie Lehle teaches swimming to children at the Park City Aquatic Center. You’ll find her in the pool most days from September through May. For her, it’s a labor of love. Since she moved here just three years ago, she’s taught hundreds of Park City youngsters to swim.
"I think it’s essential for kids," she says. "It’s fun and great exercise. Most important, it instills confidence. Too many children grow up afraid of water."
Lehle, who learned to swim at age four, says water is her favorite element. That’s not surprising. She was born in Willamsburg, Va., the second of Joan and Jerry Tutman’s four children. She lived there, on the same street, for her first 17 years. During those long, hot Virginia summers, she spent most of her time at the Williamsburg Community Center, essentially a large swimming pool.
"We didn’t have air conditioning at home and it was the only place to cool off," explains Lehle. She learned to swim at age four and developed into a strong, fast swimmer. It was a talent that would serve her well through the years.
Lehle lists long bike rides with her brothers and sisters through the streets of historic colonial Williamsburg among her most outstanding childhood memories. She also remembers summer camping trips to the Appalachians and visiting favorite Florida beaches in the family motor home.
At Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, she was on the field hockey and tennis teams. But her real talent emerged in the pool. She was a star swimmer throughout high school.
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Lehle was also an outstanding student, completing her high school education as class valedictorian. "My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so the best chance I had to get to college was on a swimming scholarship. I didn’t really like competitive swimming, but it was my best shot."
Though she had no real interest in a military career, her father encouraged her to apply for an appointment to the Air Force Academy. She was accepted and packed her bags for Colorado Springs, Colo. "Most schools expected their swimmers to practice six hours a day," says Lehle. "At the Academy they only required three hours a day. I thought that sounded pretty good."
She excelled at swimming and was named an all-American, but she never warmed to the idea of competition. Two years into her studies she met Rick Lehle, a fellow student. It was a classic example of forbidden love. When the two cadets sneaked off campus on a date, they got into big trouble.
"Rick was a senior, about to graduate from the Academy, but I was just a second-year cadet," Lehle recounts. "We were both confined to quarters and had to report to the duty officer hourly. Reflecting on the discipline and constraints of a military career for the first time and realizing that this did not interest me, I quit."
She didn’t quit Rick, however. She transferred to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, while Rick went off to Texas for pilot training. They carried on a long-distance relationship for a year and were married soon after he got his wings and a commission in the Air Force.
The next dozen years took the couple to air bases in California, Germany, Arizona and Texas. In Germany, Lehle took an associate’s degree in computer science through the University of Maryland. She also gave birth to their two daughters, Danielle and Nicole.
Back in the States, the family eventually settled in Dallas after Rick retired from the Air Force and transitioned to life as a pilot with Delta Airlines. Lehle ran her own computer consulting business there for 10 years.
She also found herself inexorably drawn back to her favorite element. "It was just the whole water thing. I’m so drawn to it," she says. "We bought a house near a lake, got a boat and spent a lot of time in the water." During the winter months she was back in the local pool, where she was soon asked to teach.
Lehle says swimming lessons are so important in Texas and the southern states because there are so many backyard pools. "Parents just can’t wait until kids are four or five to teach them to swim; it’s just too dangerous. The new school of thought is that kids can learn to swim at one or two years old. Kids are just fanatic about water at that age." In Dallas, she says, she taught more than 100 children a month to swim. Do the math over the four years she taught there and the numbers are impressive.
The move to Park City came three years ago when Delta closed its Dallas hub. "We just love it here; there’s a real sense of community and connection. It’s a lot like the town I grew up in." The Virginia native has also discovered many new recreational interests since moving here. She leads a weekly snowshoe trip for women at her church and enjoys skiing, hiking, biking and camping in the area.
She has also developed into an accomplished nature photographer. "I love being out in nature and taking photos of the things I see," says Lehle. Last spring she followed and photographed a family of sandhill cranes at the Swaner Nature Preserve. Some of those photos are now on display at the recently opened Swaner Nature Center near Kimball Junction.
It didn’t take Lehle long after arriving here to find the Park Aquatic Center, adjacent to the Ecker Hill International Middle School, and a new crop of children eager to learn to swim. She’s back in her element again, doing what she loves. And several hundred Park City kids are happier and safer because she’s here.
"The best thing about teaching swimming," she confides, "is watching the joy that children get from being able to be in the water and master it. Being a part of that is so great. Helping them master the water so they can enjoy it for the rest of their lives is really neat. I don’t know what else I can say."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com.
Married, two grown daughters
Favorite activities: swimming, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, skiing and travel.
Favorite foods: "Rick’s lasagna and Rick’s Christmas cookies."
Favorite reading: photography journals like "Outdoor Photographer." "I also love to read the Bible and theological commentaries."