In the Swim With Kristina Dorfman

By Denise Woodin

After volunteering with the Rye Y’s Parent-Child swim class for a decade, Kristina Dorfman has seen all kinds: babies who cry or won’t leave their mothers’ arms; excited toddlers proudly showing off their new bathing suits; the fearful; and the kids who show no fear at all.

A native of Ontario, Canada, Kristina and her husband Rob migrated to London and New York City before landing in Rye in 2006. With two young children —their third would be born two years later — the Dorfmans quickly found their way to the Rye Y. Not long after, Kristina found herself chatting with the Parent-Child instructor after her son’s class. “She mentioned that the Y needed additional swim teachers for that class and they would train them,” Kristina recalled during a recent conversation. “My husband said, ‘You should do it!’ And ten years later…”

Most of Kristina’s experience came from the swim classes she took with her own children: Reece, now 13, Seth, 11, and Lily, 8. However, she was no stranger to water. Though she considered herself more of a runner, she grew up with a pool in the backyard and competed on her high school swim team. She also ran, biked, and swam in “a few” triathlons while in her 20s and 30s.

“Swimming was definitely something I felt comfortable doing,” she said. The teaching part took a little longer to ease into. “For the first five years, I had laminated notes. It’s kind of daunting to be in front of your peers and feel confident even though you know what you’re doing.”

Held in the shallow end of the Y’s Pa Cope Pool, the Parent-Child swim classes engage babies and toddlers ages 6 to 36 months in games, song, and water acclimation. Kristina teaches three classes on Thursdays, two of which are Swim and Gym classes.

“It’s like being a music teacher in the water,” she laughed. “Sorry, I’m not Dawny Dew or Armelle. But they don’t mind.” As she sings, Kristina shows the children how to blow bubbles or kick their legs. “It’s play-based,” she noted. “We want to get them splashing with two hands so they can pull with two hands when they get a little older and realize that’s what’s going to propel them forward in the water. You give them the skills, the building blocks. And when they’re ready, they’ll do it.”

As Kristina has learned to adapt her lessons to the varied needs of the very young, she has also come to understand their parents. Some feel self-conscious when their child cries. Some can’t swim themselves. “That’s the most interesting,” she observed. “When you see a parent who obviously just wants their child to swim because it’s been an inhibitor in their life.”

And then there are the parents who perhaps expect just a little too much from their toddler’s time in the pool.

“You have to manage the expectations and the emotions of both the parents and the kids in the class,” she said. “Some turn into independent swimmers when they’re little, and some don’t. Their biggest milestone is when they’re ready to leave their parent and move on to the next swim class.”

Rye Y Aquatics Director Vickie Tsakmakis says, “ Kristina is a selfless volunteer who has helped change the lives of many. She has taken the typical sing-along parent/child swim class to a new level.”

Kristina’s involvement with the Rye Y extends beyond the water. In 2009, she joined the Y’s Auxiliary Committee and then in 2011, was elected to the Board of Directors, where she served on the Financial Development, Program/Membership, and Executive committees. She enjoyed helping with the Rye Derby and the March Madness benefits, which raised money for the Y Cares financial assistance program. She also coordinated the Y’s private swim lesson program until it was rolled into a staff position. Although she left the board in 2015, she continues to serve on the Program/Membership Committee.

Reflecting on her years as a volunteer swim teacher, Kristina said, “I definitely get more out of it some days than I give. When I knew I had the time, I wanted to use it for something that was meaningful. The parents are so appreciative…and it’s nice to be part of the Aquatics team.”

She added, “And I can’t imagine the community without the Y. You walk in, and there’s a smiling face. You go to the locker room and you overhear conversations between seniors who are going out for lunch or inviting people they’ve just met in a class to a holiday party.”

<The author is Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility at the Rye YMCA.>