Dave Modzelewski Coaches US Team At Para Swimming World Championships
Coaches get to see athletes improve and succeed as a result, in part, of their efforts. For Dave Modzelewski there is a level of satisfaction that differs greatly from that found in traditional sports. Modzelewski, a Newtown native, was one of six coaches across the country to represent Team USA in the Allianz Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, England, this summer. Training took place July 24 through July 30 and competition was July 31 through August 6.
A Newtown native who developed his passion for swimming here in town, Modzelewski is a two-year head coach of YMCA of the North Shore Sharks, in Beverly, Mass., and also works with para swimmers, those who have physical, visual, or intellectual impairment, including National Team member, Leanne Smith, who went to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and earned a silver medal. Smith also won ten golds, a silver, and a bronze at the World Championship level.
Modzelewski has completed numerous hours of coaching certification for para swimming to become a Level 3 certified US para swimming coach; there are four levels and he plans on completing the fourth in the coming months.
Modzelewski and Smith, who has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, went to the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for USA National Team Camp and Jimi Flowers Classic Swim Meet before heading to England.
“We spent a week in Colorado Springs, four days for National Team Camp where we got to know the athletes and vice versa, had some training days at altitude, spent time in a classroom setting brainstorming for Manchester and the future of US para swimming. We got to meet the other amazing coaches that were going to be on staff to begin creating friendships and culture, which have carried beyond both camp and World Championships,” Modzelewski said.
In Colorado, participants got to visit the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, where they received guided tours through many interactive vaults of past Olympic/Paralympic events.
Being selected as one of the US team coaches is quite the accomplishment.
“It was easily the highest honor that I have achieved in my professional career so far. In the swimming world, the goal for every swimmer, and coach, is to represent your country. It was very exciting to get the call from Director Erin Popovich to be a part of the coaching staff, and get invited to Colorado Springs for a week to work with the team before we departed for England,” he said.
“While we were in Manchester, you could not only see the excited athletes, coaches, fans, and volunteers, you could feel the excitement of the pending World Championship Meet, which is the biggest competition of the year in non-Olympic/Paralympic years,” he added.
There were over 600 para swimmers from 70 countries, including, notables USA, Italy, Ukraine, China, Spain, Brazil, Australia, England, and Poland,” Modzelewski said. The US totaled 25 medals (6 gold, 7 silver, 12 bronze).
Jessica Long won gold in the 100 butterfly, her 37th world championship, most of any swimmer in history, including able bodied swimmers, Modzelewski noted. Noah Jaffe, a newcomer to Team USA, won five medals, including gold in 100 free. Olivia Chambers, another newcomer, won six medals. Morgan Stickney took home gold and a world record in 400 free.
“The experience in Manchester was very different from here in the US. We were right in the middle of the Manchester City and Manchester United football stadiums, so soccer was king there for sure,” Modzelewski said.
It has been one heck of a summer for Modzelewski and his para swimmer. Modzelewski and Smith were honored on the field, along with Natalie Hinds, who is an Olympic Silver Medalist, at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
Coaching Para Swimmers
“Working with para swimmers has been an experience that has heightened my coaching abilities. It’s not the fact that they can or cannot do something that others may be able to do, but rather, we need to figure out how to best serve them and create new ideas to help them reach their potential and achieve their goals,” Modzelewski said.
So how does a coach work with a para swimmer? “This depends on the impairment specifically — but most para swimmers are fully capable of being in the water by themselves, but may need extra equipment specific to their needs,” the coach said. “A lot of the training consists of how to be the most efficient through the water by creating new and different ideas/techniques that work specifically for them. A few para swimmers also have equipment that is specific to their impairment, such as fins that can attach to the knee for someone missing their lower leg, or even a bathing suit that needs to be specially fitted.”
Some para swimmers have physical impairment that ranges from spinal cord injuries or limb deficiencies to short stature or range of motion. Examples of those with visual impairment are swimmers who are partially blind or completely blind. Swimmers with intellectual impairment may include cognitive, memory, reaction time, or pattern recognition.
At the end of the day, there are many aspects of coaching that overlap between para and traditional swimming.
“Technique and efficiency for traditional coaching is typically the exact same for everyone as everyone has the same, or very similar, abilities, and range of motion. Traditional coaching, for lack of a better word, is much easier because it’s generalized across the entire arena of swimming, whereas para swimming requires more out of the box thinking, although a few of the traditional ideas could also work for some para swimmers,” Modzelewski said.
Modzelewski swam for the Newtown Torpedoes Summer League Team between the ages of 8 and 12 and for Newtown High School all four years before graduating in 2005.
His coaching background is extensive and impressive. Modzelewski spent six years with the Wilton Y Wahoos Swim Team as the head developmental coach; three years with the Cheshire Y Sea Dog Swim Club as a head coach; and three years at Cheshire High, where he coached the girls to multiple state Class L, LL, and Open championships, in 2018 and ‘19.
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