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Monday, April 12, 2021

Making a splash: Swim teacher kicks up business, safety awareness

The Fort Worth Swim School

817-456-0200

www.tfwss.com

Business is going swimmingly for James Fike.

Last March, the 34-year-old Fort Worth entrepreneur launched a new venture, Fike Swim Products, a spinoff of his three-year-old business, The Fort Worth Swim School.

The new business started with a brick and a kickboard.

A lifelong competitive swimmer with a lifelong zeal for the sport, Fike was working out in the water one day when he spied a brick on the pool deck.

“I was looking for a way to make my workouts more interesting because when you swim by yourself you can really lose your mind,” he said. “I got the brick and put it on the kickboard. It was a heckuva workout. I began to wonder if there was a way to get the brick into the kickboard. That was a light bulb. I took that idea and ran with it.”

Fike drew up a prototype of his new flagship training tool, found a manufacturer in China and within a few days The Brick was born. The world’s first-ever weighted kickboard, The Brick forces a swimmer to use his core muscles to stay on top of the water while using it. The swimmer has to work to keep the six-pound board and his body up.

“It’s a whole new way to look at training,” Fike said. “It started as a resistance tool but The Brick does so much more. It improves your body position and makes you work harder, which translates into faster swimming.”

The patented kickboard has been bought by some of the biggest names and swim programs in the country, including six of the top 20 teams in NCAA Division I. Within the first six months, the product has sold out twice. Two months ago, Fike opened a virtual store in Europe, using a warehouse in the United Kingdom to store the products. He’s looking for more European distributors.

“It’s been a huge hit,” said Fike. “We’ve got partnerships in the Czech Republic and in Poland. There’s a South Korean company that is interested in taking on The Brick. We’re also looking at a sponsorship with a swimmer in Australia. I never thought we’d be sponsoring athletes already. The Brick has done so well but I haven’t been able to reap the rewards because the profits have gone right back into buying more Bricks.”

Life pre-Brick

Originally from Maryland, Fike started swimming at the age of 5 for his summer league team. He found his way to the Lone Star State on a swimming scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin.

Fike swam for UT from 2000 to 2003 and was a member of three NCAA Championship teams. He is also a U.S. National Champion and participated in the 2000 U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials. He continues to compete in regional pro-am meets whenever he can.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Fike worked for BP, handling crude oil negotiations.

“That was a blast. But I still had a kick for investment banking,” Fike said.

After two years working as an investment banker with Hovde Financial Fike said he burned out. He left investment banking, and not knowing what to do next, he returned to UT and got his MBA in management and entrepreneurship.

On the very day graduate classes started, Fike started his first business venture with two Longhorn swimming buddies – Olympic medalists Ian Crocker and Neil Walker. The trio founded the Ian Crocker Swim School in Austin and Dallas.

The friends eventually parted ways and Fike landed a job with Dell, managing the merchandising and strategy for Alienware. In 2012, he and his wife, Rebecca, moved to Fort Worth for her job as an enforcement attorney with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. James and Rebecca met at UT, where she was also a scholarship athlete and swam on a team in the NCAA Women’s Division.

James transferred with Dell but was laid off. So he returned to the water and opened The Fort Worth Swim School in April 2013.

“I’m entrepreneurial to the core,” he said. “For my wife to have been as supportive as she has been is phenomenal. When you’re married and you have a family it’s very difficult to decide to just go start a business. It’s not just about you but about the whole family.”

The school offers year-round instruction to people ages 3 and up, and includes classes from life-saving learn-to-swim to stroke refinement and technique conditioning, to Olympic development and low impact workouts for adults. Classes are at the Fairmount District Panther Boys & Girls Club natatorium, a heated indoor pool, and in the summer at Ridglea Swimming Pool.

Fike, who has three children of his own, believes every child should know how to swim.

“A child learning to swim is right up there with any type of education, with math, reading and writing,” he said. “You should know how to swim. You should never grow up afraid of the water or thinking you should stay away from the water.”

Diving into the swim products company was a natural progression, he says.

“Most people give up swimming when they graduate from college,” said Fike. “Swimming is my life. My world revolves around, other than my family, swimming. I still train, I teach others how to swim, I sell swim products and I still compete at meets in my spare time. Everything I do is about swimming. I love it.”

Aside from The Brick, there are seven other swim products in the pipeline, all designed by him. Two of those are market ready.

“The Brick has been a huge hit in large part because I’ve been really successful at giving it its own identity and making it not just another product but something that stands out,” Fike said. “With every product I do from here on out I want the same thing. I don’t want to put out something just because I can and hope that people buy it. I want it to be the next great thing.”

Saving lives

Fike is as passionate about drowning prevention as he is about providing others access to the sport of swimming. He presently serves on the board of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent drowning deaths in the community. The group includes agencies from the city’s fire and parks departments, master swimmers and community leaders.

Drowning ranks fifth among adults and second among children as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Texas leads the nation in pool drowning deaths. Tarrant County ranks in the top three counties for total and per capita pediatric drowning deaths. Sixty percent of children who drown in Fort Worth drown in backyard swimming pools.

The FWDPC provides no-to-low cost swimming and water safety instructions to children and adults. Its tagline reads “2 seconds is 2 long…to turn your back on a child in water.”

“Adult supervision around water is imperative to reduce the incidence of drowning in Tarrant County,” said FWDPC founder Pam Cannell.

Cannell says Fike’s passion for swimming and water safety are vital to the coalition’s team.

“James is one of those extremely valuable board members who loves to push any conversation by taking the devil’s advocate position in an effort to attain the best possible outcome. Combined with a sharp and witty sense of humor and strategic vision, James is an invaluable coalition member,” Cannell said. “James’ skill sets as a savvy business entrepreneur and his passion for drowning prevention, as well as the sport of swimming, combine to provide Fort Worth with a tireless advocate for child safety and well-being around water.”

Fike says water safety is just common sense.

“Our tagline says it all. It only takes a second. You have to be hyper vigilant and make sure your child knows how to swim even if you don’t,” he said. “One of the great things we’ve had is parents who have been so inspired by their children that they have taken lessons. That’s what it’s all about.”

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