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From Fort Worth to the Olympics: Swim team takes pride in gold, but maintains focus

Fort Worth Area Swim Team (FAST)

FAST is a select, year-round competitive swim team offering professional coaching and technique instruction for all ages and abilities.

Mission Statement: Our mission is to encourage participation, fitness, health and the lifelong pursuit of excellence through competitive swimming.

Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center

5201 C.A. Roberson Blvd.

Fort Worth 76119

www.teamunify.com.

To find success in the water the Fort Worth Area Swim Team looked to a Forest, as in Coach Ron Forest.

Forest has been the head coach and program director of one of the most successful programs of its kind since 1996. At the time Forest was two years out of Texas Christian University, where he had set seven records in the pool for the Horned Frogs and was a multiple-time Southwest Conference medalist and All-Southwest Conference selection.

Forest, 46, is from New Dundee, a small city in Canada. He was an Olympic Trials qualifier for his native country in five events.

“I literally grew up on a gravel road,” Forest said.

But once he came to Texas in 1992, he stayed. Fort Worth became his home, and he said the adjustment wasn’t as challenging as one might expect.

“Believe it or not, it wasn’t a huge culture shock. Where I grew up was conservative, rural, agricultural,” he said. “When I got down here the accents were different, but the people were not dissimilar to where I grew up.”

Through a friend, Forest became an assistant coach at FAST right out of college in 1994. Two years later, he found himself leading the program and facing the challenge of making it more competitive and stable.

“I said, ‘Let’s get the business side on track and build the program. Let’s make sure we’re around the following year first,’” he said. “Long range wasn’t realistic at the time.”

Forest said a lot of credit for the success and longevity of FAST must go to the swimmers and parent volunteers, along with the assistant coaches over the years.

“I think I’ve just been very fortunate to have the right people share my idea,” he said. “It was hard work, but worth it.”

The progress of FAST was helped when a young lady named Dana Vollmer came on board. She would go on to win numerous Olympic gold medals, starting in 2004 after being coached by Forest.

“Obviously, Athens with Dana was a highlight. If you’re going to be a competitive coach, the ultimate goal is to get someone on the podium at the Olympics,” Forest said.

Vollmer has competed in three Olympics: Athens, Greece, in 2004, London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro last summer, winning seven medals. In 2008, another FAST swimmer, Camilo Becerra, represented Colombia at the Beijing Olympic Games in China.

“Ron was my coach from the age of 12 until I left for college at 17, and those are critical years in developing who we are as people,” Vollmer said. “Ron was amazingly supportive and caring while also helping motivate and push me to reach my dreams.

“The importance of setting goals and analyzing the steps to get there, the focus on improvement every day, and the value of being a teammate and a leader became the strong foundation on which I was able go out and be successful in my swimming career.”

Forest said as great as it is to have such athletes representing the program, he and his coaches focus on making the program beneficial to all participants.

“Kids who make a breakthrough, the daily ones keep you going,” he said. “I had a girl in high school who I had to walk up and down the side of the pool to keep her going when she first started. By the end of the season, she placed third in her district meet.”

Forest received his college degree in psychology. However, he said he doesn’t find himself putting it to use in his profession.

“Trying to out-think them and outsmart them, sometimes that doesn’t work well,” he said, laughing.

Forest rarely swims these days. Instead, he has fallen in love with cycling and finds himself doing that in the rare spare time he has.

And though he has been with FAST for two decades, he never stops thinking of ways to move the program forward. Early in October, organized swim lessons began at the Fort Worth Independent School District’s Wilkerson-Greines Natatorium under the FAST umbrella.

“From a business and swimming competitive point of view, it’s big for us,” he said.

Forest won’t say whether 20 more years with the program are in his future, but he said he has no other plans. He also considers that he and FAST, which was only in its seventh year when he took over, have grown up together.

“I’m in no rush to change anything, and I will be involved in the sport of swimming for my life,” he said. “It’s fun to see where FAST has been and where it’s going.”

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