By Sam Elliott
Technically, some of Heather Streett’s young students have had more birthdays than she has.
Born Feb. 29, 1972, Streett’s actual birthday day only comes around once every four years.
“As I’ve gotten older, it’s fun joking around with the kids to tell them I’m turning 8 or 9 or 10 and they look at me funny like, ‘How do you drive a car?’ or ‘How do you work?’” Street said. “My son will joke, ‘I’m older than you now, mom. I don’t have to listen to you.’”
In addition to some punch lines, the unique birthday has also produced a social media glitch.
“Right now Facebook says I have a birthday every day this year, so I keep getting random birthday notifications even though it’s not my birthday,” she said.
She’s gotten used to celebrating her special day on Feb. 28 for 75 percent of her life, but likes to do something extra special the years in which a Feb. 29 comes around.
This year, she’ll spend 2016’s extra day how she’s spent a lot of days the past 22 years — teaching swimming lessons for the Southeastern Swim School and coaching teams with the Southeastern Swim Club.
“It’s just an extra day for me to get the word out that knowing how to swim is so important,” she said. “I’ll be here in the morning teaching swim lessons and here for a swim meet that night. We’ll do my birthday stuff on the 28th. I’m used to that.”
Streett estimates she’s had a few thousand area children come through her lesson programs with the Southeastern Swim School in her nearly 23 years there, with students beginning as young as age 3 and many going on to participate with her Southeastern Swim Club teams — the Flying Fish and the Stingrays.
“I work with the 10 and unders,” she said. “Those are kids that are either coming out of our lesson program or they have a little bit of competitive experience. We continue working on technique refinement as we move them up to the next level.”
Some of Streett’s former students have grown up and gone on to join her as assistant coaches with the swim teams.
“I really enjoy working with the kids, watching them get over the fear, learning to swim, having fun with it, someday maybe they come back to see me whether it’s on the swim team or working as a teacher — it’s just rewarding to make sure the kids are safe,” she said. “I’m creating a lasting legacy for these kids because if they learn to swim, they’re going to teach their kids how to swim. I think that’s probably the most rewarding part of it for me is knowing I can make them safe.”
Street inherited her love of swimming from her parents, who had both grown up near water and started taking her to “Water Tots” sessions at the Jordan YMCA when she was 6 months old. At the age of 3 she was enrolled in formal swimming lessons and jumping off the diving board and she joined her first swim team at age 6, swimming competitively through her freshman year of college at DePauw University before neck and back injuries resulting from a car accident transitioned her focus to teaching and coaching.
“I switched majors from nursing to physical education and then started coaching. As soon as I graduated, I started here and have been here ever since,” Streett said. “I love kids, love working with them, making sure they’re safe and having fun in the water.”
Heather’s water safety tips for parents
• Always swim with supervision
“If kids don’t know how to swim, they need to be supervised directly in the water by a parent,” Streett said. “Even with floatation devices, they need to be supervised by a parent because those don’t always do what they’re supposed to. I’ve seen kids unzip them and take them off or they can fall off.”
• Use the buddy system
“Swim with a buddy and just make sure somebody’s there and looking out for them,” Streett said.
• Start early – and stick with it
“I recommend starting at the age of 3 and keep going until they can safely go about 25 yards without assistance from anyone,” Streett said. “I’ve had kids who were crying everyday and mom and dad kept bringing them back. Even though it’s upsetting to watch them cry, keep bringing them back because one day eventually they’ll realize, ‘Oh it’s not so scary after all,’ they’ll start having fun and the skills can progress from there.”
Get to know Heather Streett
• Been with Southeastern Swim School and Southeastern Swim Club since 1994
• Head coach of Southeastern Swim Club’s Flying Fish and Stingrays teams
• Assistant director, daytime instructor and director of recruitment for Southeastern Swim School
• Zionsville native, in pool as young as 6 months, began formal lessons at 3, joined swim team at 6
• Fishers resident with husband Kenny, son Keegan and daughter Harper