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HAMMOCK: Lavelle's story a tribute to sport's lessons

Eighteen-month-old Patrick Lavelle swims with his father, as shown in this newspaper clip from July of 1996.

Eighteen-month-old Patrick Lavelle swims with his father, as shown in this newspaper clip from July of 1996.

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Patrick Lavelle

Rarely do I direct readers to photos that run with my weekly columns, but today I will make an exception.

That 18-month-old taking swim lessons in the photograph, a shot from the July 2, 1996, Daily Post newspaper, is Patrick Lavelle. He's now a 2013 graduate of Mill Creek and he's still swimming.

His story parallels many in Gwinnett County over the years --swim lessons lead to summers in the Gwinnett County Swim League and a lifetime love of the sport. The beginning of his story just happened to be captured by Daily Post photographer Bill Roa.

"I don't remember (the photo) happening, but I remember showing it to friends later and saying I was in the newspaper," Lavelle said of the picture, taken at the Best Friend Park pool in Norcross.

Some parents choose to wait later for their children's swim lessons, and some never get around to it. That wasn't the case with the Lavelles.

The lessons taught Patrick about the water from a young age and gave his parents piece of mind, while kick-starting an activity that he kept up for the next 16-plus years.

"I had learned from some friends of mine and their mistakes," said Patrick's mother, Dawn Lavelle, whose daughter Melissa also is a summer-league swimmer. "They would have 6- or 7-year-olds that still had floaties on, wouldn't get in the pool, were terrified of it. I just thought that wasn't going to be my child. My husband had swam all through high school and had been a lifeguard. We're always at the pool and always at the beach, so I didn't want that to be my child.

"That was his second session of lessons (in the photo). I didn't expect him to really do anything with (swimming), but I just didn't want him to be afraid. But after the second set of lessons, he was jumping off the diving board and all of that. That's all I wanted was for him to not to be terrified of the water at 7 or 8. But then he just joined the team and loved it."

After turning 5, Lavelle signed up with the GCSL summer team at Lansmoore in Suwanee, then later joined Hidden Falls, where he currently swims. He tried other sports, like football and basketball, but swimming was the only enduring one.

His summer practices led to high school swimming and though he never joined a year-round team, he excelled enough to win a county title and set a county record with a Mill Creek relay last season.

"It's a great way to stay in shape," Lavelle said of swimming. "It is a lot of fun. It gives you a lot of time to think. It's not like other sports like track or football or something, where you're always talking to somebody at practice. You're pretty much by yourself for two hours (at swim practice). Also the friendships and relationships I've made through the swim team, that's a big part of it."

Lavelle's final GCSL experience begins tonight, when the league's 41st season begins at pools all over Gwinnett County. Dual meets happen every Thursday, and occasional Tuesdays, leading up to the season-ending July 13-14 county championships at Georgia Tech.

Of the more than 6,500 youngsters in the GCSL this summer, many have followed Lavelle's path from swim lessons to swim team. Others joined GCSL teams without knowing how to swim, then were taught by coaches.

Either way, Gwinnett youngsters still are becoming strong swimmers in huge numbers. It's a skill that could pay off greatly in life, and it's one that's nurtured here in the county by numerous swim lesson offerings and swim team programs.

And in some kids, it introduces them to a lifelong sport.

"I feel like I'm always going to be swimming," said Lavelle, who may join a club swim team at his college, North Georgia. "I love the water. From what my mom tells me, I was never afraid of the water. I always wanted to get in."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.