By Melinda Martinez, Alexandria Town Talk
LCATS swimming and sailing coach Rob Stewart didn’t realize how much he meant to so many people. But Saturday’s special event in his honor should leave him without a doubt.
After talking with Coach Stewart about his legacy, Amanda Bryant realized that he didn’t know how special he was to so many people said Lakyn Boone, one of Stewart’s former swimming and sailing students.
So Bryant and Boone, along with Debra Harper and Seth Baggett, decided to host Coach Stewart Regatta to let him know how much he means to them and others.
“Coach has poured his life into the kids in this community for years,” said Bryant, the mother of Ariana Bryant, one of Stewart’s sailing students.
In addition to teaching sailing and being the LCATS (Louisiana College Aquatics Team) swim coach, Stewart has also taught lifeguarding, boaters safety, and water safety instructor courses.
“He has taught my daughter how to sail and she loves sailing,” said Bryant.
Former and current students, parents and friends greeted Stewart as he mingled with those gathered Saturday at Lake Buhlow near the Pineville Municipal Airport where sailboat races were held. He took photos and caught up with those he hasn’t seen in a while.
“Sailing is unique,” said Stewart. “Nothing like it. Nothing compares to sailing.”
Sports prepare children mentally and physically, said Stewart, but sailing requires a lot of skills other sports don’t have.
“It’s a sport that requires a variety of modalities,” he explained. “And we like that. It’s the modality of visual and field and all that. And you have to put it together. You have to anticipate.”
He began offering sailing instruction for children ages 6 to 18 a few years after starting the Louisiana College sailing program in the mid-1990s.
LC had a sailing team back in 1994 but it was discontinued after six years.
But the college still offers credit in physical education for sailing, he said.
Some of his students were at the regatta.
“They have to be. It’s mandatory,” he joked.
“Coach Stewart – he’s a great guy,” said Ariana Bryant, 14. She has been sailing for five years and is one of the head counselors.
“He’s a very fun teacher. He’s really good at teaching and telling us what we’re doing wrong so we can correct it.”
She’s learned a lot including going into the wind to stop the boat.
“So, like even in high wind, if you release your sail and you let go of your rudder, you’ll stop moving, which is very useful to know in case you’re in a situation where you need to stop and help someone else who maybe capsized,” she explained.
What does Ariana like about sailing?
“The best part about sailing is being on the water,” she said. “It’s very relaxing and it’s really fun when you get high amounts of wind and you go zipping across the lake. It’s really fun.”
For Rachel Kendrick, a former swimmer and sailing student who now lives in Dallas, all of her summer memories have to do with the programs that Stewart held whether it was sailing, swimming or lifeguarding.
Kendrick started swimming with the LCATS in 2005. She later became a swim coach with the team.
“All my first jobs were through the training that he gave us,” she said. “So lots of memories.”
She recalls many summers spent as a sailing instructor at Lake Buhlow.
Through the years, Stewart taught students of all ages. His youngest student was 3 1/2 years old.
“I won’t ever do that again,” he said humorously. “She ate my lunch. But she was so fun.”
Stewart comes from a family of yachtsmen and learned how to sail in Palos Verdes, Calif. He was five years old when he got his first sailboat.
“That’s this much,” he said, holding out his hand, counting out his outstretched fingers.
He didn’t appreciate sailing then but it taught him a lot.
“It learned me how to get away from my parents for a few hours,” he joked.
Michael Glorioso is one of Stewart’s adult swim students. Stewart is not only his swim instructor but a friend and has sailed with him in the past. He came out to the regatta that he said was a celebration of Stewart.
Lakyn Boone first met Stewart when she attended LCATS swim tryouts with her brother. Stewart immediately took notice of her and asked her to join the team.
“That started a long and wonderful relationship with coach Stewart and the LCATS swim team,” she said. Boone has known Stewart for about 10 years but only swam for him on the LCATS for four years.
To Boone, Stewart is much more than a swim coach.
“He taught me how to sail and offered a course for all of us to get our boater’s safety licenses,” she said. “Many of us on the team were also able to do classes in lifeguarding and water safety under him.”
Stewart, she said, played such a huge role in increasing the number of lifeguards and water safety instructors in Cenla.
“Because of him I have been able to teach swim lessons for the last six summers and worked as a lifeguard all throughout high school,” said Boone.
By hosting this regatta, Bryant said they wanted to “wrap their arms around him” and show him that his investment in the children he taught over the years was appreciated.
“Coach Stewart truly cares about the kids he works with and builds genuine lifelong relationships with them,” said Boone. “You can always tell he wants you to succeed in all aspects of your life not just swimming or sailing. That is why 10 years later Coach Stewart is still such an important part of not only my life but the lives of many many other former swim team members as well. He’s family.”
For more information about swimming or sailing, visit the LCATS website www.lcatswimming.com