Old Town Hot Springs swim instructor has been teaching Steamboat kids to swim for 50 years | SteamboatToday.com

Old Town Hot Springs swim instructor has been teaching Steamboat kids to swim for 50 years

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Karen Drake can't tell you the exact number of students she has taught to swim, but after 50 years, there is no question she has made a lasting impression at the Old Town Hot Springs.

"It's a lifetime skill that everybody should, hopefully, have the opportunity to acquire," Drake said. "We have classes for everyone, if you are interested, from the young to the elderly."

On Wednesday representatives from the American Red Cross traveled from Grand Junction to present Drake with a certificate of recognition for her 50 years of service at the Old Town Hot Springs.

It's an honor that thrilled Drake but left her speechless. She will tell you she hasn't taught generations of swimmers for a certificate; she has done it because she loves it.

"Karen's longevity in leading both swim lessons as well as the course, which certifies the instructors, means she's played either a direct or indirect role in teaching almost every child who has learned to swim in Steamboat through swim lessons for nearly the past 40 years," said Nick Esares, Old Town Hot Springs marketing director.

Drake learned the importance of swimming at an early age when her parents came to her with an ultimatum, of sorts.

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"Mom and Dad said to my brother  and I, 'If you are going to walk to school, we had to walk to school and we had to cross an irrigation ditch, you need to learn to swim,’" Drake said.

Drake grew up on a small farm in Loup City, Nebraska, which was so small it didn’t have a public swimming pool where she could take lessons.

Judy Peterson, a student at a nearby college who was a certified water safety instructor, taught Drake and her brother to swim using the same location that had inspired her parents to seek out lessons in the first place.

"We learned to swim in the irrigation ditch," Drake said.

It was Drake’s first introduction to the American Red Cross.

"I have worked as part of the American Red Cross for 55 years going on 56,” Drake said. "I think the American Red Cross is probably the foundation for everybody that is interested in learning to swim because it's so universal. You can come from anywhere and step right into the program at a certain level.”

On Wednesday, Bill Fortune, communications specialist with the American Red Cross,  and Eric Myers, executive director for the American Red Cross for Western and Southwestern Colorado, stopped by Old Town Hot Springs to award Drake with a pin for 50 years of service, a plaque and a letter from Gail McGovern, chief executive officer and president of the American Red Cross.

"I would say “rare’ is a pretty good term," Fortune said of recognizing folks who have served the Red Cross for 50 years. "We awarded one a couple years back that was a CPR instructor for 50 years. Water safety is less likely because  there are fewer of them, but we always want to make sure that we take the time to say ‘thank you’ for what those people have done and so that we can get the word out that there are people out there that are still doing this great work."

Drake, who was a longtime physical education instructor in Steamboat, is still teaching many of the core swimming classes at the Old Town Hot Springs and also teaches Red Cross water safety instructor courses, where the next generation of instructors are learning the skills they need to teach swimming.

"Our health and safety programs are a cornerstone of what we provide . . .  just having all that experience and background that Karen brings to the Steamboat Springs  pool is incredibly important,” Esares said. “If you think about how many people she has been able to teach, think about all the good work all of those lifeguards have done over those 50 years, and you start to think about how the thousands of peoples lives she has been able to impact, it's pretty cool."

Drake knows first hand that swimming is a lifelong skill with benefits for students as young as six months to those who are in there 90s. 

She said seeing longtime locals like Katie and Van Fletcher, Marian and George Tolles and Annabeth Lockhart show up at the pool everyday puts a smile on her face.

"I feel like our pool is the fountain of youth because  it reaches out to so many people," Drake said. 

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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