By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has sponsored our sport for more than 35 years. Today, Phillips 66 focuses on “Passing on what matters to the ones who matter most,” and in that spirit usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
When Peter Vanderkaay qualified for his third Olympic team this past June, his mom, Robin, got a great idea that would not only cheer on her son in London but also raise much-needed funds for a local YMCA swim program.
“My family wanted to make a T-shirt for family and friends to wear in London as well as back in the states, and the drive to support Detroit Swims evolved from there,” said Peter, who won his second individual Olympic bronze medal in the 400 freestyle this summer. “My parents have been involved with Detroit Swims for years and have done a lot to help in various ways. This was a pretty easy one.”
Robin contacted a print shop, Underground Printing, in Ann Arbor, Mich., to make the shirts, but ran into a few interesting snags along the way when it came to wording and symbols that were allowed.
She originally wanted to go add the traditional Olympic rings and London 2012 to the T-shirt, but the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) informed her both were trademarked for use by the USOC. She also found out she couldn’t use “Go Team USA” or “Go for the Gold.”
She eventually settled on “Vanderkaay-USA” for the T-shirt design. The shirts sold for $15 each, and word spread quickly via social media and word of mouth about the effort to raise money for the swim program.
“We had a great time in London, and it was a blast running around in the PVK shirts that look like a stop on the Underground (subway system),” Robin said. “Once we had the shirt design, we sent out emails to friends and family and then they posted on Facebook about the T-shirts for sale. We quickly had hundreds of requests for the T-shirts and decided profits from the shirts could support Detroit Swims.”
All told, more than 800 shirts sold with 1/3 of the sales – close to $3,700 – going to the organization, which uses donations and gifts to fund swim programs for kids in the Detroit area.
Robin said it costs $65 per child to pay for eight lessons. Along with discounted suits and donated goggles from Different Strokes Swim Co. in Detroit, the program ensures that the city’s 120,000 young residents can receive swim lessons before the fifth grade.
The YMCA Detroit Swims program established a goal to raise more than $100,000 annually to cover the costs of instructing 1,500 children each year and make the program a recurring reality. Its goal is to take children from a “fear of water” to early safety skills, to basic swim skills, to accomplished swimmers in a matter of weeks.
With Peter back in the Michigan area and taking some time off from training and competition, Robin said they hope to deliver the money this week to the Detroit YMCA.
Peter said the original intent of the shirts definitely worked while he was competing in London.
“Receiving pictures from so many people – family, friends and everyone else – during the Olympics was so cool and so motivating for me,” said Peter, who has been involved with other charities in the Ann Arbor area since his days as a member of the University of Michigan and Club Wolverine swim teams.
“It’s really great to know that something so easy and simple has benefited a program that is so important to teaching kids about water safety and learning to swim. These are kids who haven’t grown up swimming and wouldn’t otherwise have to the opportunity to learn, so it’s very rewarding for all of us.”
Peter said he also has held small clinics for kids at Detroit Swims and wants to do a few more while he’s in the area. As for his future in competitive swimming, he’s not sure what his plans are just yet.
Right now, he’s all about spending time with family, relaxing and doing as much for his charities and causes as possible.
“I’ve been so focused since 2008 on making it to the 2012 Olympics that now is a great time for me to decompress and evaluate what’s next for me,” Peter said. “I will exercise and stay in shape, but now is the time to step away so I make the right decision about my swimming future moving forward.”