Everything disappears.

All that remains is the pace of your breath and the feel of your muscles reaching up and out and then slicing in . . . and the water on your skin.

For Olympian Nimrod Shapira, swimming is like music – a place where you get lost, it’s so beautiful.

“You have to concentrate, even with the act of breathing,” he says. “Usually you just inhale and exhale, but here you have to learn how to breathe. You have to learn technique and speed. Swimming is a sport that challenges you not only physically but mentally. “It’s also like an escape, a quiet spot where you can meditate.”

When you’re on a swim team, it’s family.

This summer, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield opens its new Aquaclub, with swim teams and programs for all ages and all levels. Aquaclub was founded and is directed by Nimrod Shapira who competed on behalf of Israel at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and will swim for Israel at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Now residing in Farmington Hills with his wife, Katherine, Shapira says he has “the best job in the world” and loves his fellow swimmers.

“We call it a swim team for a reason,” he says. “It’s like a big family.” Shapira, 26, makes it a point to attend every Aquaclub practice. His goal is safety, developing skills and fun. “I want the kids to feel like they’re having a party with their friends,” he says of the practice.

“It is a pleasure to work with such a knowledgeable and great person,” says the JCC’s Aquatics Center Director Ronda Brodsky. “This is a spectacular opportunity for everyone to improve his or her swimming and have a great time!”

Shapira’s early experiences would never have foretold his future as a swimming champ who established the Israeli 18-and-under national record in the 200 meter freestyle, set new Israeli records in the 200 meter freestyle and 100 meter freestyle, and won gold medals at the Israeli Summer National Championships.

When he was six and living in Jerusalem, Shapira fell into a pool and almost drowned, saved thanks only to the efforts of his father who, fully clothed, jumped into the water to get his son.

The heart of a champion

Shapira avoided, and then eventually made peace with the water. His real love was playing basketball. Then one day the basketball team had a day at the pool and his coach told Shapira: “You swim pretty good for someone who never had lessons.”

Swimming did have its benefits, Shapira quickly realized; unlike basketball, for example, it didn’t mean endless stress on the knees. So he gave it a try, and he soon saw it was exactly what he wanted.

“When I’m in the water,” he says, “everything that happens outside of the pool disappears.”

Shapira lived and trained in Israel, England, Florida and Arizona, swimming with 13 different teams and was very lucky, he says, “because my family always supported me.”

He learned a lesson from his parents that he strives to teach his students: Everything is about little steps, about constantly striving, about “the small details.” “Champs are not simply born, he says. They work hard and understand that the process takes a long time.”

Shapira believes that the skills swimmers learn in the pool extend outside the water as well. Being on a team isn’t just “about being a winner,” he says. “It’s about making kids successful, learning and sharing the passion, and supporting each other.”

Participants in Aquaclub must complete the 2015 USA Swimming registration form; have a physical exam or submit a copy of their high school or middle school sports physical; and fill out a new member waiver form.

Pre-Swim Teams will meet at the JCC on Mondays and Thursdays 5:30-6 p.m.; the Junior Team will meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 6-7 p.m. and Sundays 3-4:30 p.m.

For information and to register, contact Ronda Brodsky at 248.432.5502 or rbrodsky@jccdet.org.

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