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Water warrior

Battle Lake woman has been teaching, coaching at the pool for more than 50 years.

Inga Nelson moved to the Fergus Falls area in 1960. She brought a passion for water sports and a desire to teach. Fifty two years later, she still has that passion and she is still teaching. In fact, thousands of swimmers in the Fergus Falls area — both new swimmers and highly trained ones —  have been impacted by the instruction of Inga Nelson. When Nelson was a child, she was one of the kids who instantly felt natural in pool or a lake. She also loved to compete, but finding a structured athletic event for girls in the 1950s and 1960s was not an easy task. She competed in diving meets which were connected with the Aquatennial. And when she enrolled in college at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter), she joined the only diving team on campus. “I dove for the boys team,” she smiled. Nelson was one of the first women to earn an athletic letter at Gustavas and she enjoyed competing at the college level. The boys welcomed her on the team and everyone at Gustavas was very supportive. But not everyone was as supportive at other schools. After several meets, representatives from other teams in the conference (MIAC) protested, saying women should not be allowed to compete on a men’s team. And so she was not allowed to remain on the team. Inga moved on. She traveled with the famous Tommy Bartlet water show in 1951 and served as coach of the Gustavus Adolphus synchronized swim team from 1951-1953. When she and her husband, Harlan, moved to the Fergus Falls area, it didn’t take long to get back into coaching. She helped organize and coach the AAU (now called USS) swim program in Fergus Falls, and, as a volunteer, coached the synchronized swim team from 1972 to 1986. She also coached the men’s and women’s diving teams in Fergus Falls for about 25 years, starting in 1978. All during the coaching years and to this day, Nelson continues to offer her talents of swim instruction. At the age of 80, she remains a fixture at the YMCA in Fergus Falls, teaching a few classes each week. And she doesn’t have any plans of leaving the pool anytime soon. “It has been good for me,” she said. “And I honestly have never grown tired of it.” Nelson has worked with the very young, the elderly and everything in between. “It is a little different teaching kids,” said Nelson. “It isn’t hard to teach them the love for the water. Their enthusiasm is wonderful. But you have to also teach them respect for the water.” Nelson said some kids take to the water right away, while others are very fearful. That fear typically melts away before too long. “If it is fun, they learn,” she said. “And I really try to make it fun. That way, they don’t know that they are learning.” Adults, on the other hand, typically need more explanation with their instruction. “Adults usually have to understand it before they try it,” she said. “I tell the new instructors that they can learn a lot more about teaching by teaching adults because you have to have everything exactly down pat when you are instructing.” Some adults have a deep-rooted fear of the water. While these cases are challenging, they can also be very rewarding (see story…Overcoming a fear, and then some). Nelson love for sport and exercise has served her well over the years and helped her stay healthy.  Besides swimming, she also enjoys skiing (cross country and down hill), biking, hiking and golf. Inga and her husband, Harlan (a retired district court judge), live in Battle Lake. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. If you would like to take a swimming or lifeguarding class from Inga at the YMCA, call 218-739-4489 for a current schedule.  “The YMCA has such a valuable gift here,” said Joan Klooster, one of Nelson’s success stories. “I would love to see more people take advantage of what she has to offer.”

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