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Lifesaving legacy

WaterPonyz founder Suzette Thomas in the pool at the Muchea centre.

The concept of destiny is as old as time, and has been up for debate amongst philosophers for only slightly less than that. Whether you believe in a divine ineffable plan, the law of attraction, or are still on the fence about chance vs choice, there is no doubt that an event years before her birth set Suzette Thomas, founder of WaterPonyz Swim School, on the path she walks today.

Suzette’s older brother Marcus drowned in a horse trough on their grandparent’s property when he was just 20-months old.
“Mum thought Dad was looking after him, Dad thought Mum had him…” explains Suzette. “He just slipped off the railing. That caused a huge roll-on effect through the family.”

Suzette’s parents went on to have three more children – Suzette was the first to be born after Marcus’s death – and together with older sister Sally tried to process the devastation and strengthen the family unit as best they could. However, understandably heavily impacted by the tragedy, Suzette’s father took his own life six years after his son’s death.

“It is only since becoming an adult that I’ve realised the progression of such a tragedy.”

When she had her own children, it was unquestionable that they would learn to swim. Suzette says, “We attended a little place in Forrestdale; a quaint swim school, small classes, really personal. I would make the trip every week, with four kids all at different ages and stages.

“One week my husband took the kids to swimming lessons and when he returned, he said ‘Suze you should do this, we have nothing up here!’”

After an exhaustive 5-year process of completing applications and gaining all the necessary approvals to operate an aquatic facility, the infrastructure for WaterPonyz Muchea was built in just 6 months and officially opened its doors in January 2018.

WaterPonyz has recently experienced rapid growth, opening locations in Floreat, Merriwa, Ocean Reef, Wangara and Wanneroo in the last ten months. Like many ‘overnight successes’ there has been plenty of hard work behind the scenes.

“I thought I knew how to run a business, I had no idea,” says Suzette. “I did twelve months of mentoring with a business coach, which was invaluable – completely flipped my thought pattern.”

Suzette’s background as an elite international polocrosse athlete and her understanding of team management were skills she was able to transfer running a business, and this has been instrumental in WaterPonyz thriving.

“Your staff are your biggest assets,” says Suzette. “They have to be the right people in the right places. It is the same on the polocrosse field – making sure everyone works well, with each other and for each other – but also on their own.”

WaterPonyz now has approximately 70 staff members across the six centres and over 2000 students that swim with them weekly.

And while that is an impressive number, for Suzette it is not enough. She fears parents are not heeding the message about the importance of learning to swim. “I still feel like most days I’m standing and screaming at the edge of a cliff and nobody is listening. Make sure your kids can bloody swim!

“If families haven’t had an incident, they don’t really give it much value. It is more important than football, dancing, or athletics…

“I understand that prioritising swimming isn’t on everyone’s agenda – until something goes wrong. If we were to turn back time and Marcus was still here, I’d probably have a different perception on that too.”

The foundation of WaterPonyz’s lessons lies in teaching kids’ essential skills, such as holding their breath, manoeuvring in the water, and reaching safety, vitally opening up the window of survival.

“If kids don’t know how to hold their breath, they only have about 3 seconds before they’re inhaling water,” explains Suzette. “ If you know how to hold your breath, you’ve got 3 minutes. You can more easily tap into those skills under 12 months – after that it is a re-learnt skill.

“If my brother had been able to hold his breath, was equipped with knowing how to get his feet down into the water, grabbing and kicking back to the edge, he would have been okay.”

Suzette’s unwavering dedication to water safety, forever influenced by the brother she never met and seemingly written in the stars, continues to drive positive change and ultimately save lives. “If it wasn’t for Marcus, I wouldn’t be where I am, or have created what is so important to me.”

You can follow WaterPonyz Swim School on social media @WaterPonyz, or if you would like to enquire about lessons, email askmuchea@waterponyz.com.