He took some youngsters from just paddling in the pool to standing on the starters block at national championships, and that will be Toyota Whanganui Swim Club head coach Andy McLay's legacy as he departs for Tauranga.

McLay and his partner Anna have stepped down from their roles at the club to move up to the Bay of Plenty for another coaching opportunity, ending a five year role with the local club which started in February 2014.

On his arrival in town from being head coach of the Heretaunga Sundevils in the Hawke's Bay, McLay said his goal was to put together a training foundation so children from Whanganui could be "challenging at the top end".

While the local swimmers would try their hardest at major events, making personal bests and setting local records, the idea was for medals to become the end-game, as Whanganui was joining the auspices of the wider Wellington swimming region at the time.


Five years on, having finished up just after the North Island Secondary School Championships at the weekend, McLay felt the goal was achieved.

"We've got new kids coming through the programme who are now making nationals and finals."

Just last month, Ethan Byers, 14, ended the summer season with the club's first boys title at the Aon NZ Age Group Championships, winning gold in the 400m freestyle.

He joined former club swimmers Shannon Schimanski and Sarya Lower as national age-group champions.

Sarya Lower
Sarya Lower

"Whanganui has been great for us, we came at a great time, saw growth in the club and the town as a whole," said McLay.

"Now we're just looking for that bigger location, where there's multiple clubs. There's six of them in Bay of Plenty, so there's a chance for networking."

Club members and supporters did a farewell for the McLays at the weekend.

More than the nationals titles and the handful of club members who travelled overseas to represent New Zealand, McLay said his greatest joy was watching the growth of several of the still-developing members.

"Not necessarily the top end, but ones when we met them, they couldn't even swim, now they're qualifying for nationals and making finals.

"It's not always the ones who are standard bearers, but the ones who are just chipping away."

Andy McLay, at back, with the Whanganui Swim Team juniors at the Wellington All Stars national carnival in February.
Andy McLay, at back, with the Whanganui Swim Team juniors at the Wellington All Stars national carnival in February.

Swim Team manager Neil Forlong said a five year coaching tenure with a club is not uncommon in swimming, being the length of time one coach would work with specific students through their teenage years.

"They sort of take one group of kids through from Form 2 [12-years-old] to Seventh Form [17-year-old.]

"We had a great bunch of kids, and before that another great bunch of kids that have been up-and-up, and we want to go further next time."

The club does has a successor lined up, coming from overseas, but need to confirm the final details before they can make an announcement, which may take a couple of months.

"We're well through the appointment process," said Forlong.

"We're keeping on, and in the mean time, we've got some fantastic volunteers."

Forlong's daughter Helena, Jamie Schimanski and Aaron Bunker have taken the lead with classes, while parents will help out as well.