Kelly Gardner began attending swim meets when, at the age of 6, her daughter began swimming competitively. Her daughter is now all grown up and pursuing a career as a swim coach, but Gardner still finds herself on the pool deck. She recently won an award for her work with area swim teams.
Gardner received the Gordon Maynes Award, which is given to those who volunteer their time and efforts to the sport of swimming. She was recognized for her volunteer work with the swim team at the Dover YMCA and for her work as the secretary of the board for the Delmarva Swim Association. The swim association is made up of a league of teams that stretches from Elkton, Md. to Onley, Va.
"I was humbled," Gardner said. "I was embarrassed, but I was honored, I will say."
Gardner, a Dover High graduate and Smyrna resident, has been a member of the Delmarva Swim Association board of directors for about 10 years and has been volunteering with the Dover YMCA team for roughly 16 years.
Allan Nelson, vice chair of the Delmarva Swim Association, offered a little insight into what qualities helped Gardner win the award.
"She has helped run the big championship swim meets," Nelson said. "She's always had a helping hand in seeing that the league, as a whole, continues on and that is was in good hands. She's always helped out with anything and everything."
Gardner initially began volunteering with the swim team because both of her children were on the team and her husband coached. She was already attending meets and says she's not the type of person that likes to just sit.
RJ Wojtylak, aquatics director for the Dover YMCA, has witnessed Gardner's work ethic.
"She's very diligent about working," Wojtylak said. "If she wants to do it, she will. She just enjoys helping people. I think she's not just doing it to help, she likes working and likes doing things at a high level."
One of Gardner's key roles when she first started volunteering was keeping score. She had to manually time, record and tabulate scores for meets and then manually write out the ribbons for each winner. Gardner now runs the computer program that helps to electronically time, record and score meets.
"She's the computer specialist for the team," Nelson said. "It takes a fair amount of training to run the system and she's still doing it."
Both of Gardner's children have grown up and moved on, but she has continued on with her work with the Dover YMCA swim team, the Y's parent advisory council and with the Delmarva Swim Association. One of the things that has kept her coming back year after year is the relationships she has built.
Page 2 of 2 - "I love getting to know the families and kids and building lifetime relationships," Gardner said "Once you get involved in your kid's activities then it's also a social network for you. You get to know the parents."
In her role as secretary for the Delmarva Swim Association's board of directors, Gardner has served as an equalizer, Nelson said.
"When you have 11 board members sometimes you have people that have strong opinions and sometimes people can have an agenda," he said. "Kelly has always been the person on board that says, 'Is that really fair?' We have parents and swimmers, and we have rules they have to follow. Those are things the board has to deal with sometimes. Kelly has always been an equalizer for swimmers and parents in those situations."