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Coach Kamal Farhat:  Blending swimming success with an academic undercurrent

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Caelan Burt, 14, is showing great promise in her preferred stroke of butterfly.

He derives as much pleasure from seeing his swimmers develop academically as he does watch them improve in the pool.

The long-time YMCA of South Collier (Marco Y) swim coach, Kamal Farhat, firmly believes in the correlation, and blends discipline as well as motivation into his coaching.

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He identifies with a quote uttered by the late six-time US Olympic swimming coach Richard Quick: "Hard work gets you somewhere; athleticism gets you nowhere. You have to connect them together."

Coach Farhat is seen with some of his current crop of young swimmers.

"So," says Coach Kamal, "the first thing I teach them is work ethic and discipline. Sometimes I'm tough on my swimmers, but I encourage them as well."

Despite his legacy of coaching promising Marco swimmers to success at local, state and even Olympic levels, "Coach" - as he likes to be referred to - prefers not to toot his own horn.

"I'm just a tool to help them go wherever they want to go," he says of nurturing young swimmers for the past two decades.

Up and coming Y swimmer Caelan Burt, 14, seems set to follow in the wake of her older sister Maddy who recently achieved an Olympic qualifying time in her preferred stroke of butterfly over 100m.

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The younger Burt agrees that Coach can indeed be a taskmaster.

"He pushes us really hard," says Burt, who also favors the "fly" as her dominant stroke. "When we want to stop, he says 'don't fail before you even try it,' which really helps when you think about it."

Coach's simple take on Burt: "She has a lot of heart. She's ready for high school (at Lely) next year."

Coach Kamal Farhat has nurtured swimmers at the Y for nearly two decades.

Coach's prodigies have included his own daughter Mercedes, who qualified by heritage to swim for Libya in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, along with the older Burt (who heads for Arizona State University later this year on a swim scholarship), former Lely High standout Wesley Blassneck, and Susan Faremouth and Lisa Cottage-Ramnick, to name some.

Up-and-coming standouts include Faremouth's sister Lauren, as well as Emma Nash (who still has a year to go at middle school).

Although never a competitive swimmer himself, Coach was a powerful gymnast and soccer player who found he had a natural flair for swim technique.

More:Stephanie Pepper: In it to help Marco's youth

There's a lot of similar physics and body motion to being a gymnast and a swimmer," he says. "I slowed it down in my head to adapt motion to the water."

Coach remembers with some amusement his introduction to the Marco Y.

Gina (Sisbarro), mom of his future protégé Wesley Blassneck, told him the Y coach at the time had left. Would he be interested?

"I'd had been on a business trip to Miami, and I went straight to the pool in my suit, shoes and tie," he says. "It was raining, so I did my first coaching dripping wet."

Coach Kamal was born in Italy, but grew up in Libya in North Africa when his dad and family moved back there.

He immigrated to the US in the mid-80s on a computer science scholarship while still a teenager, and later progressed to IT manager for a developing company in Cleveland, Ohio.

More:Charlene Rose: Focusing on the Y mission

The move to Marco with his family came in 2001 when, he says, "I just had to get away from the cold."

Summing up his nearly two decades with the Y, Coach says watching kids progress keeps him motivated.

"It's a pleasure to see how they change ... their potential," he says. "And, people say 'hi coach' wherever I go on Marco. It's good to know you're doing something in the city. You're giving to the community. That's what it's all about."

Cindy Love-Abounader, the Y's CEO, concurs with his overall approach to coaching.

"Kamal’s dedication is valued.  He has coached our swim team kids for many years and we have had some really great swimmers come out of our program," she says.

"You can count on Kamal to be here for the kids every day teaching them respect and discipline for the sport."

For more on the Y's wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit marcoymca.org or call 394-YMCA (9622). Follow on Twitter at ymcamarco; on Facebook @marcoymca, and Instagram at ymcamarco.