A 15-year-old Brett Rose visited Mission Viejo in 1980 to compete in a junior national swim meet. He and his family had never before left their native Pennsylvania, but a detour to Laguna Beach during that trip hooked the family. Five years later, “We picked up like the Beverly hillbillies and moved to Laguna Beach,” he said.
Last fall, when Rose returned again to Laguna to open a new business venture, SwimLabs, with his wife Kathy, it signified the closing of a circle nearly 30 years in circumference. “Swimming brought my family to Laguna Beach, and now swimming has brought me back to Laguna Beach,” he said
Veteran master swimmer and water polo player Michael Mann founded SwimLabs seven years ago in Denver, Colo. He wanted to bring the same technology used by elite swimmers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to the masses
Rose intends to do the same for Orange County. The SwimLabs experience combines a constant-current pool with state-of-the-art software and video, allowing coaches to assess a swimmer’s stroke from several different angles, including underwater, and provide instant feedback on monitors located at pool side. “Once you can see it, it’s a lot easier to fix it,” said Laguna resident Alan O’Brien, an amateur triathlete and Rose’s first customer at the Lake Forest facility
Born in Ireland, O’Brien never felt comfortable in the water before visiting SwimLabs. “I don’t think we’re known for our swimming technique,” he said laughing. “I could barely swim a couple hundred meters.”
Four months and seven sessions later, O’Brien went out and completed his first Iron Man triathlon, which begins with a 2.4-mile open ocean swim. “If it wasn’t for [Brett], there’s no way I could have completed it,” he said.
SwimLabs worked so well for O’Brien, he and his wife Kelly started bringing their 18-month-old son, whose experience in a large group, baby-focused swim program had left him a little fearful of the water. Now he looks forward to being in the pool and is beginning to kick off the wall. “It was a more comfortable environment,” said Kelly of the intimate SwimLabs setting.
Rose was diagnosed with spinal meningitis at the age of 5. To help him regain equilibrium, his doctor recommended swimming. What began as a doctor’s prescription soon became Rose’s passion. After becoming a national prep school champion at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia, Rose earned a scholarship to Arizona State University, where he obtained a world ranking in both the 200 (19th) and 400 (21st) individual medley.
Rose would go on to win three gold medals at the 1985 Maccabiah Games in Israel before launching a five-year career as a professional triathlete. Competitive athletics eventually gave way to a career as a sales rep for a large athletic shoe and apparel maker. He met Kathy, a Florida native and also a sales rep, at a trade show in Atlanta. The two settled in Colorado, where Mann’s Denver-based SwimLabs became a buyer of Rose’s swim gear and other accessories. “I just watched [SwimLabs] grow and was always intrigued,” said Rose, who got to know Mann and started floating the idea of opening a SwimLabs on the west coast.
“All the stars aligned. It was good timing,” said Kathy, looking back on the decision that brought them to Laguna.
The facility’s three pools create a constant current that allows swimmers to swim in place while cameras in front, above and below the water line capture all the action. Powerful software allows the instructor to compare the student’s stroke to a library of videos taken of elite swimmers.
There are currently five instructors on staff, including Rose. And Jenny Mann, the founder’s daughter, came out from Colorado to help the Roses get their facility off the ground last year.
It wasn’t just family that brought the Roses to Orange County. The area is a hot bed for swimming and water polo. Many of the local club teams, including Splash Aquatics, Newport Beach Aquatics, Nova Aquatics, Nellie Gail Gators, and Laguna Beach Club Water Polo Club are beginning to see the value of the SwimLabs system.
Rose admits that some club coaches feel threatened by his operation. “We’re very sensitive to that,” said Rose, who nevertheless is confident he can win their trust with an “incredible environment that can help their athletes, and we want to share it with them.”
Emma Mochamuk, a competitive swimmer with Desert Aquatics, drives with her father from Apple Valley for one-hour sessions. During her first visit, Rose helped her eliminate a hitch in her stroke. “She dropped a second in her 50 freestyle, which is a lifetime in the 50,” said Rose.
Not long after that first session, Mochamuk’s father called Rose to thank him for the positive impact he’s had on his daughter’s life. “Nobody ever did that to me in my previous profession,” he said.
While teaching competitive swimmers is Rose’s specialty, he recently got wet with a non-swimmer, a recent client. “She was petrified of the water,” he said. “I could sense the fear, I could feel the fear.”
By the end of the session, she was able to find a sense of calm and balance in the water. “That was really rewarding to be part of that,” said Rose.
Rose still marvels at what SwimLabs does for swimmers of all ages and skill levels. And he wonders if his own life might be different had it existed before. “I wish we would have had this stuff when I was growing up,” he said.
For more information visit www.swimlabs.com.