Kuper family submerges itself in local swimming scene

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Meet the Kupers, Southeast Missouri's first family of swimming.

There's Lenny, the head coach of Notre Dame Regional High School's boys and girls swim teams.

And there's Pat, his wife and the swim team's assistant coach.

Then there are the children, Lindsay, 18, Jordan, 16, and Jameson, 14 -- all competitive swimmers. Lindsay and Jordan compete at Notre Dame, and Jameson with the Gators, a local swim club.

"We live and breathe chlorine," said Lenny, the teams' strategist and organizer. Pat, who unlike Lenny is an accomplished swimmer and teacher, provides the technical expertise.

"He's getting there," Jordan joked of his dad's progress as a coach. "He's learning from my mom."

Jordan could be one of the key figures today when Notre Dame and Cape Central face off in their second and final boys' meeting of the season. Central won the last encounter 104-79 on Dec. 13, although Jordan won two events and was part of the team that won the 200 meter medley relay.

Today's meet is a tune-up for the postseason that begins in early February.

The Kupers' odyssey into swimming began when, at the age of 7, Lindsay was diagnosed with a congenital heart murmur and doctors recommended swimming as an aerobic exercise to strengthen her heart muscles.

Not only did she get involved, but pulled her entire family into the pool. The Kuper youngsters soon began swimming competitively for the Gators while Lenny and Pat helped as coaches. The idea to begin a program at Notre Dame grew from there.

"When Lindsay was in the seventh grade, I started planting the seed," Lenny, a mathematics teacher at Notre Dame, said of starting a swim program at the school. "It took awhile, about four years of talking it up, and last year we got our wish.

"So when it was finally decided that we would have a team, the school said, 'fine, but you'll have to coach it.' "

Pat took on the co-coaching duties, in addition to her full-time job as an English teacher at Cape Central.

Between practice, competition, school and family time, the Kupers' schedule has become a hectic one.

The key is self-discipline.

"We tried to instill discipline in the children at a young age," Lenny said, "and fortunately they latched on to that very quickly and now they're very self-disciplined. Without them having that self-discipline, I don't know that we could handle all the irons that we have in the fire."

They often wake up at 4:20 a.m. Practice is from 5-7. After school is more practice -- whether in the pool or in the weight room -- until at least 6 p.m. That leaves a little time for dinner, homework and relaxing before bedtime at 9.

"We joke about how Mom cooked us pizza tonight after she popped a frozen pizza in the oven," said Jordan with a big smile.

Sunday is the day the family tries to set aside for other things. That is, if there are no meets.

The family bond has stayed close, even when the five don't get to see much of each other.

"Actually, I only see my Mom at the pool," said Lindsay, who was a state meet qualifier last season.

"But there is a strong bond between all of us."

llewis@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 171

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