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Parental pride fills pool at Gulf

Gulf High and Pasco Aquatics Club swimming coach Linda Cassidy has produced her fair share of top-flight swimmers. Check the roster of any local high school team and chances are, Cassidy has developed some of them.

She isn't too bad at creating them either.

For the second time, Cassidy is coaching one of her children at the high school level. And once again, her child has become one of the better swimmers in the county.

Abe Stewart, a 14-year-old, 6-foot freshman, can count the races he has lost this season on one hand. He has held county-best times in three events this year, and swims on two relays that Cassidy calls her best since 1989.

A few years back, Cassidy also coached her daughter, Amanda Cake, to success at Gulf. She held the school record in the 100 freestyle until this season.

And now, there's another Cassidy-produced prodigy on the way, and she might be the best of the lot. Seventh-grader Arianna Stewart, 13, already has shown flashes of being one of the state's top juniors.

"It's very rewarding to see them progress. There is a lot of parental pride," said Cassidy while sitting at her office in the New Port Richey Recreation Center pool, where she is aquatics director.

Swimming has played a huge part _ the dominant part, for sure _ in Cassidy's life. She was a swimmer at Clearwater High, and competed for the Clearwater Swim Club before taking her first job coaching in Durango, Colo. Soon after, she began raising children, and often took them to practices and meets.

"They didn't have a choice," she said with a laugh. "I was coaching, so I had to bring them. They learned to crawl around the pool deck before they could walk."

And they learned to swim shortly thereafter. Abe has been swimming competitively since age 4, and while he doesn't share his mother's bounding enthusiasm for the sport, he is a testament to her skills as a coach.

"If my mom was a soccer coach, I'd probably play soccer," he said. "My mom's a swimmer, so I swim.

"But for me, it's just a fun thing. It's a sport, and you can brag about that in school, and maybe I'll use it to get a scholarship. But I could never sacrifice myself to it like some people do."

And for Mom, it is no longer the sacrifice it once was. Her first husband couldn't understand how she could rise every morning at 5 a.m. to go to the pool, and her second husband didn't understand _ period.

"Swimming was the reason for the failure of my last marriage," Stewart said. "He just didn't like the water."

Don Cassidy, who has been married to Linda for over a year now, does, however, and even serves as a volunteer assistant on the team. The strain that once existed between her private life and the pool no longer does, and Linda smiles gleefully when asked if she is happier.

"Yes," she said, "yes."

Abe, despite some sparkling junior times that included a top 10 state ranking, won't become the Olympic swimmer that perhaps deep down his mother would like, but she remains proud nonetheless. He's only in his first year of high school, is taking classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College ("Accounting _ uuugh!" he scowls), and faces the real possibility of graduating from high school and community college on the same day.

Cassidy said she will continue her coaching until Arianna graduates from high school. That gives her about six more years of doing what she does best _ producing some of the top swimming talent in Pasco County.

She'll leave the rest of the reproducing to her children.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to just relax, and probably teach my grandchildren to swim."