By Anna Petit-Bruner, Editor, Chicago Blog Dolphin
It’s a cold December day in Chicago, but I’m sweating in the waiting room of Chicago Blue Dolphins. Why? Because I’m only minutes away from sitting down with a legend — nay an icon — a very pillar of the swimming world.
I’m talking, of course, about the one and only Mr. Duck.
As I’m ushered into the pool room at the CBD Swim Studio, I can’t help but feel a little nervous. Forget that Mr. Duck has been a child-centered staple in the baby lesson circuit since the mid-1980’s. At 6’6″ long, 3’2″ wide, and bright green, he’s also physically impressive as well. I’ve come all this way to talk to him, and yet he leans on the side of the pool without a care in world, as though he’s merely waiting for the next Infant-Toddler class. Fame, it would seem, means very little to Mr. Duck.
AB: Let’s get right down to it, Mr. Duck. How did you begin your career in swim education?
Duck: Well in the 1980’s I got my break when I teamed up with Rob and Kathy McKay at the the Lifestyle Swim School in Boca Raton, Florida. They hoped our partnership could serve as a way for babies and toddlers to learn balance and how to enter and climb out of the pool safely. I proved to be a major hit with the “Under 4 Crowd” in Boca. Rob, Kathy, and I thought I had the potential to go national and global with other child-centered swim coaches. I burst on the Chicago baby scene in May, 2010 at Chicago Blue Dolphins. A few thousand babies later, and the rest they say is history.
AB: What skills specifically do you teach at Chicago Blue Dolphins?
Duck: Well, in Infant-Toddler Level 1 the kids have to stay balanced while sitting on me as we spin around, which makes it easier for them to keep their center of balance at home. When their parents help them climb on me, they begin to learn how to climb out at the edge of the pool. Kids also have to wait for their parents to say “1-2-3-Jump!” before coming off of me, so they learn water safety skills like cuing and listening skills as well!
AB: That’s quite a lot! What about the children who move on to Infant-Toddler Levels 2 and 3?
Duck: Excellent question! In Level 2 children begin to dive off me, turn around, swim back, and climb out of the water. They also do run-runs, which teaches them how to balance and enter the water while standing up!
In Level 3, they swim under noodles and through hoops to get to me because they become such great little swimmers. They also seem to add style and showmanship to the run-run — “triple jump run-run,” “helicopter run-run,” “sprint-stop-timber.” I could go on for hours but one thing is clear: kids would do run-runs all day if I didn’t have to cut them off to take a break.
AB: You’re certainly very well known here, but I have to ask the question on the mind of every new parent: Why Mr. Duck? I don’t want to be too forward, but you know how it might be confusing.
Duck: (hearty laughter) If I had a dollar for every time I got that question. What many don’t know is that I started my career with the McKay’s as a floating duck platform. But I became so popular that I needed to get bigger to support more kiddy tushies and longer run-runs. No matter what I look like though, I’ll always be Mr. Duck.
AB: True, “Mr. Green Rectangle” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Duck: Not only that, but then you have the Billboard Kids Top-100 “Riding on Mr. Duck” song! You can’t change the song!
AB: I’ve actually been meaning to ask you, how did the song come about? Was that always part of your act?
Duck: Oh, it’s been a part ever since I can remember. Rob, Kathy, and I jammed out a modified “All Around The Mulberry Bush”, which is why it’s so darn catchy. But the kids love it and it’s considered a rite of passage when they can do the “quack quack, quack quack” hand motions.
AB: What else would you say makes you so popular with kids?
Duck: I think it’s the fact that they get to be taller than their parents and their coach for a little bit. They get to see things from a different, more elevated point of view. They are thrilled by their feeling of independence. That, and the thought of ripping off a good run-run.
AB: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to Chicago Blog Dolphin. It means a lot to our parents and kiddos.
Duck: It’s my pleasure. Playing with the kids over the last 9 years has been such a gift to me.