Popular Markham swim school started as small backyard business

Local swimming instructor and entrepreneur Kerri Russell and her sister Kristi are co-owners of one of the most popular swim schools in Markham, Russell Aquatics. Starting as a small backyard business 15 years ago, they have grown exponentially. They now have their own facility taking in 2000 students a week and employing 65 staff members. Kerri tells us about their company and what motivates them.

“We started with funding from the Summer Company initiative with the City of Markham,” she explains. “We ran the business as a backyard school at first, and a few years later we also started running swim classes from a local hotel. This year, we found a permanent location, which we opened on March 31.”

Now that they have their own space, Kerri and Kristi can control the number of days they teach, the timing, and the number of children they take in. They can expand their business, teach more children, and have the opportunity to grow.

“With a hotel, you have to make do with what they have available. With our new facility, we can run seven days a week, with full-time hours on most days,” says Kerri.

Russell Aquatics’ classes start from three months of age. They offer parent and tot sessions, all the way to adult classes. Their classes range from beginner to advanced, and they provide group and private instruction. They also offer water therapy and fitness sessions.

“What sets us apart is we have set up our team to be really nurturing and caring,” Kerri explains. “If a child or adult learner is not comfortable, we will make sure they have a great experience and help them work through and fix it. We truly care about all our families and put a lot of time into our training. We make sure our instructors have the best support and know how to do the job well.”

Kerri prides herself on being a mentor both for people learning to swim and for her staff.

“I love teaching young children and adults the skill of swimming in an environment they feel comfortable. They may not have had a good experience with swimming in the past and we can change that. I find that very rewarding. It also inspires me just being able to motivate and be a leader, and to create relationships.”

For other young women interested in starting their own businesses, Kerri has this advice: “Trust your gut instinct and just go for it. So many people will tell you no along the way and you truly have to believe in yourself and wean those people’s opinions out of your head so you can focus on your vision. Personal growth is important. Continue to be student always; work on yourself so you can become stronger and better.”

[Photo credits: Russell Aquatics. Main image: Kerri and Kristi Russell (back row, fifth and sixth from the left) and their team]

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