30 Favorite FOSS Memories from Our Founders

By Jon and Susan Foss, co-founders, Foss Swim School

As we celebrate our 30 years leading Foss Swim School and helping hundreds of thousands of kids become better swimmers, we find ourselves remembering some of the moments that stood out. Some of those moments are sweet, some are stressful, some are funny, but they all played a role shaping our school and the extended Foss family, including swimmers, families and employees.

We’re especially grateful to all of you who have trusted us with this important responsibility and who have been our biggest boosters. We look forward to the next 30 years with you and the generations to come, when we hope to make more memories to add to these:

  1. Handing out flyers in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in 1993. We printed hundreds of flyers, passed out a bunch, gave them to the parents of the swim team Jon coached, rubber banded the rest to mailboxes and got…12 students.
  2. The pool at FountainPlace Apartments: It was where Jon taught the first lesson in 1993 because we lived there and Susan talked the landlord into it since nobody was ever in the pool. Heating it to 91 degrees was stressful in winter. With all the humidity coming off the water, we worried we’d damage the building.
  3. That first class: Jon asked his first class of four boys to all put their face in the water….and they all said, “no.” That was a shocking moment—this wasn’t like coaching, where kids were already comfortable with water. We realized we needed a completely different bag of tricks and techniques!
  4. When word got out: We came home from being gone two days and the home phone message machine (which was the swim school) said, “Hello, you have 65 messages…message bank FULL.” We were excited and terrified by the sudden growth of the swim school.
  5. The great flood: One of the Jacuzzi pool filters blew up in 1995 at the pool we were using. It literally cracked in half and all the water came out and flooded the pump room. 1/3 of the pool’s water was, well, out of the pool when we came in the next morning.
  6. Finally, a pool of our own: We searched for years for a place to build our first purpose-built indoor swim school just for us. We kept going back to the Knollwood Mall in St Louis Park, MN, and finally, in 1998, they agreed. It was the first swimming pool in an enclosed mall in the United States.
  7. Designing a new double pump and filter system: When it went live in 1998 we could get eight turnovers of the pool’s water in a day when the state requirement was only two. That was a big step in providing safe and clean pool water for our swimmers.
  8. Building our own instructor training program: The bigger we got, the more people we needed who could teach swimming the FOSS way. We ended up developing a whole curriculum to take the best people and teach them the best way to teach kids to swim. We’ve trained hundreds of exceptional teachers over the years and many of our former students and even parents are now teaching today with us.
  9. Our first award ceremony for our staff in 1997: It was a system to measure and reward performance primarily based on parent feedback. It still lives today as our Parent Evaluation system. It was a huge culture driver for us.
  10. Connecting to the international swim school community: In the late 90s, we had a chance to meet the Carlile Swimming Group from Australia, Aquagym from New Zealand, and many others around the world. It solidified the importance of teaching kids to swim and showed we could be a serious business.
  11. Refining the program, level by level: Between 1993 – 2000, Jon was personally teaching about 300 kids a week. We realized the many levels of progression and skills that are needed to teach children to swim and then find games, songs, and stories to accompany all those learning opportunities.
  12. Gretchen Hegener’s U.S. Breaststroke record: We were thrilled when one of our former students and competitive swimmers set the U.S. record for the breaststroke in 1997.
  13. The smoking fax: Faxing in your registration form was the “new” method in 2000, and the fax machine in our home office was literally smoking during registration. We set the alarm to go off every hour and would go down to the office, pick up all the faxes that had tumbled down on the floor, sort them into time order sequence, and reload the tray. And this was the backup fax to the ones at the pools!
  14. The time our son swam in a FOSS meet with his Speedo on backward: We’ll let that sink in for a moment. He was 6 years old and dashed from the locker room to the starting blocks and was in the water before we could stop him. He put on quite a show—and won the event. We may never laugh so hard again.
  15. Our crash course in real estate: When we built our Chanhassen and Maple Grove, MN, locations, no shopping centers were interested so we had to buy land and build. Architecture, engineering, financing (we put all our savings as a down payment), all the approvals and regulations, we figured it out as we went along.
  16. Hosting kids from the Shriner’s Hospital: We know these kids don’t get to experience the joy of water as often as they like, so for 15 years we’ve taught swimming patients from Shriners Hospitals for Children – Twin Cities at Camp Splash, where the kids can just enjoy being kids for a week!
  17. The staff party never ends: So many memories of staff events over the years, from the original Croquet tournaments to picnics to flag football to snowmobiling to the annual Holiday party. We’ve always wanted our business to feel like hanging out with family, and we try to offer as much time together off the pools decks with each other as possible.
  18. Reaching 10,000 children a week: We reached that milestone in 2005. It was a huge step for us. We realized we really could deliver exceptional results on a large scale.
  19. Teaching a boy with missing limbs to swim: One of our students was missing both legs and arms below his elbows. We really mean it – anyone can learn to swim. And the most important thing is he now has a new source of joy and enjoyment.
  20. Patent no longer pending: Innovation is key. We applied for our first patent on our quality control system in 2002 and got it in 2007, one of six held today that help Foss schools and products stand apart.
  21. To Chicago…: Making the leap to Illinois in 2010 was another ride, something like a roller coaster! Having the swim schools in our hometown was comforting. Moving into another state was scary. The business was growing, and we couldn’t be everywhere. We knew then we needed to trust our model and our staff. And it worked – we have multiple Chicago-area schools with their own legacy in the area.
  22. And beyond! We took the lessons learned in our first wave of growth and have extended to new cities. Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, plus new schools in Minnesota mean we’re helping more kids learn to swim than ever before.
  23. Rachel Bootsma’s Olympic gold medal: We were cheering like crazy when Rachel, one of our former students, helped the U.S. win gold in London in 2012 in the 4×100 meter relay.
  24. And the Emmy goes to…: Helping create an 8-minute Emmy-winning news piece on FOX 9 in 2014, “Drowning is a Silent Event,” was awesome because it helped us get our message out to a huge audience, and maybe even helped save a life by showing how important learning to swim is.
  25. Our digital revolution: We had to build a new online registration system, e-learning content and more to enable our school to grow while meeting our standards. It was a huge undertaking.
  26. Learning about the kids we helped keep safe: Nothing feels better than having a parent come up and tell us how our classes gave their kids the skills they needed to avoid tragedy. Here are some of their stories.
  27. Enduring the trials of COVID: This might not be a favorite memory, exactly, but I am proud of the grit and dedication and willingness to sacrifice shown by our team in the face of the biggest retail apocalypse any of us could have imagined. To have survived and even emerged stronger is a testament to the people in this company and the amazing families who stood by us.
  28. Promoting Craig O’Halloran to CEO in 2021: Susan and I loved leading FOSS for more than 25 years, so it was important that as we stepped into new roles and had less day-to-day involvement, that role passed to someone with passion, vision and dedication. Craig is all that and more, and his promotion marked a new chapter for the school.
  29. Working with Olympic medalist Regan Smith: Regan attended FOSS as a child and has come back to help share some of the lessons she learned while setting new records in the sport. We look forward to rooting her on as she prepares for the 2024 Olympics!
  30. The sheer joy of teaching kids to swim. It’s not one moment—it’s all the moments. We feel that joy over and over and have felt it for a quarter century now. We feel lucky to have been able to build this from our passion, so again we say to our extended Foss family: THANK YOU!


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