Jon Siegel was born with a condition known as hyaline membrane, a serious infant respiratory ailment that required the assistance of a hyperbaric chamber to help him breathe. Thankfully, the hospital had the equipment to save him--making him part of the first generation of survivors of the condition. Experiencing frequent bouts of respiratory distress that inevitably would bring Jon to the hospital, doctors told his parents that if could learn to swim, it could greatly help his lungs.
His parents took the advice, and Jon splashed into the Y at 6 months old to take swim classes, and never left—it was the nascent beginning of his 27-year YMCA career. Currently the competitive aquatics director and Mariners swim team head coach at the Madison Area YMCA, he is a beloved figure to scores of children and their parents.
“The Y literally helped save my life,” says Jon, who took swim classes at the West Essex Y near where he grew up. He continued to take lessons, joined the swim team at 4 and began to swim year-round by the time he was 5. “I grew up at the Y,” says Jon, listing the other Y activities he participated in: diving, basketball, racquetball, gymnastics, karate, science enrichment classes and summer camp.
In the fall of 1992, while Jon was still in college, someone suggested that he apply for the swim coach position that was open at the West Essex Y. He got the job and spent three years coaching the team. He then coached at the Summit Area Y for a year, followed by 8 years at the Madison Area Y, 9 years at the Montclair Y and back to the Madison Area Y in 2013. “I like to refer to it as ‘coming home to the Madison Area Y,’” Jon says, adding, “The Y community and the staff are like family.”
Recognizing the needs of its members and neighbors, and the challenges and limitations of its current facility, the Madison Area YMCA recently launched the Our Community Our Future campaign to expand the Family Center which will add an eight-lane pool and upgrade the existing pool in the aquatics center. The project will not only provide a home base for the Mariners, it will allow the aquatics department to expand its program offerings—geared to children, teens, young adults and adults—to include additional fitness programs, more group and private swim lessons and Masters Swimming which is a special class of competitive swimming for those who are 25 and older.
Jon visits about 30 pools per year through his coaching duties—so he has had the opportunity to see lots of options and programs. “It’s been a lifelong dream to be part of a pool construction,” says Jon, who has been an integral contributor of ideas for the Madison Area Y’s new pool addition. The Y plans to break ground this summer.
A believer in the Y’s mission, Jon readily recognizes the profound difference the Y makes in the community. “Every day I see seniors who need the Y for health and companionship, cancer survivors who have our LIVESTRONGat the YMCA program to help them feel normal again, stroke survivors working through rehab, folks enrolled in our Diabetes Prevention Program, and children who learn lifesaving skills like swimming, or enjoy life-enhancing programs like day camp, childcare or sports,” says Jon, noting that the Y is for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. People who can’t afford Y membership and programming are able to join because of the Y’s financial assistance program. “A gift to the Y goes directly to people in need. The Madison Area YMCA is a very special place,” says Jon.