When Jennifer Passafiume was 5 years old, she took her first swimming lesson at the Bend in the Road Beach. At 15 she was a lifeguard, and at 17 she started teaching children how to swim.
Passafiume has always had a passion for the water, but it wasn’t until 2011 that she started training for her first triathlon.
Since then, Passafiume has become a dedicated multisport athlete, finding her happy place out on her bike, or swimming in an outdoor pool on a warm day.
In 2017, Passafiume competed in her first International Triathlon Union (ITU) world championship event in Penticton, B.C. She chose the aquabike as her preferred event, and placed seventh in her age group. For this event racers must swim almost 2 miles to start off, then hop on their road bikes and pedal 75 miles to the finish.
She tackled her second aquabike event in 2018 in Odense, Denmark, stunning herself by finishing third and receiving a bronze medal.
Among multiple other Island athletes, Passafiume recently qualified for the May 2019 ITU event to be held in Pontevedra, Spain.
Passafiume received her master’s in elementary education, and spent eight years teaching between the Edgartown and Chilmark schools. She said she brings this love for teaching everywhere she goes, both in and out of the pool.
“I always taught swimming as a side job; now it really is a central focus for me,” Passafiume said. Her love for children makes her the perfect person to teach young swimmers at the YMCA.
You could say Passafiume is at home at the YMCA pool, where she helps swimmers at all levels of proficiency reach their goals. Apart from it being her first year coaching the MVRHS swim team, Passafiume is certified by the U.S. Masters Swimming program to instruct all age groups in the pool, and is a certified personal trainer.
She also teaches aqua high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and works with swimmers with special needs and physical challenges.
“I love all the connections I make with kids and adults,” Passafiume said. “Seeing someone that doesn’t know a skill learn that skill, and sometimes master it, is very rewarding.”
Passafiume said witnessing the progression from nonswimmer to strong competitor is dramatic, and is one of the most fulfilling parts of her job.
“Some people get in the pool and sink like a rock, and by the end of their classes they are powerful swimmers.”
When asked what competition has taught her about coaching, Passafiume said a large part of competing is working against yourself to constantly improve. “This is one thing I take away from my competitions, that the real person you are trying to beat is yourself,” she said. “So in this way I think competition and coaching go hand in hand.”
Up until 2011, Passafiume said, she was a nonathlete. But after going through a divorce, she felt motivated to push her boundaries and surpass her expectations for herself. “I am always coaching myself; analyzing my progress and looking for things to improve on,” she said.
For Passafiume, coaching isn’t all about drills and intensity; she said swimming should be enjoyable for everyone, and serve as a chance to make friends and have fun: “I always ask myself, ‘How can I make this fun and social, but also productive and effective?’”