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09/04/2016 05:15PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

Gallery: Swimming [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

Eleven-year-old Kelsey Gabrysz loves to work out with her parents, Mike and Alyson, and her older sister, Katie. Not only does she join them for long bike rides and runs, but she also participates in local area swim teams (Coast Aquatics and Bernie’s Bull Sharks) and triathlon races such as the Sea Turtle Youth Triathlon in Pensacola Beach. This is exactly the type of athleticism and participation that the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation (ECFF) hopes to foster as they continue to spread their mission across our area. 

The ECFF mission is “to develop physical fitness and water safety among the youth and adults of Okaloosa County by providing facilities and programs that deliver opportunities for instruction, training, and competitive excellence, primarily in the sports of swimming, running, and cycling.” 

ECFF was created in January 2015 with the aim to re-open the former YMCA swimming pool facilities in Fort Walton Beach and Destin. As Pam Braseth, Chief Operating Officer and Foundation Secretary, states, “It was the general conversation in the community that "somebody ought to do something to re-open the pool" and we as a group came to the conclusion that we were ‘somebody.’ Our belief was that the organization would give the community a rallying point to place its energies and contributions, to achieve its mission.”

In July 2015, the ECFF had the opportunity to begin fulfilling their mission when they were grated a sub-lease for the Fort Walton Beach pool, in coordination with the Liza Jackson Preparatory School. Between July and December 2015, they worked to secure donations and conduct the necessary renovations to the pool. Through a steady stream of volunteers, discounted contractor materials and services, and cash and in-kind donations, work quickly progressed on the facility. The community rallied together to help with the renovations. As Kelsey says, she and other families were able to “… help fix up the pool by painting, scraping letters off the old time boards, sweeping, and sometimes just playing while others worked.”

Since its opening last December, the Bernie R Lefebrve pool, affectionately known as ‘the Bernie’ has achieved above and beyond its initial mission. Programs at the Bernie include: 

  • Lap Swim and Family Swim
  • Aquacize
  • Swim Lessons for ages 6 months - 106 years
  • USA Youth Swim Team and Masters Adult Swim Team
  • Lifeguard, First Aid & CPR Training
  • Military training
  • High School & Middle School Swim Team
  • Summer Swim Team
  • Special Olympics training
  • Water Polo

Each of these programs has been met with resounding success – hundreds of children are learning to swim, club and school swim teams are training and hosting meets, and the Bernie recently hosted the regional Special Olympics Swim Meet, welcoming athletes from Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. 

So what’s next for the ECFF? The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation recently announced that the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation has met all of the requirements to proceed with negotiations to re-open the Destin pool and aquatics center. The ECFF plans to begin securing donations and making renovations as soon as possible in order to re-open the existing pools and facilities to the public. 

For more information on the ECFF, the Bernie R Lefebrve Aquatic Center, or to donate towards the Destin pool renovation, please contact the foundation at or by email at 


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Today, Today, Community mattie kelly arts foundation Bernie R. Lefebvre Aquatic Center YMCA Destin Coast Aquatics Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation Pam Brashes Pam Braseth The Bernie Special Olympics


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