Life in the Fast Lane

Three girls, different strokes, one sport, and a drive to take their team to the top.

Dr. Shiraz Patel and Paducah Swim Coach Kevin Blum have many things in common— the most apparent of which is their commitment to reaching a standard of performance that is second to none.

Dr. Patel brings his considerable medical talent and expertise to the orthopaedic surgery suite each day, making it possible for patients to get back on their feet. Kevin Blum inspires young swimmers to set goals for themselves that maximize their performance in the pool as well as in their personal lives.

Dr. Patel attended the University of Minnesota Medical School and ultimately began his orthopaedic practice in a rural town there. His wife, Melanie, found herself yearning to be closer to her home and family in St. Louis, so the Patels began a search for a new place to live and work.Patel Girls

“When we visited Paducah,” remembers Dr. Patel, “Melanie fell in love with the community.” This was indeed Paducah’s good fortune. “And with the amazing help of so many wonderful people at Paducah Bank, the relocation to Paducah was quick and easy. We are very grateful for the personal and professional support we were given by everyone at Paducah Bank,” adds Melanie.

The Patels and their three daughters, Peyton, Bailee, and Madison are now stalwart citizens of THIS small town and are enthusiastically devoted to their individual pursuits. You might think those would be varied in a house of five people.

Alas, you’d be wrong.

All three girls are members of the Paducah Swim Team. At the Patel house, it’s all about swimming all the time. And when we say all the time, we are not exaggerating. “The girls have a really rigorous practice schedule,” explains Dr. Patel.

Peyton, a senior at Paducah Tilghman High School, quickly adds supporting stats to this statement. “We have one two-week break during the year,” she says with a quick smile. “We are often at the pool at 5 a.m. During the school year, we practice two times on Monday and Friday and once a day on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. We get Sunday off,” she says with a laugh.

Credit for this love of competitive swimming can be attributed to the other female of the household, the girls’ mom, who was a swimmer herself. “I wanted them to play basketball,” quips the man of the house. “But I’m totally on board with their decision to swim.”

Madison was the first into the swim lanes at the age of six. “We would go and watch her swim, and I thought it really looked like fun to be in the water and to be a part of that kind of team,” says 15-year-old Bailee. So in fifth grade, Bailee took the dive, and five years ago, Peyton decided to test the waters. Now, all three girls are ardent advocates of life in the fast lane. It wasn’t long after the girls began swimming that Dr. Patel took on the role of Team President and Melanie became the Meet Manager. Swimming is TRULY a family affair.Patel Family

The girls are of one mind when it comes to the many benefits of the swim team. “I really love it,” comments Peyton. “By setting the bar high for ourselves, I think we learn how to discipline ourselves to improve our times and that translates into our academics and the other parts of our lives.”

“We work really hard,” adds Bailee. “And there are definitely times when we might want to quit, but we are surrounded by such positive people that you become determined to work harder and achieve more. And we LOVE our coach.”

“And it’s kind of a bonding experience,” says Madison. “Even though we’re together so much, I think we fight less.” (That opinion was not unanimous, but everyone did agree that the team effort gives the sisterhood a sense of singular purpose.)

The coach Bailee mentioned, Kevin Blum, has a string of successes which made his selection easy for the Paducah Swim Team. “Kevin has coached many swimmers to the Olympic trails and has taken national teams to Russia. He has coached in California, North Carolina, and Australia,” says Dr. Patel. “We are very fortunate to have been able to secure him for the Paducah team. And in the few short months that he has been here, he has virtually transformed our team culture and is producing great results.”

The Paducah Swim Team has more than 100 young people in the program. Dr. Patel would like to see that number grow so that more young people have the opportunity to both learn how to swim and to compete in a sport that provides such a healthy learning experience. “Drowning is the number one cause of traumatic death in kids,” says Dr. Patel. “Being a part of the swim team allows these students to leave high school with a life skill and perhaps a springboard for participation in college athletics or beyond. This kind of experience grants average kids the chance to do something extraordinary. They find themselves in an environment that pushes them both physically and mentally, and I think they  reap huge gains in self-esteem and performance in and out of the pool. With swimming, no one is a benchwarmer. You’re constantly seeking to be the best you can be individually, but that also translates to the team as a whole. We think this is a new day for competitive swimming in our region. And we are excited about the prospects for the future.”