Women Making Waves in Franchising
With more than 100 schools across North America, Goldfish Swim School can be found coast to coast. As our Goldfish Family continues to grow, we want to shine a spotlight on some of the amazing people behind the business who are making waves for water safety in their respective communities.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the strong, ambitious and inspiring women in our lives. Continue reading to meet some of the incredible female leaders within our Goldfish Family, and learn more about their journeys toward building purpose-driven careers.
MEET THE WOMAN WHO MADE WAVES AND STARTED IT ALL, GOLDFISH CO-FOUNDER JENNY MCCUISTON!
From competitive swimming to building a thriving franchise with a lifesaving mission, Goldfish Swim School co-founder Jenny McCuiston’s love of the water propelled her to achieve extraordinary things beyond her wildest hopes and dreams—and created a catalyst that has allowed others to follow in her footsteps.
By the time Jenny graduated from the University of Arizona, she was a 17-time Collegiate All-American and two-time Olympic Trials qualifier. After her college career, Jenny switched strokes and moved back home to Michigan, where she used her degree in early childhood education to become a preschool teacher. To keep her passion for swimming alive, she began teaching swim lessons at a local country club on the weekends where she quickly incurred waiting lists for her classes, revealing the evident need for quality swim lessons throughout the community.
Combining her passions for swimming and child development, and after doing a very deep dive of swim schools all across the country, Jenny and her husband decided to take a leap of faith and go into business for themselves, opening the first Goldfish Swim School in 2006.
“We had never run a business before and had a lot to learn,” she said. “The first few banks we went to for loans denied us, and basically laughed at our idea. Thankfully, we found a bank that saw our vision and decided to take a chance on us. Even though I was only 26 with no business experience, my passion helped me push through the hard moments and strive toward the greater goal… to teach as many children how to swim and be safer in the water as possible.”
What started as a mission to help children be safer in and around the water, and an idea to transform the way swim lessons are taught, has turned into something beyond her wildest hopes and dreams. Today, Goldfish Swim School can be found in more than 110 communities across North America, and Jenny continues to pour her passion into helping children develop the confidence to make BIG waves in life!
Jenny says the life lessons she learned from her competitive swimming days – hard work, responsibility and determination – prepared her for what it would take to build a business from the ground up, and where she’s at today.
“It taught me how to be a part of a team, and a system working together towards a common goal,” she shared. “And, how to operate under pressure when the stakes are high. Swimming on a relay team at a championship meet when your other teammates are counting on you can be nerve-wracking. I learned how to shut down the negative thoughts, calm my nerves and focus on the goal at hand. Swimming also taught me that it’s ok to fail—that’s part of the process. Sometimes you try your hardest and you come up short. Instead of giving up, I learned how to grow from those experiences and channel them into forward progress.”
Looking back, Jenny says if she could give her 20-year-old self any advice, it would be to not get discouraged when your plans don’t turn out the way you hoped they would because there might be something better than you ever imagined.
“As a swimmer, I had sacrificed so much and worked so hard towards a goal of hoping to make the Olympic team one day. When that dream didn’t come true, I was pretty devastated,” she shared. “I look back now though, and see that all of those lessons I learned from swimming would be stepping stones to using my talent for a greater purpose: saving lives.”
As a mother of four, basic education surrounding water safety is an aspect that empowers and motivates her to continue to expand the franchise. Looking forward, Jenny is focused on growing Goldfish with the goal of teaching as many children as possible how to swim and be safe in the water, and expanding into new, unreached markets in North America, and beyond.
As for the next generation of female leaders, Jenny says she’s excited to see what the future holds, and had these encouraging words to share:
“The world is primed and ready for you! Pursue your wildest dreams, even if they happen to be in a male dominated realm. The fact that there is a female Vice President of the United States is proof that our world is changing, and the opportunities are endless. Female leaders bring a unique style and dynamic to the table that should be welcomed and celebrated.”
MEET GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL OWNER KATIE LEE
A longtime friendship with Goldfish Swim School co-founder and fellow collegiate swimmer Jenny McCuiston gave Katie an early inside look at Goldfish. Realizing the brand’s potential for growth, she decided to take the plunge and become one of the brand’s first franchisees.
“My husband and I had recently moved back to Michigan,” she recalled. “As a former swimmer, I spent a lot of time on the pool deck and had always enjoyed coaching kids. So, when Jenny asked if I’d be interested in supporting Swim Force, I was happy to help. I quickly realized what a great thing Jenny had started and thought to myself ‘why didn’t I think of this?’ Not long afterwards, I approached my business partners with the idea of jumping in as a franchisee.”
Today, Katie co-owns 14 Goldfish Swim Schools in five states, with plans to expand the brand’s lifesaving mission with several new locations in the greater New York City market.
Prior to coming aboard Goldfish, Katie spent much of her career working for large corporations in male-dominated industries where the experiences she acquired helped shape the leader she is today.
“Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to be mentored by a myriad of different people, each of whom had their own way of giving me the confidence I needed to get to the next place in my career,” she said. “As a young professional, I paid a lot of attention to the experiences of working moms and will never forget the day one of my VPs told me she was taking a leave of absence to prioritize her family. That moment had such a profound impact on me. To see the leader of a company boldly put her family first was awe-inspiring. It absolutely shaped the way I view my role as a leader, and working mother, today.”
Of all the jobs she has had, Katie says Goldfish is by far the hardest, but most rewarding. Having worked as a GM in the early days of the business, Katie is no stranger to the operational day-to-day challenges of running a successful swim school and uses her experience to coach the next group of leaders in her organization.
“While I enjoy the ability to touch every facet of the business, my primary role is to nurture my team’s strengths, place people in the right seat and provide development opportunities that help them grow into the leader they’re capable of becoming.”
No stranger to professional development, Katie is always looking for opportunities to continue to learn and grow and has her own coach that pushes her to be the best leader she can be for her team.
As for the next generation of aspiring female leaders, Katie says, “You have it in you! Take calculated risks and don’t ever let someone stop you from pursuing your dreams. Find your passion and play to your strengths.”
With big plans to bring Goldfish’s lifesaving mission to even more markets, Katie is focused on setting her team up for success and raising the bar of operational excellence within the learn-to-swim industry.
MEET GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL OWNER GINA BEWERSDORF
In 2011, Gina was on the brink of turning 40 and didn’t know how to swim. She had spent her entire life avoiding the water, until she saw what Goldfish did for her kids and was inspired to take the plunge herself.
Being a physician, it was important to Gina that her kids learned how to swim. Prior to joining Goldfish, she enrolled her son in three different learn-to-swim programs in hopes he’d develop a love, and respect, for the water. Despite her best attempts to find a place that would help him overcome his aversion to the water, nothing seemed to work—that is, until she discovered Goldfish.
“I’ll never forget the feeling of walking into Goldfish our first day of lessons,” Gina said. “My son perked up at the sight of the bright, tropical decor and happily took the hand of his instructor as they walked to his lane. As I sat in the parent viewing area, I was sure it would only be a matter of time before he’d put up a fuss and want to leave. To my surprise, he jumped right in! By the fourth lesson, he was confidently swimming. I was sold!”
It was at that moment Gina was inspired to begin her own learn-to-swim journey. Her 40th birthday was around the corner, and she decided she was going to celebrate by doing an Ironman Triathlon. So that June she got to work, conquered her fears and jumped into the pool at her local rec center, where an instructor she trusted from Goldfish began teaching her how to swim. Fifteen months later in September 2012, she celebrated her 40th birthday year by completing her first Ironman Triathlon.
“I did it!” she said. “I learned to swim and finished that portion of the race in one hour and 19 minutes.”
A wave of accomplishment washed over Gina that day. As she and her husband were driving home, she realized this was the beginning of something bigger than herself.
“It dawned on me,” she said. “I turned to my husband and told him, ‘we need to open a Goldfish’. He looked back at me in agreement and said, ‘I know’. Not everyone is going to do an Ironman Triathlon or swim competitively, but everyone needs to learn how to swim. After witnessing our family’s experience, we knew what we had to do next.”
Within a few weeks, they set up a meeting to discuss opening their own Goldfish Swim School in the Washington D.C. market and went on to open three locations in the area: Reston, Falls Church and Alexandria.
“My husband and I had spent a lot of our early career days in D.C.,” she said. “We loved the area and knew we wanted to be the first people to bring Goldfish’s lifesaving mission of water safety to that community.”
Shortly after, they received a phone call from the swim instructor who had taught their daughter how to swim. He had heard about their plans to bring Goldfish Swim School to D.C. and wanted to be part of what they were doing.
“When Tommy called and said he wanted to join us, it truly came full circle,” she said. “Since then, we’ve continued to grow our Goldfish Family and have an amazing team we’d do anything for. Goldfish took us on a journey we never imagined for ourselves and in the process has given us a sense of purpose and so much pride.”
Gina compares the process of opening a Goldfish to training for Ironman, and says her experiences in medical school and competitive figure skating helped prepare her for what it would take to operate a successful business.
“Those experiences proved that I was capable of reaching my goals and taught me to believe in myself,” she shared. “It took accomplishing a few of my goals, like finishing medical school and Ironman to understand that staying at it and putting in the work would get me to the finish line.”
That’s the advice she’d give any woman with a dream of pursuing her passion.
“Go hard and give it your all,” she said. “There will be bumps along the road that may cause you to reframe the way you approach something, but don’t give up. Never let anyone sway you from your goals. You’re capable and strong and can do anything you put your all into. When you’re passionate about something, the work you put in is worth it.”
While she still practices medicine part-time and is active in the day-to-day operations of Goldfish, this past year has caused Gina to pause and spend time reflecting on what’s most important. To her, that means using the lessons learned to regroup and ensure her team, and her family, comes out of this challenging time stronger than before.
“It’s been such a hard year,” she shared. “Despite the challenges, I’m grateful for the lessons it’s brought to the surface. Right now, I’m focused on being more present with my family and ensuring my team is taken care of, so they have everything they need to continue to succeed.”
MEET GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL OWNER DANA SCHUCHARDT
Dana’s journey with Goldfish began in 2006, when she came aboard as a swim instructor at Goldfish Swim School’s flagship location in Birmingham, MI, before heading off to swim competitively at the University of Arizona.
After graduating college, Dana used her marketing degree to pursue a career in California’s wine industry. While she excelled in her role, she didn’t feel the same sense of passion as she did when she was in the pool and wanted to find a way to get back to her roots.
Everything came full circle when Dana decided to leave the vineyard and get back in the water—this time as the owner of her very own Goldfish Swim School in Park Ridge, IL.
As someone who had been swimming all her life, it was a natural fit that allowed Dana to share her love of the water and provide children with lifesaving swim skills.
While her background in sales and marketing has certainly benefited her business in terms of building community relationships and raising awareness for the importance of swim lessons and water safety, Dana says the experiences she acquired as a student athlete also taught her valuable life lessons that helped her transition into becoming a business owner.
“Growing up as a student athlete, I learned the importance of being dedicated to something you’re passionate about, what it means to be a leader and how to manage my time,” she shared. “As the captain of my high school and college teams, I’ve always found joy in encouraging and motivating others, which continues to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my role today. It’s a great feeling to watch our swimmers build up the confidence to dive into new experiences, and also support the personal and professional development of our instructors as they get their feet wet in the working world and prepare to head off to college.”
Having opened her own business by the age of 28, Dana is proud of what she’s been able to accomplish and is currently preparing to open her second location in Gilbert, AZ. While she jokingly admits she’ll continue to be waist deep in Goldfish for the rest of her life, her biggest goal right now is to be an inspiration to her newborn daughter and find that delicate balance between work and family life.
“I want her to know how hard I work, and hope to instill that same work ethic in her,” she said. “I hope she goes after what she wants and puts her all into anything and everything she does in life.”
Looking back, Dana admires the way her mom was able to juggle the responsibilities of raising a family while building a successful career.
“When we were awake she was so present; taking us to swim lessons and practice. And every night, after she put us to bed, she would stay up for hours finishing work,” she recalled. “Now, I’m at a point in my life where I can appreciate how truly remarkable that was.”
As for the next generation of female leaders looking to pursue their passions and follow their calling, Dana says: “Be brave and don’t let fear of failure be the thing that holds you back from following your dreams. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help, either. Have the courage to ask questions and reach out to people who could serve as trusted resources. This was huge for me when I was starting my business. As the thirteenth Goldfish in Chicagoland, I’m grateful for the support I received from other owners in the area.”
MEET GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL OWNER SONALI MORRIS
As a kid, Sonali always knew what she wanted to do when she grew up—but never could she have imagined where those aspirations would lead her later in life.
Growing up in the small town of Bethlehem, PA, Sonali had ambitious goals and big city dreams of moving to New York City to pursue a career in advertising and marketing. Soon after graduating from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications, she got her big start with a magazine publisher and eventually earned an opportunity with USA Today.
After building a successful 20-year career in marketing, Sonali reached a turning point that caused her to evaluate whether the work she was doing aligned with her desire to make a difference in the world, and lead a more meaningful, purpose-driven career.
“It’s interesting,” she said. “As you get older, things change. You start wondering about what motivates you to get out of bed and go to work every morning. I knew I wanted to do something more meaningful and give back.”
Around the same time, she and her husband had relocated to Michigan for work and stumbled across Goldfish as they were looking to sign their two young kids up for swim lessons (a life skill Sonali feels very strongly about).
“Before moving to Michigan, we couldn’t get them into swim lessons anywhere,” she recalled. “I thought there had to be a better way, and that’s when we found Goldfish! The lightbulb went on, and the idea to open our own swim school was born. We knew we wanted to get back to the Cleveland area to be near my husband’s family and thought this could be a great opportunity to cement our roots in an area we love, while providing kids in the surrounding community with a safe, fun and welcoming environment to learn lifesaving swim skills.”
While her marketing background has certainly come in handy for establishing Goldfish as the premier swim school in the Cleveland market, Sonali says the management experience she acquired throughout her career is what has helped her continue to operate a successful business. She realizes that people are at the heart of any operation, and that as a leader it’s her job to build strong teams in which people are given the support and autonomy to serve in a capacity that suits their strengths.
“Oftentimes, we think of a leader as someone who is out in front,” she shared. “While that certainly can be true, being a leader also means standing behind your team, empowering people and taking a backseat so others can thrive.”
When we asked Sonali what advice she’d give to other women looking to pursue their passion and follow their calling, she had these words of wisdom to offer:
“Confidence is key! Find your voice and don’t be afraid to express your ideas and opinions. Resist the idea that you need to be perfect, and don’t be afraid to fail! Every new experience offers an incredible opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t dwell on your mistakes; learn from them, and move on!”
While Goldfish’s mission of helping kids learn how to be safe in and around the water continues to hold a special place in Sonali’s heart, this year has allowed her to reflect on some other things she’d like to accomplish next.
“Volunteerism is something that’s important to me,” she shared. “My daughter’s commitment to giving back has inspired me to find additional ways to devote my time toward other causes I feel equally as passionate about.”
MEET GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL OWNER PARINA MEHTA
Before making the switch into the swim industry and coming aboard Goldfish, Parina spent most of her career working as an IT Project Director where she managed software design and development teams.
In 2016, she and her husband were ready to leave the corporate world and go into business for themselves, so they began exploring family-oriented franchise opportunities that aligned with their values.
Around the same time, they were looking at preschools for their son and stumbled upon The Goddard School—an early childhood development franchise focused on fostering an exceptional learning experience through the art and science of play. The more they learned about the research behind Goddard’s philosophy on early childhood education, they realized it was not only a perfect fit for their son, but also a business they could see themselves owning.
Not long after opening their first Goddard School, Parina and her husband heard about Goldfish. As big believers in the concept of learning through play, Goldfish’s proprietary Science of SwimPlay® Curriculum, which focuses on teaching swim and safety skills while building character through guided play, resonated with them. Shortly after, they went on to open Goldfish Swim School – Aliso Viejo, the first Goldfish in the state of California.
“Before making the decision to open Goddard or Goldfish, we asked ourselves, ‘is this something we would send our children to?’ The answer was a resounding, yes! We loved that the motive of each business revolved around a bigger, much more meaningful mission. That’s ultimately why we decided to dive in!”
This wasn’t Parina’s first business venture, however. Before moving to the United States with her husband at the age of 23, Parina owned her own interior design firm in India where she learned firsthand the ins and outs of operating a business.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” she said. “Although my background was in IT and interior design, the transition to opening a business focused on childhood development was a natural progression that allowed me to use my creativity and managerial experience in a fulfilling, new way.”
Looking back, Parina is proud of all she’s been able to accomplish and is thankful for the women who have pushed boundaries and shattered ceilings in pursuit of their passions so others could follow theirs. Growing up, she was inspired by the achievements of women like Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, both of whom became the first (and only) female leaders in their country to serve as a prime minister.
“There have been so many women over the course of history who have blazed the trail and broken barriers,” she said. “These were women who challenged cultural norms in a time when it was not common for women to have roles outside of the home, much less hold a position of power in a male-dominated society.”
Parina is grateful to have the freedom to follow her passions and encourages other women to do the same.
“Believe in yourself! Find your strengths and do something that brings you joy,” she shares. “You have to enjoy what you do. Let the personal fulfilment that comes from following your calling be the driving force that guides your decisions.”
While Parina and her husband hope to open additional schools and bring Goldfish’s mission of water safety to more communities throughout California, her primary focus right now is her family.
“Success is defined differently for everyone,” she said. “For me, success is measured by the amount of fulfilment something brings to my life and the legacy I’m creating for my kids. It won’t be long before my kids are out of the house, and I want to be there to help guide and nurture their passions, as well as my own.”
THE WORLD IS YOUR POOL, ARE YOU READY TO JUMP IN?
To the woman who started it all, our amazing female franchise partners and powerhouse swim instructors, and the incredible women who bring their kids in every week, THANK YOU for helping Goldfish grow to where it is today.
Here’s to inspiring the next generation of female leaders as we nurture their growth and build their confidence to make waves in life. The world is your pool – jump in!
If you want to be a part of an amazing network of franchise owners and join our award-winning learn-to-swim program, contact us today to get started!