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Proud achievement . . . Gore Aquatic and head shark squad coach Mariano Garcia Nani holds the trophy he received for being named the New Zealand Skills Active apprentice of the year award at an awards evening in Hamilton last week. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

When the water whisked Mariano Garcia Nani 10,000km away from his home in Argentina, he never thought it could reward him quite how it has.

The Hokonui Aquatic Club and Gore Aquatics head coach was named New Zealand’s Skills Active apprentice of the year on Thursday.

Skills Active is a New Zealand industry training organisation for sport, exercise, recreation and performing arts.

It was a first for his career, in both countries, after he moved to New Zealand five years ago to experience the water and a new chapter in his life.

‘‘It was a real honour and I felt really blessed about getting recognised,’’ Garcia Nani said.

‘‘People put in so much effort to it and I know it is quite hard to get recognised and not everyone has the chance, so it was a  great feeling.

‘‘I’m really grateful to the support I get here from the swimmers, staff, MLT, the council and the Hokonui club.’’

Skills Active chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said Mr Garcia Nani stood out for his
‘‘willingness to dream big’’.

‘‘He wants to coach the New Zealand Olympic swimming team one day, but he is also passionate about teaching swimmers with disabilities and health conditions,’’ Davidson said.

‘‘His teaching interests range from the elite swimmers through to those who are getting into the water for the sheer joy and wellbeing that it brings.

‘‘We think the New Zealand aquatic industry is lucky to have somebody who is so enthusiastic about all levels of swimming.’’

Garcia Nani was nominated for the award after completing a New Zealand certification apprenticeship for specialised swimming and water safety teaching through the organisation.

He was nominated by learning support adviser Emma Brown and was grateful she recognised something in him.

The course developed a deeper understanding for nurturing swimmers with disabilities, Garcia Nani said.

‘‘Everyone is different but working with people with special needs things need to be changed.

‘‘We used to focus on things that needed fixing but it’s important now to focus on their strengths and developing them.

‘‘It’s been very beneficial and it’s really given me the confidence in teaching them further.’’

He worked with three swimmers with special needs at the Gore Aquatic Centre.

‘‘It’s something we’re trying to break into more, get more people to the squad and make the opportunities transparent and genuine.’’

He finished his second year with Academy Southland this week and it has benefited him immensely, he said.

Since relocating, Garcia Nani worked in Auckland before coming to Gore nearly three years ago.

Being in charge of 76 Shark Squad swimmers and 10 masters swimmers fuelled his passion.

‘‘I’ve enjoyed starting a project and being in charge of it.

‘‘Building those relationships with the swimmers, being responsible for the whole squad and continuing to do it in Gore,’’ he said.

Moving across the world helped him develop as a coach and as a person.

‘‘I’ve grown a lot as a professional since coming to New Zealand but also as a person too.

‘‘It’s been rough sometimes but it’s helped build my character.’’

He would continue coaching and would take 17 swimmers to the Southland Age Group Championships in Invercargill on Saturday.