Published DateGILFORD — When Martha McIntire started the Gunstock Stingrays Swim Team in the summer of 2010, she had five swimmers sign up. Over the next two and a half years, the team consistently grew to a recent high of 64 swimmers, aged six to 18, who travel four times a week to the Gunstock Inn and Fitness Center from as far as Wolfeboro or New Durham.
"We have flourished, we just have a really good thing going," said McIntire. However, that "good thing" is suddenly in jeopardy of becoming a casualty of the recently-announced closure of the inn and fitness center. The Bastille family, which bought the facility in 2006, hasn't been able to keep up with loan payments and has reached a settlement agreement which will see the bank they borrowed from assume ownership after the end of swim team practice on Monday. The bank will hire a staff to keep the property from falling into disrepair but isn't expected to operate either the inn or fitness center as a business, according to Richard Bastille, who with wife Maurine, brother Ed and sister-in-law Louise has run the business for the past seven years.
The Bastilles were the victims of poor timing, having purchased the property and business on the verge of a lingering recession. Compounding that problem was a tepid winter last year, which saw much fewer out-of-town visitors to the nearby Gunstock Mountain Resort for skiing and snowboarding.
Room rentals had been rising recently, according to Richard, but it proved too little, too late for the Bastilles. Still, McIntire hopes there is a future for the Gunstock Inn, and that her swimming club will be able to again practice in its Olympic-sized pool. In the mean time, the Stingrays will hold their practices at a pool in Concord.
McIntire and her team had what turned out to be a practice run at moving to Concord. Earlier this season, the heater in the Gunstock Inn pool failed. The team relocated briefly to the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club, where they found there was already too much demand for pool time, then found a home away from home in Concord. Even by reducing the weekly practices from four to two, though, a third of the swimmers found the commute was too far, even for a temporary period. Now that the move to Concord will be permanent, at least for the foreseeable future, McIntire worries what the change will mean for the well-being of her club swim team and the sport in general.
In addition to being the founder and head coach of the Stingrays, McIntire is employed by the Gunstock Inn as the director of aquatics and fitness. "I teach hundreds of children swim lessons," she said. "If this place doesn't re-open... We live in the Lakes Region, how are these kids going to learn to swim?"
Annie Peternel is one of the swimmers who travels from Wolfeboro to be a part of the Stingrays. She and her three sisters make the trip, which she said is worthwhile due to the instruction provided by McIntire and assistant coaches Al Rozzi and Jim McIntire, Martha's husband. "Al's a great coach," said Peternel. "The whole day here is awesome, it's a good way to learn how to swim right."
Katy Peternel said Annie and her other daughters have been Stingrays for two years. "It's created really good swimmers, it's been great for their character, they've developed really good friends... I really love the spirit of what they're doing here." From door-to-door, she said bringing her daughters to swim practice at the Gunstock Inn is a three and a half hour proposition. Traveling to Concord is a distance too great, she said, and joining the Lakes Region Wavemakers, a swim club based out of the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club, is too costly. McIntire offers a family discount, with which the Peternels were able to swim last year for $1,500. According to Katy, it would cost nearly double for her daughters to switch to the Wavemakers.
"This filled a real niche," added Katy. "We're going to miss that. Al and Martha have done a really great job building this team."
"There are kids who want to swim," said McIntire. "It's such a shame to lose a facility."
CAPTION for GUNSTOCK STINGRAYS:
Gunstock Stingrays assistant coach Al Rozzi instructs a group of swimmers on Tuesday at the Gunstock Inn and Fitness Center. The facility is scheduled to be closed next week due to financial pressures, forcing the team to travel to Concord to find a pool where they can practice. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)