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Loving Dedication

River Falls honors beloved coach Heather Joy Wilson with renovated swimming pool.

Melissa Attilio wasn’t surprised when three swimmers set pool records in the first half of the summer’s first "A" swim meet at River Falls on Saturday, June 24.

The 30-year-old River Falls pool was renovated in the past year and dedicated on Memorial Day weekend last month. Attilio expects more pool records will fall in the upcoming months.

"We went from having one of the slowest pools in the county to one of the fastest, which I think will help our swimmers mentally as well as physically," she said. "After coming off a tough season, we have a fresh start."

THE FIRST FEATURE a visitor will notice upon entering the new River Falls pool is its dedication to Heather Joy Wilson. A River Falls swimmer and later an assistant coach, Wilson died after a long battle with multiple illnesses in December 2003 at the age of 33.

A new plaque at the pool’s entryway features a picture of Heather with the inscription, "You taught so many of us to swim, all of us how to take each day one at a time, and everyone to enjoy life to the fullest."

"It’s hard to put into words how incredible it is to see her when we walk in and out of here," said Attilio, an assistant coach at River Falls and a friend of Wilson’s.

The plaque was unveiled at the dedication ceremony last month, and was financed by donations from generations of River Falls residents who knew and loved Wilson.

"Kids gave babysitting money. … People who hadn’t lived in the neighborhood for years came back," said Gary Thompson, a River Falls parent. "It was everybody kind of coming together on it. … That was the way to give a long-lasting tribute."

"We are deeply appreciative that the community chose to remember Heather in this special way," said Walter Wilson, Heather’s father, who attended the meet on Saturday.

THE ORIGINAL River Falls pool was more than 30 years old, and was leaking from several broken drains in the deep end.

"We wanted to design a pool that the whole community could use at all times," said Joe Schiattareggia, a board member at River Falls.

Macon Construction and Paddock Pools were the two primary contractors who built the new pool in the past year.

New features of the River Falls pool include a "zero-degree" wheelchair ramp access, as well as a chair that can lower swimmers with disabilities into the pool. There are now eight swimming lanes instead of six, meaning that the swim team can practice while non-team members can continue swimming. The filter building is new, and the deck area was enlarged.

"The whole thing is new. The old pool was dug up, brought down to dirt and mud, then started from scratch," Thompson said. "Everything’s state-of-the-art."

The pool will eventually be heated, although that feature is not yet completed.

George Milne, an engineer and River Falls parent, served as a neighborhood consultant for the renovation project. "I think this one’s going to last a long time," he said.