Swim instructor leaves legacy

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, January 12, 2019

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LEGACY – Fit-N-Wise Aquatics Instructor Kim Emery holds up one of her favorite photos of Brandy Wallen, a former Fit-N-Wise swim coach and instructor, smiling with student Kylee Barthold. Wallen died Monday. She taught and coached swimming at Fit-N-Wise for 12 years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The chlorine-soaked air was heavy, but everything appeared to be back to normal along the surface at the Fit-N-Wise aquatic center Wednesday afternoon.

Swimmers glided through lanes, seniors splashed through water-aerobics classes and lifeguards moved in and out of shifts.

But nothing will quite be the same here for several of the employees who lost a co-worker and friend Monday. Brandy Wallen, the swim instructor and coach at Fit-N-Wise succumbed to injuries after being stabbed at the Toast Your Bunz tanning salon in Decatur by an estranged boyfriend. She was 45.

Ronnie Brezina, 63, of Decatur was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with capital murder in his hospital room at Medical City Denton.

The loss of Wallen has left swirling emotions to the many who knew and loved her. Anger and sorrow, but also, reflection and warm memories of the person this community lost.

“Brandy was all about family – family and swimming, 100 percent,” said Fit-N-Wise swim instructor Kim Emery. “She was reserved and private and family was number one.”

Wallen worked as a swim coach and instructor at Fit-N-Wise for 12 years. To Emery, she was a dedicated colleague and friend. To others, she was the coach that taught them how to swim.

“I like to remember the life,” Emery said. “The lasting thing I will always remember, as opposite as we were, is we both had that same passion and we worked together. She taught kids to swim and got them where they needed to be – she left a legacy.”

Grief counselors from Wise Health System came to the gym Tuesday to meet with those in need. Wendell Berry, Director of Fit-N-Wise Fitness, said it was an opportunity for people to reflect on Wallen and her impact. Colleagues and former students sat together to reflect on the instructor. They exchanged stories of first swim lessons. Some are on the swim team now, pursuing a passion that began with Wallen.

“Even the junior high and below kids were saying, ‘she taught me to swim,'” Berry recalled. “One high school girl said, ‘I’m swimming because of her.’ She really impacted a lot of people and a lot of kids over the 12 years she was here. You could tell it wasn’t just a job to her. It was heartfelt.”

On Thursday, the Decatur High School swim team hosted a meet at Fit-N-Wise. There were flowers on a table at the entrance dedicated to Wallen.

She taught hundreds of people how to swim in her 12 years at Fit-N-Wise, including a daughter who also discovered a passion for swimming, and a son who is on the Decatur swim team.

The largest testament were the kids in the pool Thursday, replicating the strokes she taught.

“That was the similarity with all those people,” Berry said. “They really felt that she was part of their journey in swimming.”

Funeral services for Wallen will be held 2 p.m. Sunday at Community Church in Decatur. Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Hawkins Funeral Home in Decatur.

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