Jessica Vipperman has been swimming since she was 4 years old. After taking a few years off to pursue graduate study and social work, she returned to coaching and is being rewarded for it.

Vipperman was named the Arizona Age Group Coach of the Year on March 12 at the Arizona Swimming 2011 State Championship. She won the award for coaching kids ages 14 and under, which was voted on by all the head coaches who participated in the state championship.

"It was a complete surprise," she said.

In her fourth year as coach for Sun Devil Aquatics, her team placed fourth in the state championship. They scored more than 1,600 points combined and missed out on third place by less than 40 points.

"It was tough but I'm proud of our kids, they did really well," she said.

Vipperman grew up in Ahwatukee Foothills and attended Kyrene de la Lomas Elementary School, Kyrene Centennial Middle School and graduated from Mountain Pointe High School in 1996. She went on to swim at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas.

"Swimming in college has intensity of a club team but it has fun, exciting feeling like that of high school where you are battling rivals," she said.

Vipperman majored in anthropology and psychology at UNLV and when she graduated, applied to a master's program in London. The issue was they only accepted 13 applicants per year.

"It was one of those things where you apply just to apply," she said. "I didn't think I would actually get accepted."

But she did. Vipperman spent the next two years in London and worked toward a master's degree in cultural psychology. She spent part of her time working with refugees from places like Jamaica.

"It was exciting because these people were excited," she said. "They were starting a new life in London and we were helping them adapt to the culture there."

After two years, Vipperman returned to the U.S. and eventually started working for the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. Part of her responsibility was to work with kids who had been smuggled into the U.S. from South America.

"It was a tough job because I saw these kids who had gone through the worst," Vipperman said. "But you got to see these kids set goals and achieve them, which made it very rewarding."

She picked up a second job about four years ago while working at Tumbleweed coaching for Sun Devil Aquatics. Vipperman eventually left Tumbleweed to focus just on coaching.

"For me swimming has been a huge part of my life," she said. "It's nice to just have one job."

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