New Canaan Secretary of the Year swims with sharks
NORWALK — “Who came to see me get bit by a shark today?” Lisa Jarosik asked a crowd of roughly 100 kids, standing in front of the Maritime Aquarium’s 110,000-gallon shark tank, decked out in a full scuba suit.
Moments after addressing the crowd Jarosik disappeared up two flights of stairs into a back room of the aquarium, where a team of volunteers prepared for her dive into the 18-foot-deep tank filled with seven sand tiger sharks, one lemon shark and numerous other fish.
On a platform above the tank, Jarosik stood in full suit and face mask, with her backup diver, Tom Thomes. Thomes was to follow Jarosik into the water and stand behind her in case of emergency during the roughly 20-minute dive.
“The last thing you want to do is jump on the back of a shark,” said David Sigworth, the aquarium’s associate director of communications, watching from a few feet away.
Jarosik is one of the aquarium’s corps of volunteers — licensed divers who, on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, swim with the sharks as part of an educational presentation for visitors.
According to Jarosik, the presentation has three goals: To educate people about sharks and the many millions that are killed by humans each year, to inspire conservation, and for entertainment.
But Jarosik is not only a diver. She is a secretary to the Saxe Middle School principal in New Canaan and is the recipient of the Connecticut Association of Schools award for Administrative Assistant of the Year for 2018.
Jarosik, a 25-year veteran of New Canaan Schools received the award April 27.
“Lisa Jarosik has exemplified the highest quality performance and service over the twenty-five years she has served our middle school, and my office, as principal’s secretary,” said Saxe Middle School principal Greg Macedo.
And, for much of that time, Jarosik has been swimming nose to nose with the ocean’s apex predators.
Jarosik started diving with sharks 25 years ago. At that point, she was a certified diver and, while on vacation in the Bahamas, saw people feeding sharks and got hooked. In 2011, she started at the Norwalk aquarium — with a volunteer program that began in 2008 — and several times a month takes half days from school to educate visitors to the museum.
On this particular day, the crowd included four of her Saxe Middle School students and two teachers, who came to see Jarosik in action.
“You don’t usually picture people you know swimming with sharks,” said Saxe eighth-grader Matthew Kim.
“She’s not afraid at all,” said Kim, mystified.
Kneeling on a large rock in the middle of the tank as the sharks and assorted other fish swam by, Jarosik, who was miked up for the duration of the dive, spat out facts on sharks and answered questions from the audience. Her sole protection, other than Thomes’ watchful eye behind her, was a “tickle stick,” two PVC pipes fastened together in a cross shape, used not to hit or poke the animals, but to gently guide them away should they get too close.
The sharks swam close — Jarosik said she likes it when they come near to say hello — and investigated her presence in the tank, but otherwise swam on in a lackadaisical manner as if she weren’t there.
After 20 minutes elapsed and crowd questions had been answered, Thomes resurfaced and left the tank and, after a brief comb of the tank floor for discarded shark teeth, Jarosik did too.
“What better volunteer job is there in the world,” she said, as she removed her mask.
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