Swimming In A Pandemic
For most college athletes, you spend months training for one moment where all your hard work will pay off. Even though that one moment only lasts a few minutes, you feel like all the pain and sacrifice was worth it. However, like many athletes, corona-virus brought my senior season to an abrupt halt and I never got to experience my moment. Since then swimming in a pandemic has become all about adaptability.
I was heartbroken when NCAA Championships was cancelled. I realized I would never get the chance to say goodbye to my collegiate career as a UCLA swimmer. There was a duality between my understanding that the NCAA made the right decision to protect their athletes, and the disappointment at the lack of closure. This was a sentiment shared by athletes across the country, who were vocal about their disappointment on social media.
In March, Harvard runner, Abbe Goldstein shared her frustrations on Instagram with Harvard’s decision to pull all of their athletes from competition at the start of the pandemic. This was one of the earliest moves by an athletic program in response to corona-virus, and Goldstein received a lot of sympathy from athletes going through the same thing.
Later in March, following the cancellation of NCAA Swimming Championships, University of Texas seniors, Maxime Rooney and Jack Collins wrote a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmett asking him to consider giving another year of eligibility to senior athletes. The NCAA granted another year of eligibility to spring-sport athletes, but unfortunately for winter sports, there would be no second chance.
With the loss of a college season, many of us hoped for a long course season in the summer.
2020 was a stand out year, not only because it was a fresh start, but because it was an Olympic year. Olympic Trials was right around the corner, and it really is a meet like no other. You will rarely find so much energy, adrenaline, and nervous excitement on a pool deck.
Last summer, I qualified for Olympic Trials in 6 events in three different strokes, and I was excited for Olympic Trials to be my last swim meet.
When Olympic Trials was postponed a year, I decided to extend my career for a year. But there was a big problem, I was left without a pool. In the months that followed, I dedicated three hours, 6 days a week, to running, HIIT workouts, and biking. All the while, my joints were hating me for it.
But it is important to remember, swimming is not a forgiving sport. It does not allow you to take days off from training without making you regret it. The competition in swimming is cut throat. Even at the highest level, the difference between first and eighth place can be a matter of milliseconds. With such a tight window between last and first, you start to realize how important attention to detail and consistent practice is.
This is why being able to find a place to train is such an advantage in swimming. You can attempt to mitigate this by continuing to exercise outside of the pool, but in truth, nothing else can really get you in shape to swim.
Some swimmers were lucky enough to be able to continue to swim through the pandemic in a private pool with a small group of swimmers and coaches. Others were not so fortunate.
I was lucky enough that my club team found a modest 6-lane pool after three months of searching.
Coming back from a couple days makes you feels like you are attempting to make your way through a pool of jello. Coming back from a three-month break due to the pandemic, I questioned whether I was drowning. Those first few days, I was only comforted by the fact that if I looked across my lane, I could see that my fellow peers were also drowning. However, it is hard to maintain that fun, social aspect when you are trying to create a safe environment to swim in.
Practicing during a pandemic meant everything had to change to incorporate safety measures. There were frequent temperature checks, mandatory masks, and a 6-feet apart protocol at all times.
Lanes went from having 6 people on the wall hyping each other up, to four people spread out 6-feet across the pool. Two started from each wall and two unlucky ones started from the middle of the pool, cursing their way through the set. When you try to build speed after pushing off nothing in the middle of the pool, you start to realize how much weight you might have gained during quarantine. Meanwhile, the lucky ones who get to push off a wall, really starts to test that 6-feet rule by coming dangerously close to being hot on your heels.
After spending about two months there, our team has since moved to a new location. We swim when its over 100 degrees outside because we have limited pool availability, and seven lanes worth of kids are squinting their eyes trying to make out the tiny analog clock. However, despite the weird environment, it is truly a luxury to be able to even complain about pool conditions.
Most swim teams remain displaced from their training center and continue to look for pools for their swimmers.
In a sport so dependent on consistency, it is a major issue that not all swimmers have access to a pool. When competitions return, just based off of times, it will be clear to see who was lucky, and who was a victim of circumstance. That’s a difficult pill to swallow when all most people ever want is equal opportunity for all in sports.
Sports have always been about adaptability. Adapting to incorporate your environment, your competition, and your failures. However, swimming through a pandemic has made adapting for some much more difficult then it has been for others. Hopefully in the coming months, more pools will open for more people to resume their training.