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With pools closed, swimmers scramble to adjust

by ZwemZa on April 11th, 2020

Daily Journal

Under normal circumstances, most competitive swimmers would be at or near the end of their between-seasons break, returning to the pool to start training for the summer’s long-course meets.

As all of us have noticed, though, these are not normal circumstances — especially so for swimmers, who are locked out of their pools for as long as schools and other public facilities are closed down.

Most other athletes have ways of training during this quarantine period in ways that closely replicate their regular training. Basketball players can still dribble or get some shots up in a driveway. Runners can run. Golfers can still golf, at least for now. Football players can lift weights and do their usual off-season conditioning drills.

But without water, swimmers can’t swim. And being away from it for any length of time sets them back.

“Swimming’s one of those things where even if you miss a day or two, you feel the water different,” Center Grove freshman Brett Trammell said. “It’s hard to explain, but — I just want to swim, you know? Other people can practice their sport at home, but swimming is unique in the way where we can’t really practice it. We can just try our best to stay in shape.”

That becomes even more difficult, depending on what exercise equipment is available for each swimmer. High school swimmers who were used to doing weight training a few times a week during the school year have to make do with whatever’s around the house. Greenwood freshman Naomi Weaver and her younger brother Moses have some dumbbells and resistance bands that they’ve been able to use; others, such as Franklin Regional Swim Team seventh-grader Jay Stewart and Center Grove seventh-grader Vincent Howe, are utilizing exercise bikes.

Coaches with each of the various local swim clubs have been passing out dry-land workout routines for their swimmers to follow. Getting through those without coaches there to offer instruction, though, has been tough.

“We can’t quite explain what’s going on as well on the phone as meeting together in person,” Howe said.

“Moses and I will do our workouts together, but there’s no coach here to tell you, ‘All right, this is what we’re doing; let’s go,’” Naomi Weaver said. “That’s been the hardest part — forcing yourself to get up and get it done.”

Tougher still has been trying to do the work without the support and camaraderie of teammates.

“We just really want to spend more time together,” Moses Weaver said. “Especially in the pool; it’s really fun how you can have some teammates to motivate you, and you can feel that passion to motivate them if they’re doing not so well.”

Coaches are in uncharted territory when it comes to devising a training plan, but they’re doing the best they can. In a slideshow that he distributed to his senior age group swimmers, Franklin Regional Swim Team head coach Zach DeWitt compared this uncertain time to a puzzle.

One of the biggest pieces of that puzzle, he noted, is accountability — with coaches unable to be there to push the swimmers through workouts in person, the onus is on each individual to make improvements on his or her own.

“Championships will be won by athletes,” DeWitt told his swimmers. “Not coaches, not programming, not structure, not tradition, not history.  Athletes will determine the team’s fate and their own fate.”

And that fate can go in either direction. The increase in idle time without both swim practice and school has brought more distractions and ways to get off track, but it has also allowed more time for supplemental workouts of all sorts.

Center Grove junior Devin Trammell has been running regularly — a pastime she’s not particularly fond of — and walking her three dogs, which she insists is tougher than it sounds.

“They are very strong dogs,” she said, “so they will drag you across the neighborhood.”

No matter how much dry-land work they get in, though, swimmers can’t recreate the feeling of being in the water. Pulling a butterfly or breaststroke through air isn’t the same as having the liquid resistance, and doing the worm across the living room rug, while perhaps the closest out-of-pool equivalent to a dolphin kick, is a very poor substitute.

A very fortunate few have access to backyard pools at home, and they’ll all certainly be opening up earlier than normal to make up for lost time. They aren’t full competition-sized pools — Stewart has a 15-yarder at his disposal — but they at least provide the opportunity to get a head start on regaining muscle memory on strokes, kicks, turns and underwaters.

In a sport so dependent upon repetition and routine, that’s not an insignificant advantage.

“Even if you are working out every day — land and water, obviously they’re not the same, so no matter how in shape you are in the offseason, it’s different,” Devin Trammell said. “You have to re-learn the technique; you have to re-learn your stroke.”

“I feel like when we get back in the pool, we’re going to drown,” added her younger sister, fifth-grader Brooke Trammell.

Stewart anticipates that even with the benefit of getting some swimming in at home, it will take him around three or four months to get all the way back to where he was when the short-course season ends. So even if there is some abbreviated form of a long-course season this summer — Franklin is among the many clubs around the state and the country that have already had to scrap a May home meet — nobody will be in peak form.

At this point, though, slow swimming is still unanimously preferred over no swimming at all.

The longing for normalcy has grown so strong that even the swimmers who previously dreaded the daily grind of team practices (and everyone has their moments) are itching to have those grueling days back as soon as possible. Stewart was one of many who mentioned how strange it feels to be completely away from it for so long, and he’s certain that he and his teammates won’t be taking his time in the water for granted anytime soon once they have it back.

“I feel like when we get back, we’re all going to appreciate it a lot more,” Stewart said, “that we all get this nice pool that we get to swim in, and we’ll be really grateful for it.”

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