Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Swimmers from the Northumberland Aquatic Club are hoping to dive back into the water in the new year.
The Port Hope-based club has been riding the waves and challenges of the pandemic. Some swimmers were back in the pool at the Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope in July once proper protocols were in place before the regular season began in September.
Swimmers have been training and were able to participate in two in-club meets prior to the current province-wide shutdown.
“It’s been interesting,” said Trish MacNeil, who is her third season as NORAC head coach after spending about 12 years as the club’s assistant coach. “I’ve had to rethink a lot of how I coach because I can only have so many kids in the pool and they start from either end of the pool so we can’t do the same kind of workouts we would’ve done a year ago.”
The pool has three double lanes instead of six singles so the challenges often resulted in swimming shorter distances or starting some exercises from the middle of the pool.
“You don’t want them breathing on each other, you don’t want everybody clumped at one end of the pool,” MacNeil said. “I have to basically run back and forth to each end because I have to explain what we’re doing to one group and go back and explain it to the other group.”
There are 49 competitive swimmers this year who are also adapting to the current climate.
“Usually we would have two-hour sessions and now we’re having, depending on the level, anywhere from 45 minutes to the longest one is about an hour-and-a-half,” MacNeil said. “Normally they would swim many more hours than they are now just because of the limit in the pool time that we can get and financially just what we can afford to rent for pool space. That’s a big issue as well.”
Another unfortunate result of the pandemic is NORAC not being able to offer its Swim School recreational program, which usually has more than 100 members. It’s a great way for children to learn to swim and it’s also a way for the club to build its competitive program.
“We haven’t been able to get that back up and running just because of the closeness of the kids,” MacNeil said, noting the Para Swim School also can’t be offered at this time. “Often for the really young ones the instructors would be in the water with them and we can’t do that (at this time).”
For the competitive swimmers, the first meet was held in November. Swimmers had to be two metres apart and wear masks when they weren’t in the water. There were three heats with six swimmers in each while another group waited at one end of the pool and another group at the bleachers.
“Everybody was well spaced out, we had limited officials on the deck, just kept everyone very safe,” MacNeil said.
There were two sessions, which included 15 minutes of warm-up, 45 minutes of racing and cleaning inbetween.
The most recent in-club meet was held on Dec. 20, with some rule changes including the requirement of swimmers being three metres apart and the use of only every other lane. That meant more heats with only three swimmers in each and less officials used.
MacNeil said the meets “ran really well” despite no parents or other spectators being able to watch.
“It was very quiet because there’s no cheering. When you’re at a swim meet it’s usually really loud and exciting,” she said. “The kids all did really well. We had a lot of best times and they’ve been working really hard. It was good for them. We really wanted them to see how they’re doing. It’s kind of hard to keep training and not have any indication of how you’re performing.”
MacNeil remains hopeful the swimmers will return to the pool in late January for training and eventually be able to hold more in-club meets, possibly even a virtual one with another club to compare results.
“It gives them something to look forward to and see how they’re doing,” she said.