While the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled numerous sports games in the past seven months, pool closures left swimming and diving teams across the nation with very little options for practices and meets.
The pool closures for the spring and most of the summer forced Amy Burgess, the UA Little Rock Head Swimming & Diving coach, to come up with new ways for the team to stay in shape during the off season.
“Though some sports were able to continue training on their own during the spring and summer, pools remained closed for most of the spring and early summer so our training was done out of the water, which as you can imagine is not quite the same,” she said.
Burgess made the team workout outside of the water with weights and running, aka “dryland,” and although they are allowed in the water now, there are still some restrictions the team has in place.
“We are keeping roommates together during most practices, wearing masks in the weight room and alternating which side of the pool each lane trains in to keep distance between everyone,” Burgess said.
With most of the team back home after UA Little Rock closed its campus on March 12, the team had to do their workouts all on their own, including senior Lily Kerr who had to go back to her home in South Carolina.
“I didn’t have access to a pool because the majority of facilities were mandated to close,” Kerr said. “As a result of this during the spring I did a lot of dryland workouts and did interval-based running to maintain my endurance as I am a distance swimmer.”
The time out of the water was difficult for Kerr since swimming helps her cope during stressful times, especially in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Swimming has always been something I can turn to take my mind off of other aspects of my daily life and it is an activity I truly enjoy doing,” she said. “It was very hard mentally to not be able to participate in the sport that I love. I think the biggest challenge for myself and the team as a whole during the pandemic is not having access to a pool.”
However, luckily enough for Kerr, the pools in South Carolina opened back up in May, allowing her to practice with her former club team after two months out of the water.
“Being able to get in the water was something I was very fortunate to participate in as many of my teammates were not able to practice whatsoever,” she said. “It was very difficult to be out of the water for two months because that is the longest I have ever gone without swimming before.”
Not all of Kerr’s teammates were as lucky as her, including sophomore Sylvia Shaw, who had a difficult time finding an open pool in her home state of Oklahoma.
“I’m from a non-swim state, so there aren’t very many options for club teams or pools,” she said. “My state went into a two-month lockdown and I wasn’t able to swim at all for that time. Even when the lockdown was lifted, the pool still remained closed for maintenance purposes. That meant I had to find other ways to get cardio in so I wouldn’t lose everything.”
While Shaw was able to do her dryland workouts, it wasn’t the same as being able to practice in the water.
“As a swimmer, running is a lot harder and doesn’t have the same muscle focus so it’s nowhere near as beneficial as getting actual pool time,” she said.
According to both Shaw and Kerr, any significant time out of water can have a huge impact on a swimmer’s performance.
“Swimming is different from any other sport for the reasoning that if you take any amount of time off you can start to lose the feel of the water very quickly,” Kerr said. “I was told as a club swimmer that for every day out of the pool it takes two days to get back to where you were as a swimmer. As a result of this, I think it was really difficult for the team to start to get back to the mental and physical standpoint that we were in before the pandemic occurred.”
The amount of time Shaw spent out of the water, she says, definitely had a huge impact on her both psychically and emotionally.
“It was discouraging hearing about other teammates who got to practice on a regular schedule or at least three times a week because I felt really behind,” Shaw said. “I didn’t get in a pool until the end of June and I felt super rusty. Even when I did get in the pool I only could swim one to two times a week or biweekly.”
Even with the school year beginning, Shaw’s luck still seems to keep going south.
“The UA Little Rock pool had maintenance issues when we first got back to school so we still haven’t had a normal practice schedule,” she said. “For the past month we’ve been going to other pools or doing dryland to try and keep in shape. I’m nowhere near the shape I was this time last year but I should bounce back pretty fast.”
The pandemic has also had an impact on the meet schedule for the team. The team’s season usually begins in late September or early October, but due to the pandemic, it got shifted to January 2021 with their conference championship moving to April instead of February.
“We are still working on final details for a schedule,” Burgess said. “We will not compete in as many dual meets as we normally do. Moving our season allows us more time to train as a team and get everyone back in competitive shape.”
Kerr says that the season change not only allowed for the girls to focus more on their technique and strength work training during the offseason, which helped the girls become psychically stronger in and out of the pool, but also helped their bonds become stronger as well.
“The change in when our season occurs has allowed the team to have more time to get to know each other as we have been able to take part in events outside of the pool to better understand our teammates,” she said.
One of the more memorable events put on by the team was a socially distant canoe trip down the Caddo River in southwest Arkansas.
“The beginning of the year is always a time we focus on growing and developing as a team so incorporating the new with the returners and COVID-19 put a new challenge on getting together,” Burgess said. “We brainstormed as a staff to see what we could do and landed on a canoe trip down the Caddo River.”
All the swimmers, including Burgess, say that the canoe trip was a huge success.
“It was a great way to keep our distance but also work together as we navigated the chilly waters,” Burgess said. “It was many people’s first time and great to see them work together and improve as they made their way down.”
The bonding was especially important as the team saw 12 new freshmen girls get added to the 2020-2021 roster, which presented another hurdle for Burgess as a coach during the pandemic.
“Having a few more on the team creates a few more challenges during this time,” she said. “However, we are so fortunate that our aquatic facility allows us to easily space out. The weight room is where things get tight and we have had to create more groups than normal. It is sort of like putting a giant puzzle together, but everyone including the freshmen have been very fluid though everything. We were all so excited to be back together and start training as a team that it makes it all worthwhile.”
Kerr says that the freshmen are more than welcomed editions to the Trojan Swimming & Diving team.
“This new group of girls have already made a significant impact on our team and I am so excited to see how their contributions can help us to grow as a team this season,” Kerr said. “The team is working hard both in and out of the classroom and we are very excited and eager for in-season practices and meets to begin in January.”