By Meredith Stewart
If you told me six months ago that I would be taking even a two week’s break from swimming I would have rolled my eyes and called you crazy. Swimming has been a major part of my life for a decade now. It’s a lifestyle. Those early morning practices, the hair that freezes when I walk out of the pool into a flurry of snow, and the weekends spent racing day and night consume almost as much time as school.
Imagine my surprise when all club team practices were cancelled at the beginning of March. Imagine my disappointment when my favorite meet was postponed indefinitely and with it my spring break trip to Florida. Suddenly, I had more free time than I knew what to do with, so I tried to enjoy this strange liberty for about a week. Before I knew it, boredom cast its ugly shadow over my mind and a lack of productivity gnawed at my insides. I needed to start training again.
At first, I ran (Iike most swimmers, I suck at running). This lasted a whole three days. I remember my mother was frantically looking for open pools. No luck. We bought a Peloton figuring biking would be a much more sustainable activity for my water loving sisters and I. To this day, that bike gets as much use from my parents as a pool does from me and my sisters. Each member of my family would take turns riding for thirty to forty five minutes. I remember the intensity of those workouts, the energy of the instructor, and the competition among the usernames on the leaderboard felt familiar to the intensity, energy, and competition present at swim practices. The Peloton comforted me for approximately three weeks, allowing me to forget the nostalgic feeling of water whooshing against my hot face. Alas, these few weeks passed, and I grew bored. I needed to swim.
After these first four weeks of isolation which I thought would end by the time summer breathed its first warm breath, my mom finally found a pool my sisters and I could practice in. The location of this training site being the backyard of my youngest sister’s best friend’s house. I remember thinking how swimming in a pool half the length of the standard 25-yards was going to work. Mentally and physically it proved doubly exhausting. Swimming twice the laps required in order to swim the same distance in a normal pool is daunting and living in Ohio means snow was still falling from the grey March sky. At least the pool was kept at a warm 80 degrees. This was a good thing until Mother Nature decided winter was over and summer could commence, skipping over the moderate days of spring. Needless to say, training in this backyard pool meant for splashing and floating was complicated.
I was grateful for the water, the chlorine, the feeling of putting a messy bun in my hair after a session of work, but mostly the hot tub waiting for me when the work was done on a chilly day. I enjoyed being a coach to my sisters and my sister’s friend who joined us in our practicing endeavors. Making up sets released suppressed creativity and trying to convert times in a 13-yard pool to a 25-yard one was a fun challenge. A few weeks passed with me as the instructor and my mind as the source of exciting new workouts until I emailed my club coach. He sent practices each day for our small training group to do. By now the weather was hot. The sun beat down on my black cap which felt as though it would melt off my head. These sets were long, much longer than the ones I came up with. Sometimes I swam 7000 yards (about 540 laps in that small pool). I remember the satisfaction that came with finishing the first set written in pen that smeared on the damp piece of paper I kept on the deck. A month passed like this. I continued to ride the Peloton nearly every day after my swim until finally club practices resumed.
Although I wouldn’t wish a pandemic upon a planet inhabited by my worst enemies, it taught me something. It taught me how to improvise. It taught me the importance of self-discipline. I’m grateful for that 13-yard home pool and that stationary bike. Without them, I might have forgotten how to do freestyle. I might have forgotten what it feels like to swim more than four consecutive lengths or the persistence required to work through a seemingly impossible set. High school season is starting, and I am glad for that little pool in the backyard of my youngest sister’s best friend’s house.