Pandemic Presents Profound Challenges for the Swim World



The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Pool

Brett Brewer, Reporter

COVID-19 has affected all swimmers and swim coaches in a profound manner. 

Personally, after getting COVID-19 last November, I know it is real and serious, but some people still don’t understand the importance of following the proper precautions. This has made the return of sports much harder.

Even with many sports postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, it is not surprising that swim has been going strong since July. With pools full of disinfectant and with pool lanes being 6 feet wide, it has been easy to adapt social distancing protocols to swimming. The system has its pros and cons but overall, it works.

Although competitive swim has a working system with most swimmers back in the water, the pandemic has affected each swimmer in different ways. Some have used it to become more dedicated to the sport while others have lost their love for swimming. 

Local swimmers, Calvin Cunnan and Christoph Horkey, discussed how swimming has been for them during the pandemic. 

Horkey, a swimmer with both citizenship in the US and Austria, was planning on going to Austria to get qualifying times for college swimming when the pandemic started. He had already taken a gap year because of COVID-19 and decided it was better to take another gap year so that he could stay safe and have a better college experience. The additional year was intended to train for swimming and possibly get into even better colleges.

While many swimmers had no access to swimming, Horkey trained by swimming in the bay which kept him in shape, in addition to swimming in Austria. He also created a small gym using equipment he ordered online, allowing him to have a small amount of exercise in the absence of club swimming. 

The adjustment still affected Horkey’s ability to swim in college. This was due to the fact that messing up at meets could be costly and it could take a while to find another opportunity.

Cunnan on the other hand, a senior at Terra Linda, had no access to exercise equipment and didn’t have the ability to drive to the bay to swim, so he was sidelined until swimming started back up. This hurt his chances to get into college for swimming. Cunnan couldn’t bring his times down that much as the pandemic hit. 

This pandemic has also been a challenge for swim coaches. Thunder Coast Aquatics (TCA), a Bay Area swim team, started up during the pandemic. Victor Wales, a former University of Hawaii head swim coach, discussed how the pandemic affected starting a swim team and coaching. 

Wales explained how certain schools, like Duke, have worked with the Atlantic Coast Conference to have swim practices all of quarantine, while swimmers at Carnegie Mellon have not been allowed to have any duel meets and have cancelled their conference schedule. 

“You can see the contrast between a swimmer in North Carolina vs a swimmer in Pittsburgh versus even a swimmer here in California,” Wales said. 

The system around the US is very different, and for college swimmers, this has been a tough adjustment. The Pac-12 just started swimming in January, and the NCAA has said this is a redshirt year for swimmers, so luckily swimmers will not lose eligibility off just this one year. 

“However, for those on a four year track this is a lost year for them especially when you’re talking about a finite amount of time,” Wales mentioned.

Wales learned that many swimmers have quit, explaining how 30 percent of USA swimmers have stopped swimming. Even for a sport where many were lucky to keep swimming during the pandemic, a large number of swimmers have left during that time, which will have a large effect on qualifying times for years to come.

Wales also talked about how hard it is for swimmers who have not been as lucky, to swim during the pandemic. 

“The rule for swimmers is that for every practice you miss, it takes two to make up. What do you tell a kid who hasn’t been swimming for 8 months?” added Wales.

Even in San Francisco, swimmers have not been able to swim since March and it is having a serious effect on all levels of swimmers

Wales was also able to talk about how swim lessons aren’t happening like they were before. This means people are not learning how to swim. The Noonan Family Swim School in San Diego, one of the largest swim schools there, only had 30 percent of their clientele come back. These lessons would have helped kids become safer in the water, and now they won’t have the chance. 

These are just some of the challenges for swimmers who have not gotten COVID-19. I got COVID-19 and it was not easy to get back into swimming after I was gone for a month. The stress of potentially getting the virus while swimming is hard enough, but actually getting it forces you to stay out of the water for at least a month. This delays the return to the water and hurts times, creating a bad situation. 

It has been tough for swimmers but hopefully over time, everything can return to normal.