Enough of dry-land training, the Pacific Sea Wolves are back in the pool.
Sure, it’s not one the South Surrey swim club’s usual homes – the South Surrey Indoor Pool or the Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre – instead it’s the outdoor pool at Bear Creek Park in the north end of the city, but it’s a pool, nonetheless.
And nobody is happier than Sea Wolves head coach Jy Stewart.
“We were on Zoom for three months,” she said.
“It’s been really good to be back in the water and be a swim coach again, not a Zoom coach anymore. There’s only so many variations of pushups you can do. The kids were fine, but I was losing my mind, constantly saying, ‘OK, we’re gonna do more pushups!
After swimming – and pretty much every other sport – was shut down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents of Sea Wolves swimmers were equally happy to see their children back in the water and returning to some type of physical activity, Stewart said.
The club returned to the water on July 6.
“The parents are thrilled. They’re really happy their kids get access to a pool again,” Stewart said.
“We do have some multi-sport athletes, but for a lot of them, (swimming) is their main activity, so getting them away from Zoom workouts – where you can conveniently angle the camera so you aren’t really on it, and I don’t know if you’re doing the pushups I asked for – has been good.
“Now, parents know their kids are doing what I’m asking, and they’re seeing them do it.”
The months of dry-land training were about more than just pushups, of course. In fact, Stewart said the pandemic-induced break from the pool forced PSW coaches to get creative with their workout plans.
“It was a lot of education. We run dry-land training all year, just not usually five or six days a week. So we were re-educating ourselves as coaches, and did as much professional development as possible, so we could vary the workouts and also make sure we were working muscles that would be able to cross over into the water,” she explained.
Returning to the pool hasn’t been without its challenges either, especially as the club adjusts to the new COVID-19 return-to-play protocols issued by government health authorities and Swim BC.
Among the new safety rules is a limit to the number of swimmers in each lane – down to two from the usual six or eight, depending on lane length.
As a result of such physical-distancing during practice sessions, it means some swimmers are operating in the middle of the pool with no wall to start from or finish at. Cones are set up on the pool deck, so swimmers know where to stop and start, Stewart said.
“The kids have to figure out where they are, where to stop, and they have to push off from the bottom rather than the wall – that kind of stuff. Thankfully, the lanes themselves are 2.5-m wide, so as long as the kids stay inside the lines, they’ll be more than two metres away from each other.”
As well, the PSW club has been split into four distinct groups, each with different training times.
“There’s no interaction between them, absolutely no crossover,” Stewart said. “That way, if there was a positive (COVID-19) test, or if someone had a symptom and we had to shut down a portion of the program, we’d only be shutting down that one group.”
Stewart said coaches have eased their swimmers’ workloads in the first weeks back in the water.
“We’ve never had a break this long – at most, it’s a month out of the pool. So the biggest thing we’ve had to ease the kids back into is the pressure on their lungs and their bodies in the water. We’re still in the middle of those progressions… getting kids to adjust their breathing, that kind of stuff.”
Training outdoors has been a a challenge for the Sea Wolves’ most competitive members, Stewart said, most notably the small group that has qualified for Olympic Trials in 2021; the event was originally slated for April of this year, but was cancelled due to the pandemic.
“Normally, in an indoor pool, there are lines on the ceiling that you can follow so you can make sure, if you’re swimming backstroke, that you’re staying in a straight line,” she explained. “Now, they’re trying to stay in a line by spotting off other things – off clouds or trees, things like that.
“These are confident swimmers… and all of a sudden, they feel like they’ve gone back to basics and feel like they don’t even know how to move, or know where they are in their lane.”
All that said, Stewart expects them to be on top of their game by next spring, when the the Olympic Trials are expected to take place, pandemic issues notwithstanding.
So far, it’s the only event on the calendar that is expected to go ahead. Stewart said a handful of regular meets are still on the schedule for the rest of 2020, though she assumes they’ll be officially cancelled soon. She said virtual meets – time trials, essentially – may be organized among Lower Mainland clubs in the fall, which would see clubs time their own swimmers individually, then input results into a database to see where they rank amongst their peers.
Of course, for that to happen, the Sea Wolves will have to get back indoors, at either of their usual South Surrey pools. They’ll continue to train at Bear Creek Park for the foreseeable future, but Stewart is concerned that they’ll have no place to go if the City of Surrey continues to keep indoor facilities closed as it deals with an budget deficit that, it was announced this week, is expected to be just shy of $30 million.
“We’ve had numerous meetings with… city council and staff, trying to make it work. We can’t open our registration until we know, and registration normally happens in June,” Stewart said.
“The more that you hear and the more (information) that comes out, the more frustrating it’s becoming. That’s our biggest thing right now – we have 81 kids participating in swimming, and have an Aug. 31 end date (at Bear Creek Park), and nothing to move into after that.”