Adam Ryan remembers swimming as a youth in Bethel Park in the mid-1990s. He went on to excel for Bethel Park High School’s swimming team as well as at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Even now as a coach, he can relate to the struggles facing the members of Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club. Most of the organization’s swimmers are adjusting to being back in the water. They have experienced a near-four month hiatus from workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a brutal sport,” Ryan said of swimming. “You learn a lot about yourself because when you are swimming, it’s just you and your head.”
So Ryan believes swimming helps the athletes cope with stressful situations, particularly COVID-19.
“I try to put myself in their shoes,” he said. “If this were to happen when I was in school, sure I’d hop in the pool and that would be great. It’s an escape. It’s something comforting. It’s just nice. You get that energy out and feel good.”
Workouts have resumed for Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club members this summer at the Bower Hill Swim Club. Even though there are no competitions lined up, swimmers are back in the water, doing laps and sharpening their skills.
“These kids have been through so much at a drop of a dime,” Ryan said. “So to even have some sort of normalcy – just coming to practice even if we are not competing – is real important. These kids love swimming. Just to have the feel of the water for 75 minutes and to escape all the craziness outside and get your mind where it needs to be is invaluable, especially for one’s mental well-being.”
In the hours between 6 and 11 a.m., before the Bower Hills Swim Club opens for general swim, Sharks, Marlins, Barracudas, Dolphins and Stingrays line up in an orderly fashion to enter the pool area for practice. Class sizes vary from 24 to a maximum of 30 and swimmers all maintain physical distances of six feet or more while practicing. Cones are positioned at the bottom of the pool in each lane to insure boundaries are maintained and swimmers do not mingle.
According to general manager Michael Kristufek, USA Swimming and American Swim Coaches Association has been helpful with providing guidelines. The organizations looked at teams from around the country and what they were doing and tried to figure out what was and wasn’t working.
“To be honest,” said MLAC instructor Leslie Becki, “as far as the organization of it, we are getting a lot cooperation. It’s very orderly, which in turns allows for a very effective workout. They are paying more attention.”
MLAC coach Jake Hoyson agreed.
“All of a sudden the kids are paying more attention to this is where I am supposed to be,” he said. “This is my starting point. Since we have all the kids starting at the same time, everybody is swimming together. The level of focus has increased noticeably.”
Appreciation is also evident. Hoyson said the swimmers are punctual, getting to practice on time.
“They are all so grateful to have somewhere to swim again and to be back in the water. They are getting right in and right to work. Their attitude is different.”
So far this summer, MLAC coaches are seeing positive results in the pool.
“For the most part, everybody is doing their part,” said Kristufek. “They are being respectful and so far it’s going well.
“The kids are having fun,” he added. “We are all excited to be back in the pool and swimming.”
During their time out of the pool, the MLAC staff found ways to keep fit and on top of techniques.
Kristufek, who exercised on the Montour Trail, said USA Swimming provided “a whole bunch of things” for coaches and kids to keep active. By utilizing those resources he said, the staff was able to figure out how to swim better while being unable to be in the water. The staff emphasized dry-land training workouts.
“It was pretty cool,” said Hoyson, “whenever I was just running around Mt. Lebanon, I would see swimmers out for runs too. They were just as anxious as I was to be in the water and were finding ways to stay in shape.”
With the summer program, the objective is to return to “some semblance” of swimming condition, Kristufek said.
“It’s like a whiteboard. We are starting over, getting rid of bad habits and building up new, good ones,” he said.
The biggest thing swimmers tend to lose after a long layoff is a feel for the water.
“If you are doing a land sport, the fact of it is, you are walking around on land, you are utilizing your muscles in roughly the same way,” Hoyson said. “But imagine trying to play soccer or basketball without having walked for three months. That’s roughly what the challenge is here. You’ve lost a lot of that feel in the water.”
Ryan said the non-free breathing environment is amazing.
“There’s no other sport where you are told when to breath,” he said. “You have to really love it, to do it.
“Though everything is so different,” he added, “it’s really cool to see how they have all adapted. It’s almost normal.”
Even though the pace to return to normal is different for everyone
“Everybody is at a different point,” Kristufek said, “but we are all glad to see a pool. It’s going great and I think we’ve tried to figure out how to best fit swimming back into our lives in as safe a way as possible.”