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Swimming During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Cana Yao

The COVID-19 pandemic shook up our world in more ways than one. The impact it had on my swim team was no different: due to safety concerns, all practices and meets for my swim team, North Carolina Aquatic Club, were canceled in late March. Though I knew how lucky my family was to be able to stay home, stay safe, and stay together, I was still devastated! But even through all the changes and challenges that the pandemic brought, one thing remained constant: the grit and dedication of our coaches and teammates.

Prior to the pandemic, my swim team had always used the University of North Carolina’s indoor pool at Koury Natatorium, but when UNC closed due to COVID-19, we had nowhere to go. Suddenly, “practices” were limited to once-a-week Zoom calls and daily at-home workouts. Finally, at the start of June, our coaches found an outdoor pool where we could safely practice. On our first day back, we all felt ready to kiss the ground—if we weren’t wearing masks, of course! I was so glad to be back, I plunged right into the water without even dipping my toe in. However, I quickly found out that the pool was freezing cold—enough to send water vapor rising from the surface. And absolutely cold enough to make swimmers scream upon diving in! Nonetheless, practice was nothing short of invigorating as our team struggled past a long stretch of missed practices, teeth chattering the whole time. Together, we pulled through the back-to-swim slump in early June.

Soon, though, we had another problem on our hands—one that almost left me longing for those chilly June waters. Within days, the pool went from freezing cold to burning hot. But our team was only strengthened by the eighty-plus degree July pool. So what if—despite the aerators that our coaches built for us—practice felt like swimming in bath water? Together, we weathered the August thunderstorms, and all the days of driving a good half-hour to practice, just to find it canceled because of the weather. We worked out in the muddy parking lot instead, the rain pouring down on us and soaking our masks, as Coach shook his fist at the sky.

Finally, the days of boiling water and thundery skies were gone—and replaced by colder, even more brutal conditions. Just a day or two of winter practice made me shake my head in awe. Taking a dip in a pool during November made June’s practice seem like swimming in a hot tub! Sure, shrieks of “COLD!” may have alarmed everyone within a five-mile radius, but as a team, we survived—and thrived in—the low seventy-degree pool. Finally, heating systems were installed. We dove in again, swimming faster than ever while our coaches shivered on deck, and ice formed around the edges of the pool.

At long last, Koury reopened, and we returned to our old schedule of practices and meets. The Koury pool was like a ghost town, quiet, with a maximum capacity of fifty people instead of hundreds, but filled again with NCAC spirit. Because amidst the shocks and changes of COVID-19, our team’s dedication still stands strong.

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