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As Ontario deals with another lockdown, some local swimmers are able to return to the pool, while others continue to wait to dip back in.
The City of Windsor is allowing training to start again this week, based on criteria in the Reopening Ontario Act, said Jen Knights, executive director of recreation and culture. She said local groups along with national and provincial organizations and the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) worked with the city on getting swimmers back to train.
While sports facilities are currently closed to the public, the legislation allows facilities to remain open to those identified as elite athletes — those training or competing to join Team Canada in the next Olympics or Paralympic Games.
Swim Ontario along with Swimming Canada created a list of eligible swimmers that can continue to train in pools, under the Provincial High Performance Exemption regulation.
Jayne Harcarufka, 15, is one of those eligible.
"I'm really grateful to be swimming again. I wish my whole team could be there. I wish it was possible, but I'm just grateful to have the pool time we have now," said Harcarufka.
Before the pandemic she would swim seven times a week, with meets at least once a month, if not more. As of March 2020, swimmers relied on training over Zoom. The swim team with the Windsor Aquatic Club was able to get in the pool off and on, which made it hard to get back into.
"In swimming, especially getting the feel for the water back and not even just as an athlete, like your physical ability, just mentally like your confidence is just not there after not training for so long," Harcarufka said.
The team was able to swim last Tuesday, the day before Premier Doug Ford brought back restrictions. Even though she's now able to get in the water, many of the swim team members can't. Those swimmers will get dry land training.
"It's really hard for me to say that to them when I get to swim and they don't," she said. "And I just I know that it's not possible for all of them to swim I wish it was, but I just hope that they can keep going because it's so much better swimming with the whole team there."
Another problem for the athletes is swim meets getting cancelled, which Harcarufka said is "honestly, really discouraging."
"It's really hard to get up every day at four or five a.m. and go to the pool and go through the motions. When you know, your goal, you might not get to swim at that meet. You might not get to train to your full potential," she said.
Practice and being with the swim team also helps with their mental health. Harcarufka said it's a struggle for her to keep swimming. It's supposed to be an escape for them. A place where they can feel confident and accomplish their goals.
"When you just you go there and you have no motivation to do it, it's really hard. And especially when there was no swimming at all, you just kind of felt like, there's not a lot of purpose like you're getting up and going through the motions," she said.
'We are losing swimmers'
Her coach, Mike McWha, said nine swimmers are allowed to train again at the aquatic centre. The stop and go of the training has created issues with his team.
"They have that passion. They want to do it, but it's also getting killed because they're so used to things stopping that that's becoming the norm," he said.
It's not just about keeping them physically in shape, but also mentally engaged.
"We are losing swimmers. We're losing athletes because they're just like, 'Well, why bother starting to do it again when it's just going to get shut down again?' And that that's," McWha said.
The next swim trial is in April and those that can't swim right now will still get training on land with staff.
"I've instructed them to do at least two to three times a week doing virtual or Zoom dry lands and Zoom weights. So I have them all on screens and I can watch them do stuff. So my plan is to now can try and continue that with my swimmers that are not in the water."
It's a similar situation at the Windsor-Essex Swim Team (WEST). Jimmy Lee is the head coach, and one of his swimmers can return to the pool this week. He said it will be motivating to get in the pool again, but will have challenges.
"It will be hard for him too because he is so integrated with the team that unfortunately, you know, he may be happy swimming, but unfortunately, without his support of his teammates and having his teammates around, that could present a difficult challenge in itself," said Lee.
For the remainder of the team, they're doing work to help strengthen their muscles on land, as "there's nothing to replicate swimming or the unique properties of water."
Lee and the team are also making sure the swimmers are taken care of by meeting once or twice a week to work on mental strategies.
"They really love their sport, swimming, so soon as you remove the pool and seeing their friends and their teammates, it's definitely a tough situation," he said.
Those who qualify to return to train have protocols they must abide by while at the Windsor Aquatic Centre.
Some athletes were able to get back in the pool Monday afternoon.