Swim teams across the country have been forced to suspend operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and things have started to take a financial toll.
Rhi Jeffrey, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, is the head coach of Atlantis Aquatics in Portsmouth, N.H., and has been directly affected by the crisis. And with hers and so many other smaller U.S. clubs struggling to make ends meet, she’s calling on USA Swimming to help.
“Honestly anything at this point is better than nothing,” Jeffrey told SwimSwam. “I’ve thought of USA Swimming offering half our 2020 dues back (that would be a good chunk) or even the entirety of dues. Or a monthly $500-$1,000 from the LSC or USA Swimming until we have a pool again. It could be based on team size or locale or any parameters people come up with.”
Per financial records, New England Swimming had $1.083 million in available funds as of January 14, 2020, with 90-100 clubs in its LSC. USA Swimming has approximately 2,800 clubs in total. SwimSwam has reached out to NE Swimming regarding what that money is earmarked for.
Jeffrey won Olympic gold in Athens on the American women’s 800 free relay at just 17 years of age, contributing to the prelim team after placing fourth in the 200 free at the Olympic Trials in Long Beach. In the two previous summers, the Delray Beach, Fla., native earned a Pan Pac silver in the 400 free relay in 2002 and a pair of relay gold medals at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona, all while she was still in high school. After competing in Athens she would go on to compete for USC in the NCAA.
Jeffrey’s team, previously the Cannonball Swim Club, has traditionally been more seasonal (something she’s been working to change), so they typically see a small decline in membership from the fall and winter to the spring and summer. But, with COVID-19 impacting things, they’re well below the usual count.
“In fall/winter, we usually have anywhere from 50-75 swimmers, and normal spring/summer numbers are between 35-50,” Jeffrey said. “This season we have 15 kids registered.”
In addition to this incredible drop in numbers, all of the swim school members have suspended their billing indefinitely.
“We’ve lost our swim school entirely due to fear and pool space and a lot of our newer members on the team side as well,” she said. “The main issue for us (and a lot of other small teams in NE that have just cropped up this year) is we haven’t had ample time to build numbers or develop it into a year-round program. We are still in the developmental process so this has given us a major step backwards.
“We had a few of our little kids ask for their entire spring/summer payments back which is sometimes thousands of dollars. Trying to figure out how to pay them back and survive is going to be difficult.”
Currently, all 15 swimmers that are registered with Atlantis Aquatics are paying half price during the pandemic, and Jeffrey has been running Zoom dryland workouts for them. But with such a small number of kids signed up, the club will be unable to cover costs when training resumes.
“I know we are not the only team just locally that is having this problem and I’ve voiced that much to some of the board members,” she said.
While Jeffrey understands why families are pulling the plug in this time of economic uncertainty, she sees it as a situation that could have long-term ramifications if action isn’t taken to support the clubs in need.
“The last month has emotionally taken a great toll,” she said. “I’ve put my blood, sweat, and tears into revamping this program and giving this gift of swimming to other kids. I know the reason is justified, but to see all these families who I thought supported us and what we were doing just bail when there’s all this talk of supporting local establishments is a punch in the gut.
“What really scares me is the fact that a lot of N.H. based teams are structured like mine. And a lot of the newer teams in M.A. are structured like mine. We might lose those teams in the fall and that’s a lot of bodies in the water. This could change our sport forever if something drastic isn’t done.”
The 33-year-old believes that if there was a time to use the available resources to help teams around the country, this is it.
“Teams are firing their coaches,” she said. “Teams are losing kids. We need help on a large scale and, if I’m being honest, what is a government if they can’t help you in a crisis? That’s what this is, a crisis. An emergency. I just want it to be treated that way. Not just for my little program but for all the little programs who have called me in the last weeks looking for guidance.
“We need help.”
On April 10, New England Swimming launched a COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, with the Board approving funding of up to $200,000 from the LSC’s reserve.