Courtesy: Nick McMillan
D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation facilities reopened a select number of recreational centers last week, including six indoor pools. However, swim teams are still unable to return to group practices.
“At this time of it [Phase Two reopening], there are no plans for group reservations for swim teams,” said Delano Hunter, director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
As part of D.C.’s Phase Two reopening plan, individuals who want to use DPR pools can make an online reservation for a 45 minute time slot. These reservations are available seven days in advance and allow one swimmer per lane. It’s apparent that community members are eager to return; all pool reservations were filled for the opening week.
According to Hunter, pools are only available for individual reservations and select programs in order to ensure “equitable access to a broad segment of our population.”
When the pools closed seven months ago due to the pandemic, swimmers looking to continue their sport were at a loss.
Jerry Frentsos, a swimmer and coach for District of Columbia Aquatics Club and author of “Intentionally Well”, was shocked when he saw the posting on the rec center door.
“Swimming has always provided me with an outlet, and it’s always kept me strong,” said Frentsos, who has broken 20 Masters world records. “So I actually stood there and looked at the locked door and was just like, ‘Uh oh, this is going to be tough to handle’.”
DCAC held practices at DPR pools, which meant that swim practices were suddenly canceled with the onset of COVID-19 guidelines. The solution to the lack of pools didn’t become apparent until early May, when the South River in front of Jerry’s house in Annapolis, Maryland became warm enough for swimming. The word spread, and soon swimmers from all over, including D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, would show up four times a week for a socially distanced practice.
The swimmers are not affiliated with any team in particular and have actually chosen a group name for their unsponsored gatherings, inspired by the challenges the river has thrown at them.
“We’ve all been stung by jellyfish, and we call ourselves the South River Stingers because of where we swim and what has happened to us,” explained Frentsos.
Jellyfish aren’t the only hurdles that the swimmers have to face. During evening swims, they place blue lights underneath their caps so that passing boats can see them in the dark. Despite the jellyfish, dwindling daylight hours and cold water, anywhere from around 4 to 20 swimmers will show up.
Catherine Kozub, a resident of D.C., saw pictures of the group swimming on social media. She had been starting to feel isolated during the pandemic and wondered if joining the Stingers might help fend off the loneliness. Even though the South River was a bit out of her way, she borrowed a car from her family to get to practice. After experiencing the camaraderie of the group, she knew she had to return.
“In addition to the exercise when I come here, it’s been really great to have some interaction with other people,” Kozub said. Along with the new friendships, she has also gotten feedback about her stroke and improved her swimming.
The water temperature has been hovering around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is quickly dropping. Jeremy Wojtak, a DCAC swimmer, just bought a wetsuit but knows that it’s only a temporary fix. The plan is to continue swimming for as long as possible. He thinks that when the water dips below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which should be around Thanksgiving, it will be too cold to continue swimming.
The South River has provided these swimmers with a safe way to experience the camaraderie of a swim team. Without an option for teams to swim in DPR facilities, swimmers will instead have to vie for individual reservations.
Kevin Majoros, who has been a member of DCAC since 1996 and organizes the unsponsored river swims, understands that the reservation system is great for those who normally swim by themselves. But he also acknowledged that for those part of a swim team, it’s impossible to replicate an organized workout with a coach.
“Showing up knowing there’s a group of people waiting for you is a completely different thing than going there on your own,” said Majoros.
As swim teams across the nation return back to the pool, USA Swimming, the National Governing Body for the sport of swimming in the United States, has offered guidelines for how teams can safely return to a pool.
“I’m hopeful that there is something that happens that can bring the team back together in a pool setting,” said Frentsos. “We’re running out of temperature.”