As it was announced earlier this week, there are currently no plans to reopen the Aquarena swimming pool, located in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The decision to keep the pool closed was made by The Works who run the pool, along with several other athletic facilities in the area. In their statement, The Works stated that given COVID-19 restrictions, it is not “financially feasible to operate the Aquarena.”
The pool was built for the 1977 Canada Summer Games and as the only 50-meter pool in the province is the main training facility for the province’s largest team, the St. John’s Legends Swim Club.
As of September 5, 2020, the island province of Newfoundland has 1 active case of COVID-19 which was reported on August 28. This brings the total number of cases since the outbreak of the virus to 269. According to the provincial government’s report, this case was a result of international travel and the infected individual has been isolating since their arrival in the province.
We chatted with some members of the Legends to get their take on the decision. Jaxson Row, a 13-year-old member of the club’s top training group just finished his first season with the team. After being out of the pool since its March closure, Row was excitedly preparing for the upcoming season when he heard the news earlier this week.
Row had a breakout 2019/2020 season, topping the national rankings for 13-year-olds in both the 100 free and 50 butterfly and landing in the top 10 in several other events.
Jaxson Row Nationally Ranked Events 2019/2020 (Age 13) (Long Course Meters)
- 100 Freestyle: 1st (56.68)
- 50 Butterfly: 1st (28.05)
- 200 Freestyle: 2nd (2:04.88)
- 100 Butterfly: 3rd (1:03.09)
- 50 Freestyle: 8th (26.46)
- 50 Backstroke: 8th (30.78)
- 100 Backstroke: 10th (1:05.42)
- 200 Backstroke: 10th (2:21.02)
Having gone over 5 months without access to the pool, Row says that this is the longest, by far he’s gone without swimming since he joined.
Already qualified for Eastern Canadian Championships and Canadian Junior Championships, Row has his sights firmly set on qualifying for 2021 Canadian Olympic Trials which are set to be held in April 2021. In order to qualify for meets at the national level, swimmers must qualify in a long course pool. Row explains that facing an indefinite closure of the province’s only long course pool will threaten his shot at that qualification.
“I’ve been working for trials basically two and a half years now, since my old coach told me about it, and I’ve been training for it ever since. So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal for me” said Row. He goes on to explain that he is not alone in feeling that his goals rely on the pool’s opening; “There’s many other kids like me in this province who have been working for years for one specific goal. And without the Aquarena, that is just completely gone.”
Row’s teammate and training partner Abby Williams had similar aspirations for the upcoming year. Williams was one a few Legends that had qualified for and was planning to travel to 2020 Olympic Trials before its cancellation. As she nears the end of high school swimming, Williams has hopes to continue her career by making a move to the US to swim with in the NCAA but warns that losing access to the Aquarena will make it much harder to achieve that goal;
“The closure of the Aquarena jeopardizes my university recruitment opportunity in the NCAA draft. This is the year that American Universities are considering me as prospect. Without long course racing, my national ranking will be severely effected, reducing my options.
Along with loving the opportunity to race long course, the loss of ability to consistently train long course is an issue in and of itself.
Row and Williams’ teammate and training partner Abby Andrews explains the difficulty by saying “you can’t go from doing a short course for a long time and then try to race a good time long course because you’re not used to it” she says. “We were all pretty shocked and confused.”
Andrews has been a member of the St. John’s Legends for nearly 8 years. She told us that although she has been able to get back in the pool at alternative training facilities in the last couple of weeks certainly feels a longing for her home pool. Andrews, like Row and Williams, is currently one of the team’s top performers having broken the 200 backstroke provincial records both in the short course and long course last season.
Speaking to the effect that swimming has had on her, Abby puts it quite simply; “It takes over your life, but in the best way possible.”
Andrews also brought up concerns that extend beyond just her team, saying “it’s not just the swimmers that are at risk of not making ourselves better. It’s divers and people doing lane swims and people doing swim lessons and synchronized swimming.” Andrew’s teammate and 2020 Olympic Trials qualifier Cormac Bull echoed these concerns; “Hundreds and hundreds of people will feel the negative impact of this closure, including recreational swimmers, competitive swimmers, staff and those who register for lessons.” “I believe it is essential to the community and well worth the resources.”
The backlash from the decision has extended beyond just the swimmers of the St. John’s Legends. The club’s president Blaire Pritchett and Swimming NL’s executive director Corina Hartley shared their dismay with the decision in an interview with local news outlet “The Telegram.”
Of the news, Pritchett said that “people were quite taken aback, pretty upset because a lot of swimmers who were very motivated to get back in the pool after six or seven months away suddenly were told that that may not happen,” he went on to say that “it was surprising news, and the timing of it was particularly bad given that we were looking at a situation where we were maybe six days away from starting our program, and now we’re back to square one.”
Hartley added that the continued closure of the province’s sole long course pool will cut deeply not only for the Legends but for the entire province;
“To not have the Aquarena be open is devastating for the entire membership of Swimming Newfoundland and Labrador,” “The Aquarena is vital to our sport in that it is the only 50-meter-long course pool facility in the entire province. For competitive swimming, it is an absolute must.”
Also speaking with the Telegram, The Works’ director Craig Neil defended the decision to keep the pool closed by saying “this is an unfortunate situation that The Works and its board of directors did not want to have to take, but it comes down to a fiscal situation that we feel that there’s no recourse at this point in time. … It was a very, very difficult decision to have to make.”
Those affected by the decision continue to share their opinions on Twitter, each explaining what the Aquarena means to them;
The entire swimming community would be wondering why you are saying, "it is not financially feasible to operate the Aquarena pool with limited capacities."
Link for you to avail $MILLIONS Federal programs, grants, loans, wage subsidies. Hope it helps you!https://t.co/rFIsepEqYh
— Leonard Roxon (@LeonardRoxon) September 3, 2020
— Kevin Cadigan (@kjcadigan) September 3, 2020
@SJLSwimming this is awful news for the province. The only 50m pool in the province is closed impacting swimmers from across the province. This puts our athletes at a great disadvantage and limits their ability to compete nationally. #SNL #cornerbrook #stjohns @PremierofNL https://t.co/TzUS4cmr06
— Corner Brook Rapids Swim Club (@cbrapids) September 2, 2020