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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Jerry Zheng, a high school sophomore who competes for for the Somerset Hills YMCA Swim Team as well as the Ridge High School Boys Varsity Team.
When I jumped in the water for the first time in three months, a part of me that has been dormant for so long was awoken. Despite my awkward technique and powerless muscles, I felt free in the water. I am back where I am supposed to be, like a fish that finally got back in the water. The smell of chlorinated water seemed so familiar yet so strange at the same time. I saw the silhouette pacing on the pool deck through the murky water and heard the familiar voices yelling at us. The people who work so hard behind the scenes have allowed us to swim, yet they never actually get to jump in the water.
On June 22nd, Governor Murphy reopened outdoor pools in New Jersey as a part of his reopening program. This is monumental. A lot of work was done to make sure that pools are safe enough to open. The governor issued strict guidelines for outdoor pools which were crucial. Being one of the last states to reopen, Murphy placed the safety of New Jerseyans before economic gains or commercial activities. New Jersey is now one of the safest places in the whole country, being one of only four states currently on track to contain the virus.
After two weeks of conditioning practices, I’ve realized that we are so fortunate to get the opportunity to swim every day. We are so privileged, yet many people take it for granted and are oblivious to the work that was done behind the scenes. My club team, the Somerset Hills YMCA swim team, began practices as soon as outdoor pools opened. Other club teams in New Jersey are not so lucky. Only a few are holding swim practices, and others are doing group dryland exercises, with a handful still closed indefinitely, leaving swimmers desperate to get back.
My club team began practices with 1-hour 15-minute practices, then slowly worked our way up to 1 hour and 45 minutes. We are separated into smaller groups within the same age group so social distancing can be maintained. My head coach Lori Riegler has put countless hours in contacting multiple local outdoor pools and negotiating with pool owners to fit all of the swimmers from different practice groups. It takes a truly dedicated coach to put the athletes first.
As of now, my practice group is split up into two sessions to adhere to USA Swimming Guidelines. Coaches ask every swimmer health screening questions and take temperatures every single day before practice. Because we are still trying to get back in shape, Coach Lori made customized workouts for us with less volume that mainly focus on technique as we slowly gain back our feel for the water and aerobic capacity. Her, along with Coach Kim and all SHY coaches, train us for an extended period of time every day in the scorching sun, but it never wore on them. They always welcome swimmers warmly and motivate us with upbeat and trending songs.
My club team coaches also represent the struggling coaches across the world. Sports coaches, regardless of the sport, all hope for the best for their athletes. When we were disoriented during quarantine as the world was full of uncertainty, our coach sent us dryland programs every week via email and motivational articles. As soon as Governor Murphy lifted the outdoor gathering limit to 25 people, SHY immediately organized outdoor group exercises for our swimmers to prepare for a smooth transition back in the water, while strictly following the safety guidelines. The Greater Somerset County YMCA worked so hard for the past three months for the well-being of athletes, and other coaches around the world have been too. The mentors put their heart and soul into the athletes, and their best reward is to see their athletes mature and break their limits. Through these practices, I realized that the people who work the hardest aren’t the ones in the pools; it is the ones watching on the pool decks.
ABOUT JERRY ZHENG
Jerry Zheng is a sophomore from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Jerry swims for the Somerset Hills YMCA Swim Team as well as the Ridge High School Boys Varsity Team, and has been swimming since the age of 11. His hard work and dedication to swimming have assisted the Ridge High School Boys Swim Team to place third in the Skyland Conference and fourth in the Somerset County Championship.