Members of the Mandan Marlins are swimming this summer with social distancing in mind.
The competitive swim team started up practices at the Mandan Aquatic Center on June 1, following coronavirus guidelines from state officials and USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming.
The team’s board formed a COVID Action Committee which created a plan to safely run practices. It brought the plan to Mandan Public Schools Athletic Director Mark Wiest and facility directors, who agreed to let the team meet at the Aquatic Center.
“We were very diligent on our committee,” Vice President Seana Tamisiea said. “I had confidence that the coaches would do their best to maintain the distance that they needed to, and we made sure that all of our policies were following USA Swimming’s recommendations.”
In a regular season, all members of the team would practice at the same time, with five to seven people swimming in the same lane. Now lanes are limited to two people and practices are held throughout the week. Swimmers are assigned to a specific lane that they share with either a sibling or someone from their neighborhood.
“We’re a team that’s used to swimming all together at the same time, so it has been a little challenging,” spokeswoman Angela Wescott said.
To limit exposure and contact, swimmers come to practice in their suits and wait for a coach to let them into the pool so that only one person is having to touch the door. Since they cannot use the locker rooms, they leave their belongings and equipment on the bleachers, which are marked to encourage distancing. The swimmers are then released in groups based on their lanes.
“The only place where the swimmers are all together is outside in the parking lot,” Wescott said.
Another issue the team had to face was how to manage the equipment. Swimmers typically use paddles, pull buoys, fins and kickboards during practices.
“The pool has its own set of equipment that we always used in past years during practices,” Head Coach Alicia Bungum said. “However, to have access to that equipment during COVID, we would need to sanitize everything everyday after every use. That’s just a lot of time and work for coaches or parents to be doing, and so we decided just to forgo that and have all of our athletes order their own equipment.”
The short and long course seasons both were affected by COVID-19. The short course season, which runs November to March, was cut short, while the long course season, from May to July, was delayed.
North Dakota Swimming on March 12 canceled all remaining meets for the short course season, including the state championship.
“The hardest part was when everything got canceled,” Wescott said. “It was the weekend before state and regionals, so many of these kids that had higher-level competitions pretty much finished their season and just didn't get to compete at championships.”
Since it got a late start, the team plans to end the long course season a week later than usual and start the short course season earlier.
“We typically start practices in mid-October, but right now we’re talking about starting early in September just to make up for the delayed start and so that gap between the two seasons isn’t so long,” Bungum said. “We’ll almost think of those as a single season with just a few weeks break in the middle.”
While there are currently no official meets planned for the long course season, the team continues to practice to keep in shape and to prepare for the next short course season. The team might also put on a small meet of its own.
"Swimming is a sport where you can lose a lot of ground," Tamisiea said. "The swimming community was really good about advocating for us and trying to help us get back into the pool so we could regain the ground that they lost."
Swimmers say that practices have not changed much besides the social distancing and different schedule. They are happy to be back in the pool and doing the sport they love.
“It was hard not being able to swim and being stuck at home for two months,” 14-year old swimmer Ben Schaff said. “I was upset about state, but I know that a lot of these swimmers were still going to get to have another state meet. So I looked at it more as an opportunity to focus on technique, and getting better on my stroke, and then coming back next season stronger and faster.”
Ten-year-old swimmer Addysen Becker was sad that the last season was cut short and is ready to be back in the pool.
“I was really excited to swim again,” she said.
Reach Alex Kautzman at 701-250-8255 or email@example.com.
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