Last week, Indiana swimming legend Lilly King posted a picture to Instagram that would have been unremarkable a month earlier.
It was just King, the Olympic gold medalist, standing in a private, indoor pool. But there was an extra-wide smile on her face, two thumbs pointing way up.
“Social distancing Distance swimming Social swimming,” King wrote. “Glad to be back in the water with my crew!”
The location of said pool was undisclosed. Fellow IU alum and Olympian Cody Miller, also pictured in the pool, responded to a query by saying it was “Batman’s Lair.”
While they may not be swimming beneath Bruce Wayne’s mansion, King and Miller have experienced a luxury most swimmers have not. With most public facilities closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t many options for getting in the water, a basic necessity of their sport.
IU swimming coach Ray Looze said maybe a couple of his varsity swimmers have access to a private pool, along with a trio of pros. He’s checked with realtors in Bloomington to see what exists, but there isn’t much out there.
“We struck out everywhere in the surrounding area of Bloomington. We are just not a big enough community,” Looze said, adding some private pool owners have reached out to his swimmers. “They find us. But a lot of times it’s 14 yards across and you take two strokes — and it’s not really doable. You can fit one kid in there safely.”
A lack of basic training resources was a factor in the postponement of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the college level, March sport cancelations wiped out the NCAA swimming and diving championships, which would have occurred at the end of that month. But there is also a question of how this will affect training going forward.
IU’s swimmers usually take the month of August as a break from training, so that’s just become March and April, in theory. But it’s likely the Hoosiers and their collegiate counterparts will be off for much longer than a month or two.
“I don’t think this is going to be a situation where we can ring the bell and everybody can come back, with a 100-percent type of effort,” Looze said. “I mean that in the sense of it’s going to be a very gradual return for everybody.”
Because without pools, there is literally no way for swimmers to maintain their competitive edge at an elite level.
The question is more how they prevent a complete drop-off physically. IU’s strength and conditioning coaches put together a generalized workout plan for the program, but Looze said that got “stale” quickly, especially since swimmers train for different distances and need more specific work.
So Looze and his staff held a brainstorming session this past week, thinking about exercises that can be done on land. There are cords that can be attached to railings or fences, which, as long as it’s allowed by the NCAA, Looze will send to his athletes for resistance training.
Looze is also looking into Speedo wetsuits he can provide his athletes for swimming in lakes. He’s seen swimmers in California out in the ocean for training purposes.
Until then, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for his swimmers to just get on a stationary bike and cycle.
“I think it’s good to exercise,” Looze said. “I’m going out and walking with my wife every day and I can’t believe the number of people we see out exercising. I’ve always been a firm believer, if you’re in shape, and you are exercising, you are doing the best thing for your immune system possible.”
Someone like King, because of her level of competition, is obviously going to want to do more than walk. Looze said she’s been able to get in three days a week of CrossFit training in Bloomington and another four in a private pool.
“It’s less than what she would normally do but it’s more than what 99 percent of people are doing,” Looze said. “There are people that are world record-holders or multiple Olympic gold medalists like Lilly, their degree of dedication and sacrifice is about as high as it can be, and we are just making sure we are safe in how we are going about that.”
Looze is doing the best he can to stay in touch with his athletes, even though they are scattered across the country and, in some cases, the world. For instance, the Hoosiers had one athlete, Bruno Blaskovic from Croatia, who initially went to Brazil with classmate Gabriel Fantoni because of fears over the spread of COVID-19 in Europe. Blaskovic has since returned to his home country.
The situation in each state or country is different, as are the resources available to each athlete. But the Hoosiers are trying to stick together, however possible. Like many programs, the swim team is using Zoom for virtual meetings, their first coming last Wednesday.
“The level of maturity on that was not the best. You had some joker clowns making faces and making everybody laugh,” Looze said. “But I thought it was positive for everyone to get to see each other.”
They will keep in touch, spending as much time as they can just thinking about the sport.
Within the eight hours allowed by the NCAA to spend with athletes digitally, Looze also plans to hold sessions watching swimming film and talking about technique.
“We can at least keep their minds sharp and their minds thinking about technique, so when our bodies can return to the pool, it will help ready us,” Looze said.
The future still appears bright for a swimming and diving program that has finished top 3 in the last two NCAA championships. Friday, Looze squashed rumors about his potential interest in the head job at his alma mater, Southern California. The Hoosiers have “unfinished business,” he said. They want to win a national title.
But for now, everything is just on pause. Looze, a sports enthusiast, lamented the fact that he has broken down and purchased HBO to help pass the time.
“Just bored,” Looze said. “Can’t wait to get back to normal life.”