CHLORINE CHRONICLES: Crowded warmup pools a fierce battle for swimmers before competition begins

Photo used by permission of Rebecca Waterson.
The warmup pool at the 2017 Summer Sanders Meet in Roseville.

Meet warmups. Also known as the battlefield, a place to show your dominance. As swimmers pour into the pool with arms swinging and scratching, my only thought is how much I dislike having what seems like 50 other people in my lane.

Charging into battle, I jump into the pool along with the rest of my teammates. We are one of the first teams in the water, and I hope that our DART-filled lane will be enough to intimidate other teams.

The water is cold, smooth and slightly salty. I feel a surge of power with each stroke. Everything is perfect and fast, and I know this warmup will prepare me for my first race. I go to start my flip turn when, like a cannonball, a girl from another team splashes in. Our DART lane is under attack! I hang on the wall as the team thunders into the lane. Other DART athletes crowd behind me, watching the lane space rapidly shrink.

“It’s like a conveyor belt at the airport,” one of my teammates says. “All the baggage goes around and around, and it never stops. Probably because it can’t stop.”

With that remark, I am swept into the slow, endless circle of swimmers. If I stop on the wall to rest, I will lose my place in the circle, and I most likely won’t find a way to get back in. If I slow down, someone will claw at my ankles and legs, force me into the lane line, or sprint on top of and over me to get in front of me and then slow down again.

I am not much better. If someone is slow in front of me, I will do whatever it takes to get in front of them. Some kids are easy to pass; the kickers and scullers can be maneuvered around. They pose no threat to anyone else unless they decide to start swimming. Freestylers are also relatively easy to pass, as are backstrokers.

But keep your distance if you attempt to pass a butterflier or a breaststroker. Their kick is deadly. I’ve been on the receiving end of several harsh blows from not-so-friendly swimmers.

Some memories stick out clearly in my mind, like when one girl kicked up in butterfly, hit my jaw, and I accidentally bit my tongue. Or when I was kicking behind a breaststroker and his toenail caught my arm, leaving a two-inch-long gash. I still have the scar.

Another one of my friends was hit so hard in her ear during warmups that it ruptured her eardrum.

At an average senior level meet there are 700-800 insanely competitive swimmers all trying to get their warmup done in the limited pool space.

No one purposely targets another swimmer. Each person is just trying to get the best personal warmup and will do what they think is best to guarantee a good warmup. I’ve been known to slap, punch and claw people on accident, including my own teammates.

The loudspeaker crackles to life as the announcer says, “All athletes, please clear the competition pool. The competition pool is now closed for warmup.”

Everybody hops out to change into their tech suits (the knee-length race suits usually worn at senior level meets), the war briefly brought to a pause. It all starts again, however, when everyone prepares for their individual races.

By Rebecca Waterson

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