Many of you have probably noticed my goggle tan — the super cute, raccoon-looking marks around my eyes that never go away, even in winter. If you look at my temples, you’ll see the white lines from the straps of my goggles, too.

Across California, locker rooms are full of chatter about the hilarious tan lines we get from swimming outside. White quads from knee-length race suits (super fun during the summer with shorts!) and drastic color differences from stomach to back are frequent conversation starters.

“I swear, I go from ‘snow in Tahoe’ to ‘boiling lobster!’” I say to an unfamiliar group of girls from another team, and they immediately nod and launch into a speech about their own summer swimming misfortunes.

For the truly unfortunate, there’s also the dreaded cap tan, a distinct line that runs across the middle of your forehead. All of these are drawbacks of swimming outside, a seemingly California-only phenomenon.

While the rest of the country, save for Florida, practices in nice, climate-controlled facilities, the swimmers of California throw their practices to the mercy of the weather. (And the bugs. It’s scary how many water spiders, worms and half-drowned bees I’ve had to splash into the gutter.)

In the summer, we are out swimming in 110-degree weather. In the winter, we are still swimming outdoors. And yes, it is freezing outside!

Practice is canceled for only a handful of reasons: if there is lightning during the latter end of practice (otherwise we will wait the required 30 minutes and get back in the pool), if the pool heater has broken and the water is below 60 degrees, or if the air quality is hazardous.

Air quality became an issue Nov. 11  with the start of the Camp Fire. My family was bouncing between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento trying to find a safe place to walk the dogs and for me to swim. Almost every practice was canceled from Nov. 11 to 14 as my coaches struggled to find an indoor pool that could house our team. But trying to find a big enough indoor pool in California is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Thankfully the fire has been contained. But while the air quality was deteriorating, all I could dream about was indoor pools and their nice, fresh air!

But wait, are indoor pools really better? At the December 2016 Junior Nationals at the Texas A&M pool, the air quality inside the facility was so bad that some of my teammates collapsed after their races. The muggy air was unbearably hot, and waiting to swim felt like waiting in a stuffy submarine. The awkward acoustics, coupled with the lack of unchlorinated air, gave me a splitting headache.

The same thing happened at the December 2017 Junior Nationals in Iowa, and all athletes were required to stay on the basketball court overlooking the pool so the air quality wouldn’t deteriorate as quickly. The first day was bearable, albeit a little warm, but the next session felt like a swamp. Trying to take a deep breath was impossible without falling into a coughing fit.

Both pools in these cases were cold, however. The cause of the bad air quality was the sheer number of people crammed together on the pool deck at any point in time.

As the air quality in Sacramento turned hazardous, 40 people from my swim team went on a training trip from Nov. 16 to 20 to Incline Village, Nevada. Several other teams got the same idea, with the Truckee-Donner Community Swimming Pool becoming a hub of activity for college, high school and age-group teams all from California.

Junior Rebecca Waterson (right-hand side, white swim cap) and other members from DART Swimming Sacramento pose at the Truckee Recreation Center during their training trip. (Photo used by permission of Waterson)

The Incline Village Recreation Center, however, was a different story.

Several years ago, due to the complaints of several families with younger children in swim lessons, the Incline Village Rec Center decided to change the pool temperature from 78 degrees to 83. Originally, they would keep the 83 during the week and drop it back to 78 for the weekend, but that shift was costly and ended up breaking the pool heater. Now it’s at a constant 83, which is comfortable for standing around, but when 40 people are crammed into four lanes for an hour and a half to practice, air quality and pool temperature become intolerable. Of course, it’s better than practicing in the smoky air of Sacramento, but the heat was still miserable.

I’m thankful for my team’s ability to travel to continue training and for the hospitality of both pools. I like the controlled state of the indoor pool, but I can’t wait to get back to my constantly fluctuating, bug-filled, strange-tan-inducing, absolutely perfect outdoor pool!

—By Rebecca Waterson

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