Coach Appreciation Week: USMS Coaches Go Above and Beyond During the Coronavirus Pandemic
These coaches made sure their swimmers kept moving when everything shut down
We’ve spent the past year-plus navigating a wildly altered world amid the coronavirus pandemic, and for some Masters clubs, it’s been rough going. Access to pools has been limited or eliminated completely, and trying to keep motivated to engage in other activities or find a place to swim at all has been especially challenging.
That process has been made easier by the extraordinary efforts of many USMS coaches. Two in particular have gone above and beyond in helping their swimmers get through this challenging period.
Shane Pelton, East Bay Bat Rays Masters
The San Francisco Bay Area was hit early and hard by the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, a strict shelter-in-place order was issued early and lasted longer than in other parts of the country.
“It became pretty clear that we would not have access to the pool where we’d been working out because it was on a university campus,” says East Bay Bat Rays Masters member Stephanie Matsuda, who’s been swimming regularly with the group for four or five years.
Straight away, East Bay Bat Rays Masters Coach Shane Pelton opened up a line of communication with all his Masters swimmers and began working to find an alternative pool for them to train in. But it took some time.
“When pools reopened in neighboring counties, reserving a lane was really challenging. It was like trying to get a campsite in Yosemite National Park or like trying to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment today,” Matsuda says. But Pelton found a pool that would accommodate his swimmers.
But giving everyone an opportunity to swim would still take a colossal effort on his part because the large team was going from two side-by-side, six-lane pools to a single five-lane pool. “To accommodate as many returning and new swimmers as possible, Coach Shane increased the number of weekly workouts from nine pre-lockdown to 14,” Matsuda says.
Pelton continues to manage a weekly scheduling document that allows the swimmers to state which workouts they want to join. He then takes the extra step of registering those swimmers on the county website to ensure they can get access to the pool at their preferred time.
His efforts have been enormous for many of the team members, says Katie Doss, a fitness swimmer who’s been swimming with the group twice a week for about three years. She uses swimming as a means of connecting with her mom, who brought her into the group. “It’s kind of our way to touch base throughout the week because both of us are pretty busy,” Doss says.
She agrees with Matsuda that Pelton went way above and beyond to make sure she and her mom kept moving during the pandemic. “He really, really worked his tail off” to find them a replacement pool, she says. It took several months, and during that time, Pelton fostered connections with his swimmers via regular emails and newsletters.
“He was sending out articles about ways to stay strong and keep in shape for swimming without swimming,” Doss says. It was a big job that required creativity, and “I’m really grateful that he had the drive to do that.”
In short, Matsuda says, “we all agree that he just went way above and beyond” in making sure his swimmers could continue swimming despite the lockdown. “He’s clearly committed to our program. He’s been an advocate for its continued success. We just all truly appreciate his leadership. That’s helped us through this really challenging year.”
Linda Irish Bostic, Palm Beach Masters
Lee Wiglesworth, who’d started swimming with Coach Linda Irish Bostic and Palm Beach Masters in November 2019, was also trying to figure out a path forward in swimming during the early days of the pandemic.
Wiglesworth began swimming with the group after seeing fliers at the pool about the Masters program when he’d take his kids to swim and was intrigued. He had swum for three years in high school but hadn’t swim a stroke in 20 years or so.
“They were really accommodating and made me feel really welcome,” he says. It was so much fun that he recruited his wife to join him, and they were just getting into a groove, swimming four or five days a week, when the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020.
Immediately, he says, Irish Bostic “started sending videos of stuff we could do in our own pools or neighborhoods pools if they were open.”
When their usual pool finally started to reopen a few weeks later, they changed the protocol for how swimmers reserved time. “Linda got us all on a Zoom call and showed us how to work the county’s website to reserve lanes. She told us all the tricks to get on there,” Wiglesworth says.
From there, Irish Bostic was instrumental in developing the plan that helped get youth club teams back to training sessions safely and that helped inform the plan for getting the Masters club back in the water. “I think we were swimming again as a team in May before anything else had opened,” Wiglesworth says. “It was really cool.”
And it helped save Wiglesworth from some of the lockdown pitfalls others have experienced in the pandemic. “All of my activity fell off the face of the earth” when the shutdown was announced. “The one thing I was doing well with was drinking cocktails at 5 on the front porch. That kind of got everything going the wrong way, so it was nice to get back in the water” and right the ship, he says.
“I was just so impressed with how engaged she kept me and everyone else, especially at the beginning of their COVID year,” he says. “It was so weird and isolating and everyone was trying to figure everything out,” but by using Zoom and email to help keep a sense of team cohesion and motivation, Irish Bostic helped her swimmers keep moving through a tough time.
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