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by Susan Dawson-Cook

May 6, 2020

Patrick Brundage, Robin Klestinec, and Paul and Laura Smith are staying fit and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic

Spending weeks or months out of the water for anything other than an injury isn’t something most diehard Masters swimmers ever anticipate facing. Staying in shape and in balance during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a struggle for swimmers everywhere, but top competitors Patrick Brundage, Robin Klestinec, and Paul and Laura Smith are finding ways to stay fit and sane despite the recent restrictions.

Patrick Brundage

Virginia Masters Swim Team member Patrick Brundage most recently practiced in a pool on March 14. The abrupt halt to his swim training happened just as he was starting to feel settled in his new community.

In January 2019, he and his wife relocated from Arizona to Barrie, a town of about 150,000 people north of Toronto. Because of the logistics of moving, swimming had to take a back seat for a while.

But as he settled in after the move, Brundage began to swim with a small Canadian Masters team in Barrie, and he planned to dive back into U.S. Masters Swimming competitions, beginning with the USMS Summer National Championship in Richmond, Va., in August.     

Then reports of COVID-19 began circulating.

He initially hoped that their small town was far enough away from Toronto that the novel coronavirus—and the restrictions that went along with its attack—wouldn’t reach them. But that didn’t happen. Cases began to occur in his community.

He then hoped that pools wouldn’t be closed since the virus apparently can’t survive in chlorine. But that hope was extinguished shortly after he finished his workout on March 14, when announcements about the pool’s closing were sent out.

Brundage understands why facilities closed.

“Being in the water is probably fine,” he says. “But you have to go through the front door, through the locker rooms to get there. I was bummed but I really can’t control it.”

He hears stories of Arizona swimmers stroking their way to bliss in Lake Pleasant and wonders whether a nearby lake in Barrie might be an option once warmer weather reaches Canada. But the Ontario beaches are all closed.

“Even if I could go jump in the lake, it’s not the right thing to do at this point,” he says. “It’s not keeping with the culture here.”

He’s happy that their new subdivision offers access to great hiking trails. Most days, Brundage, his wife, one of their daughters, and their 8-year-old boxer, take 60- to 90-minute walks on those trails. Fortunately, they’re wide enough they can easily stay 6 feet away from anyone they encounter on the trail, Brundage says.

“After a walk, I feel more relaxed, but it’s not great,” he says. “I love swimming so much.”

Brundage, 53, has always been a competitor at heart. With short course yards, short course meters, and long course meters seasons happening every year, he tended to focus on training hard for one or two courses.

“I had periods where I would pull back,” says Brundage, who’s an eight-time individual USMS All-American and has recorded 211 individual Top 10s. “This is just one of those periods. I didn’t choose to pull back but that’s what I’m going to do. I miss the calming effect of swimming. Immersed in water, it was a meditative-like experience. You can’t check your phone or email.”

Brundage has always had a busy work schedule and has had to work hard to fit in training time. With about seven hours a week available to train, he typically spent most of those hours in the water. He’s using these health crisis weeks to try new things. He does bodyweight dryland exercises such as push-ups, squats, and planks, as well as a daily yoga routine.

“If swimmers aren’t doing yoga, this is a perfect time to do it,” says Brundage, who likes yoga because, depending on the particular practice, it can be relaxing all the way up to intense.

He hopes other swimmers will take comfort in knowing that this situation is temporary.

“It might be longer than we all want, but we’ll have swimming back in our lives at some point,” he says.

Robin Klestinec

Robin Klestinec and her husband, Steve, recently relocated from central Ohio to Oak Island, a 13-mile-long barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, near Wilmington. It’s a quiet, southern town, she says, with no high rises; just houses and a village-like feel.

Klestinec has racked up 118 Top 10 and six All-American achievements. She especially excels at the 400 IM, 200 butterfly, and distance freestyle events.

The water was her playground until all of the pools in Wilmington closed in March. Although the Atlantic Ocean is close by, it’s too cold and rough for her to consider as a swimming alternative right now. Like many swimmers, she’s badly missing her water time. 

“This is the longest break I’ve had from swimming in 15 years,” Klestinec says. “I’ve never gone a month without swimming.”

Klestinec is hopeful that when travel restrictions lift, she and her husband will be able to travel to their second home near Clemson, S.C. With Lake Keowee just steps away, daily swims would be accessible again.

Although she trained with the Hawk Masters at UNC Wilmington, she has competed for years at Masters Nationals with New Albany Masters—an Ohio team. She reminisces about the fun times she had competing with friends she’s known since her youth.

“It makes it fun when we go to Masters Nationals,” Klestinec says. “We have 40 or 50 people go. I trained with them so long living in Columbus.” 

To keep active, Klestinec, 58, has been taking stretch classes with her Hawk Masters swimming group on Zoom. “It’s nice to have as an outlet,” she says.

Her daughter also teaches Zoom yoga classes. She recently offered a 108 Sun Salutation challenge.

Klestinec has also followed dryland exercises she found on USMS’s website and is doing a 20-minute workout on the 8Fit app.  “As time’s gone on, I’m willing to try anything,” she says.

Golf is one sport she’s been able to continue.

“I’ve been getting lots of leg work walking,” she says. “I’m worried about arm work. That’s the beauty of swimming—you get a whole-body workout.”

She hasn’t been able to achieve what feels like a balanced workout quite yet, but she’s working toward that.

Klestinec used to run marathons before her focus turned to swimming. However, because she has no cartilage in her right knee, she can only run once or twice a week for a short distance. This makes it harder for her to get the release she’s used to getting in the water.

Klestinec and her husband recently decided to give cycling a try. Now they head out at least twice a week for 10 to 15 miles per session.

“Going for a longer distance, at least you’re seeing something,” she says. “Do I have bad days? Sure. My moods go up and down. Do I hope pools open within a month? Yes.”       

When asked what she could offer other swimmers struggling with the sudden loss of the water, she has many words of encouragement.

“We’re all going to go the distance,” she says. “We’re going to get there. We will be back to our world of swimming, the calm of swimming. Three months? Two months? We have to keep going. We have to stay positive. I’m thankful for nurses and doctors. We have to remember we’re all in this together.”

Paul and Laura Smith

Husband and wife Paul and Laura Smith, 60 and 54, respectively, are the head coaches for Mesa Aquatics Club-Masters in Arizona, as well as the co-directors of the Mesa Aquatics Club. Paul holds three USMS records and is a 12-time individual All-American. Laura has recorded 101 individual Top 10 times and is a USMS individual All-American.

Speaking about the pandemic sweeping the globe, Paul says, “It’s the Twilight Zone. You want consistency. Every day, you don’t know what is going to happen.”

Paul’s and Laura’s coaching careers and their athletic training were interrupted, and it’s been difficult to adjust to, Paul says. He finds it comforting that the mayor of Mesa isn’t setting a distant goal of reopening the pool—it’s day to day. They have already discussed standards that would be put in place for reintroducing the public back to the pool in small numbers.

They’ve spoken about how a safe plan could be implemented even if a vaccine isn’t available for as long as 18 months. If the 10-person group restriction remained in place, swimmers would swim in alternate lanes on opposite ends of the facility. Someone would monitor people entering. There would be no dressing or changing; no use of the drinking fountain. But it’s complicated.

“Can you do that for 1,000 participants?” says Paul. “We don’t know.”

Waivers might even be required to address any possible COVID-19 risk involved in swimming at the facility. But Paul thinks it’s workable.

“I would sign a waiver like that in a heartbeat if people are trying to do their best,” Paul says.

During this hiatus from swimming, Paul got back to practicing yoga and began to recognize the importance of recovery and repair, especially for older swimmers.

Cycling also became a big part of Paul and Laura’s daily training. While out exploring the neighborhood by bike, Paul has noticed many people in the community riding during the beautiful Mesa spring days.

He’s gratified government officials haven’t forbidden outdoor recreation, which he believes is critical to keeping people well and balanced during this stressful time. People are discovering the beauty of simplicity, of being outdoors, of having time to focus on family, Paul says. This is difficult time for all of us. “But I see the silver lining,” he says.

Paul and Laura have put their small backyard pool to use. Three strokes and Paul’s at the other end of the pool in normal circumstances, but he’s found stationary swimming with bungee cords and drag training with mesh socks to be workable options.

“People are asking us on a regular basis, ‘What are you doing and how are you managing?’” Paul says. “We have to approach this one day at a time. I’m trying to be flexible. To roll with it.”

Cutting himself some slack has helped.

“I think it’s allowing yourself to have those days,” he says. “So many people keep themselves so busy to avoid feeling uncomfortable. I’m worried about the people that may not be able to do that.” When boredom and negative thoughts set in, he says, “we go for a walk or a ride.”

Even though they’re not standing on deck coaching as usual, Paul and Laura make themselves available to their swimmers, offering guidance on general fitness and dryland activities. “We’re providing free online help,” says Paul. Many swimmers are posting articles and workouts online to benefit their teammates.

“We really have been overwhelmed the outreach that people have given,” he says. “It’s very moving. I’ve seen that across the board.” Someone recently set up a GoFundMe page for the age-group program.

“It makes me proud to be in the sport,” Paul says. “As an athlete and a coach, it’s the family thing we’re missing the most. Everyone talks about how important their team is.”


  • Human Interest