Swimmers embracing  the opportunity

Several swimmers are back in the pool at the Betty Kelly-Kenning National Swim Complex under the “professional athletes” tag and are grateful for the opportunity to train, especially with being out of action since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guardian Sports caught up with three of the country’s elite swimmers – Jared Fitzgerald, Ariel Weech and Luke-Kennedy Thompson – to discuss their return to the pool.

Fitzgerald, who swims for the University of Tampa Spartans in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II (DII) action, said he is grateful for the opportunity.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to get back to doing what I love. Obviously, it was an unexplained circumstance that caused us not to be in the pool. I was in the middle of my NCAA meet when it got canceled. I am just happy to be back in the pool,” he said.

The college junior is referring to the NCAA DII Swimming and Diving Championships held in March. His specialty stroke is the freestyle.

Weech is a veteran in the pool for The Bahamas, having donned the aquamarine, black and gold in several international competitions. She was awaiting the day to get back into the pool and resume her training. She also specializes in the

freestyle events.

“I have been waiting for this day for a while,” Weech said. “I think even for the younger swimmers, it is encouraging to be able to get back in the pool and do what we wanted to do for a while. It’s a great opportunity to improve on things that we may not necessarily have been paying attention to before of the pandemic but I think, for everyone, it changed our perspective on how to appreciate things, even the little things on a day-to-day basis.”

Weech said she is thankful to the Bahamian Government, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and the Bahamas Aquatics Federation (BAF) for the opportunity to get back in the pool.

“For a lot of kids, this is our outlet. For me, this is where I come to deal with anxiety. I like swimming because it helps you to de-stress and I think for a lot of swimmers, they feel the same way,” Weech said.

Thompson is one of the country’s top distance freestyle swimmers. He is a freshman at Howard University, which competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the NCAA Division I (DI). This opportunity allows him to stay prepared for next season and any meet in between that time.

“It is a great opportunity to come back home because I am on scholarship at my university and being able to come back and train means I will be able to be prepared for next season. I missed the water, I was out of the water from I came back after they stopped us in the middle of our competition,” Thompson said. He added that he is really appreciative that the pool was opened and they are able to train. He advised those who cannot train in the pool to use this time to work on other areas of swimming.

Tuesday was Fitzgerald’s first day back in the pool and he said it was tough.

“After two months, I feel awful. Hopefully, I get back in shape in time for when school starts next year and in case we have any summer meets,” he said.

The sprinter had a busy 2019, swimming for Team Bahamas at the FINA (International Swimming Federation) World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and also at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. It was at the Pan American Games where he set a new Bahamian national record in the 100 meters (m) freestyle event with a time of 50.81 seconds.

Apart from those meets, Fitzgerald is close to qualifying for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games under the universality rules. He is very excited about the opportunity to be in Tokyo, Japan for next year’s Olympics.

“Obviously, I am blessed to be in the situation that I am in. All I can do now is work hard and hope that everything works out,” he said.

Weech said she found ways to cope during the time when she was unable to train in the pool.

“I exercised, did a lot of meditation, paid a lot more attention to my spirituality and determined how to handle things that are out of my control,” she said.

“For the most part, I have been re-evaluating things. That is how I have been coping along with reading.”

She added that it is a long way out from the 2021 Summer Olympic Games but said it is all mental and being better than she was the day before.

Both Fitzgerald and Thompson had good collegiate seasons. Thompson was content with his freshman year.

“My freshman year was great. The first thing that I really appreciated was my coach. He has been pushing me all season,” said Thompson. “I have been recording personal bests all the way through, especially in my conference. My new team is like family to me. It is just like I am at home at Howard University. Everybody pushes me to get better everyday and we laugh. I look forward to many more successes with them,” Thompson said. He finished his freshman campaign with his school’s third-fastest time ever in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:54.31, and he also became the school’s record holder in the 200-yard breast with a time of 2:05.02.

Fitzgerald was named to the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) First Team for his outstanding season this past season.

“It has been great. I have been out of college swimming for a while. In my freshman year at Indiana University, I did not swim much. I broke my shoulder in my senior year of high school. It feels good to reap the rewards of college swimming again. No complaints but I am glad I put in the work that I got in,” Fitzgerald said.

Weech and Thompson were Fitzgerald’s teammates at the Pan Am Games in Peru last year. All three swimmers swim for the Alpha Aquatics Swim Club.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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