Andy Niemann, a coach with the MACS (Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming) club swim organization, poses on deck at the club’s pool in Aurora on May 27, 2020. Thanks to a recently-updated public health order, some competitive swim training can begin again — with appropriate numbers and safety measures — following a long hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA | Blythe Iverson has felt aimless without the swimming pool.

Like competitive swimmers of all ages in the metro area and across the country, the recent Smoky Hill High School graduate missed 10 weeks of training in the water because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iverson’s tried running, rollerblading and several other things, but they don’t give her the workout or satisfy the soul like swimming. Something had definitely been missing, which made her long-awaited practice session with her Aurora-based MACS club team Thursday morning seem like heaven.

Ally Chu takes a breath as she swims a lap during MACS practice on May 27, 2020. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

“Without swimming, I’ve been a little more anxious every day,” Iverson told the Sentinel. “It’s definitely something I need in my life. I feel like it’s part of my purpose, to be able to swim every day and accomplish something every day.”

Iverson had just returned from her first practice — made possible by a newly-updated public health order from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment that allows up to 10 socially-distanced people together for training at outside facilities — and it definitely was unlike any she’d ever been to in the past.

But at least it was something.

Competitive swimmers had been in a sort of limbo since mid-March when the pandemic exploded — which canceled Colorado’s high school boys season just as it began — and had faced a frustrating battle to return to the water.

Numerous online petitions circulated by families and coaches in recent weeks hoping to get kids back in the pool, not for playing purposes, but for the regimented type of training they require.

Colorado Stars club coach Todd Schmitz said the biggest battle has been to make sure Gov. Jared Polis and state health organizations such as the Tri-County Health Department understand that all pools aren’t created equal. It’s been a battle that’s been largely futile.

MACS coach Andy Niemann, top, gives instruction to three swimmers at the club team’s pool on May 27, 2020.(Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

“The biggest frustration is the lack of any kind of communication,” Schmitz said. “When you try to talk to Tri-County or even the state, they want to put every swimming pool in the same bucket. I can understand where a non-swimming person would say ‘a pool is a pool,’ but opening my neighborhood pool is way different with me running a swim practice with one coach on deck and nine swimmers.”

To illustrate how competitive swim practices could be held safely, Andy Niemann and the MACS (Mission Aurora Colorado Swimming) organization — a 501(c)(3) non-profit that owns and operates its pool in the Pier Point 7 neighborhood — created a step-by-step video.

The club marked out Xs with red and blue tape six feet apart on the way from the parking lot to its pool and set up a temperature check station on the way into the pool. Swimmers come with their suits on under their clothes and put all of their belongings on appropriately spaced Xs on the deck.

No equipment is shared and swimmers spaced out among the pool’s six lanes to keep as much distancing as possible. That plan was in place for MACS practice Thursday.

“I think everybody was pretty excited to be back; we all missed our teammates and coaches,” Iverson said. “We have to come in and leave with our masks, which feels a little weird, and we have to come and leave in our suits, which is different because we’re not used to being soaking wet in the car. But it’s worth it.”

Not every swimmer will be able to get back to practice yet, however. It depends on availability and many pools are in facilities that remain closed. A large outdoor venue located at Lowry that is rented by several club has been shuttered since the start of the pandemic and can’t open immediately.

MACS coach Andy Niemann simulates a temperature check outside the program’s pool on May 27, 2020.(Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Schmitz — who coached Missy Franklin to Olympic stardom in 2012 — typically uses pools at Grandview and Smoky Hill high schools and the Lowry facility to run sessions for his 210 athletes between the ages of 6 and 27. With both high school pools part of a Cherry Creek School District facility shutdown until July 1 and the Lowry pool not open, the options are few. The Stars have rented space from MACS before.

MACS have a unique set up with its privately-run pool — which was purchased from the surrounding Home Owners Associations back in 1977 — which is inside, but considered outdoors because all the sides can be open, allowing air to circulate freely.

The pool water itself seems to be the most controllable part of the equation.

Research strongly shows that coronavirus is unable to live in water that is treated with chlorine and other chemicals, especially when the water is being used for sporadic training.

“I’ve been in talks with pool operators and facility managers and everybody is fairly confident chlorine will kill the virus,” Niemann said. “The CDC put out guidelines for opening pools and they recommended chlorine at 2 parts per millions. In the summer, week our pool at 2 or 3 parts per million anyways. If you had a lot of people in the water, it might be harder to maintain.”

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

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