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So frustrating my club trains in one pool, while I’m in the public session next door

A former international swimmer who has to train in public sessions while her teammates can meet in the pool next door has called on the Government to reconsider its ban on over 18s being allowed to swim with their clubs.

Here, Swim England Content Officer Lydia Ferrari Kehoe shares her frustration and disappointment at the restrictions imposed in Tier 3 areas – and encourages everyone to join the recognised national governing body in a bid to help change the Government’s mind.

The joy I felt when pools were set to reopen after the second national lockdown was overwhelming.

I distinctly remember saying ’10 days’ during a Zoom call with my teammates and coach, counting down the days like a child ahead of Christmas.

We had only been back in the water for just over three months, a relatively short time to make any tangible progress. But I was not complaining and enjoyed training more than I ever have in all my years of swimming at stupid o’clock in the morning.

A few days before what was meant to be my first training session, I started to hear rumours that a question mark was hanging over senior athletes.

I’m 22, and so I knew that anything concerning over 18s was relative to me. A feeling of dread started to grow that I wouldn’t, in fact, be joining my teammates at our first training session back.

I told myself to keep positive, hoping that Westminster would reassess the rules surrounding sporting activities for each tier.

And then the Government confirmed that for all Tier 3 areas, “organised indoor sport, physical activity, and exercise classes cannot take place indoors”.

Devastated.

I immediately spoke to my coach and a fellow teammate who is also, unfortunately it seems, over 18. My age is something I never thought would disadvantage me, but it seemed that in this new tier system it did.

We tried to make sense of the situation, brainstorming what kind of rationale could be behind such a decision.

Our training environment is the safest I have felt throughout the entirety of this pandemic.

Every single Covid-19 procedure is followed to a T: we keep our distance in sessions and are fortunate enough to have enough lane space to cater for everyone in our training group.

And yet, I can’t join my team. What I can do is go to a public swim session.

So, the first morning after the pools reopened, I went. My squad train from 5.30am to 7.30am in the main pool at our facility. So when I went for my public swim session at 7am in the family pool, they were next door.

My teammates were working hard in a session led by my coach and I couldn’t join in.

Getting back into the water after a month off should have been a fantastic feeling. Instead, I was quite miserable.

To add insult to injury, two members of the public spoke to me during my session. It was the standard chit chat that often occurs between strangers who are enjoying a morning swim.

We can make a difference

One man spoke to me after he left the lane I had got into, asking me who I swim for – to which I responded sarcastically ‘the club next door’. Another woman said good morning to me in the changing rooms.

Neither of those interactions are criminal. In fact, under normal circumstances, they are completely acceptable. But we are not living in normality at present, and exchanges like this go completely against the rationale offered by the Government as to why over 18s cannot train.

I simply don’t understand it.

Like every other 18+ year-old in the country, I’m longing to get back to training with my team. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that time in the pool surrounded by our teammates is precious.

I’m craving the feeling of pushing myself in each session. Using the energy from my peers to motivate me to work harder and be better.

Yes, swimming is an individual sport but the team training environment is paramount for every athlete in the pool.

I feel robbed of that experience, a sentiment I know a large proportion of the swimming community share with me.

I would implore the UK Government to reconsider this decision and its validity. All of us at Swim England are fighting hard to get this ridiculous restriction overturned on behalf of the thousands of people who are left as frustrated as I am.

Write to your MP, shout loud on social media… by working together, we can make a difference.

The team environment isn’t special because of the talking that happens pre and post sessions.

Rather, it’s the feeling you get when you’re struggling through a session. You look at your teammates: red cheeks and heavy breath, and think ‘if they can do this, I can do it too’.

Hopefully, that will be the case again for so many of us sooner rather than later.

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