Nova Scotia

Eager to backstroke again, but with nowhere to train. Except the local lake

Swim clubs in Nova Scotia have been given the green light to start practising again starting Monday. But with public pools still closed, they'll have to take to lakes and the ocean to train.

'While training in open water is great, it's a very different environment,' says head of Swim Nova Scotia

Swimmers with the Halifax Trojans Aquatic Club, like Clara Durling, will be training at Long Lake Provincial Park starting on Monday. (Submitted by Mark McGrann)

Swim clubs in Nova Scotia have been given the green light from the province's chief medical officer of health to begin practising again starting Monday — but many pools where they usually train are still closed.

For many swimmers, that means hitting the open water while they wait.

"It's kind of an unknown environment for everyone," said Mark McGrann, head coach at the Halifax Trojan Aquatic Club.

McGrann said roughly 70 swimmers from the club have signed up to start training at Long Lake Provincial Park in Halifax, and he expects the number to grow. On Monday, groups of 10 will start practising.

"We have to be ready to adapt and be flexible at a moment's notice. Because we're using public spaces, we can't expect to have priority," he said.

Halifax Trojan Aquatic Club head coach Mark McGrann, left, and assistant coaches Eben Tebay and Mat Bernier get set up for open water training to start on Monday. (Submitted by Mark McGrann)

Bette El-Hawary, executive director of Swim Nova Scotia, said the clubs were thrilled to hear earlier this month that their sport could start planning to get back into the water as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

"It's just unfortunate at this point we seem to be at a halt waiting on facilities. While training in open water is great, it's a very different environment for our swimmers," she said.

El-Hawary said she's accepted proposals from a number of swim clubs in the province to start open-water training, however swimmers under the age of 11 will not be allowed, in accordance with guidelines from Swimming Canada, the national governing body.

"We're talking about hundreds of kids … who don't have any access to their swim club right now and in the foreseeable future," she said.

"We have no idea when facilities are going to reopen, in what capacity they're going to reopen and will they accept swim clubs in their first phase of reopening. There's still a lot of question marks."

Rec centre reopenings don't include the pools

Some recreation centres, like the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth and the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, plan to reopen next week, but both locations say on their websites they do not know yet when the pools will reopen.

Pools and splashpads in the Halifax region will also remain closed until further notice, said a spokesperson for the municipality. Dalplex is still working on a reopening plan and has no set date yet.

The four pools at the Waegwoltic, an outdoor private members club in Halifax, are now open, however a limited number of swimmers are allowed, they must swap out after 30 minutes, and lanes must be booked ahead of time.

The executive director of Swim Nova Scotia said training in open water, as Laura White is doing here, is a different experience for swimmers. (Submitted by Mark McGrann)

It may also take time for facilities to hire back lifeguards who were laid off and deal with the challenges around changing and locker rooms.

"The obvious challenge now is the open swim, or the camp swims where kids from camp would be coming in," said Brian Posavad, CEO of the Halifax YMCA. "We're trying to plan how they could come in one entrance and not go in the locker room."

Posavad said lane swims, aquafit and family-oriented swims would be included in the first stages of reopening YMCA pools in the province. But the organization is already starting to think about day camps and swim teams, too.

The YMCA has also been using the closures to refurbish many of its pools in Nova Scotia and Posavad said each YMCA will have its own reopening date.

"We all got a little caught off guard when we thought we were going to open in September and were offered June 5. So we're working with Public Health," he said.

Experts have said there is nothing to suggest COVID-19 can be spread through pools, hot tubs or spas. But the problems lie with shared spaces and things people can touch.

"There's the lane lines, there's the walls, there's the railings, so there are other factors in the pool setting that people have to consider," El-Hawary said.

She said the plan her organization submitted to the province includes swimmers spending as little time as possible in areas outside of the pool, which means arriving with a swimsuit on and leaving the facility as soon as they're out of the water.

El-Hawary said they also plan to have one person per lane for the first few weeks.

Before coming to the lake, athletes like Liam Ferguson will need to do any required on-land strength and conditioning training on their own and come to practice ready to swim. (Submitted by Mark McGrann)

McGrann said to try and minimize their time for each training group, swimmers will be expected to do required on-land strength and conditioning training before coming to the lake and post-recovery stretches on their own afterwards.

Athletes will also have to bring several water bottles, since there is no running water available on site.

"So we've got a plan, but it's definitely going to be a case of trial and see how it goes," McGrann said.

But despite the new regulations, he said swimmers are eager to get back to training.

"It's a sport that although they have their face in the water looking at that black line for most of the time, it's still got a huge social side," he said. "And that's the part that swimmers are missing the most."