As local high school swimmers wake up this morning, they might step outside their houses and check on the weather.
It’s not a normal thing to do for a swimmer. But when you live in the Tri-Cities, where there is no indoor aquatics facility for competition, competing outside has become a fact of life.
Back in August, a proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for a regional aquatics facility and water park in the Tri-Cities was voted down by voters in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
For girls high school swimmers, that means sticking with the status quo of swimming outside this fall — including today, when the Tri-City Championships are held at George Prout Pool in Richland with a 12:15 p.m. start.
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High school boys swim in the winter in Washington state, and the boys have better access to indoor pools in the winter — although the divers from Hanford and Richland must commute on a daily basis to Lions Pool in Yakima for their workouts.
In the fall, that access isn’t quite available for the girls.
But whether the aquatics facility had passed or not, it wouldn’t have been built this year. So the girls knew they’d be outdoors this fall.
And with sometimes rainy conditions and lower temperatures, the Tri-City girls have had to be tough over the years to compete on a daily basis through practices and meets.
“It takes a lot of mental toughness to do this,” said Richland senior Lisa Bratton, one of the better high school swimmers in the state who won 4A titles last year in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke. “It’s really hard on the muscles too, because they get cold easily.”
The water is warm. The hard part can be getting out of the pool, or waiting to get in.
“It’s usually so cold when we’re waiting to dive in and our feet are burning on the cold cement,” said Hanford senior Lisa Tixier. “But we take pride in our abilities to push through and compete.”
Despite these problems, the Mid-Columbia has sent its fair share of swimmers to the state finals over the years with success — which those opposed to paying for an indoor facility might say the girls are doing fine without it.
“Yes, it’s a double-edged sword,” said Richland coach Kathy Piper. “But just think how good we could all be if we had (an indoor facility). We could have so many other kids qualify for state.”
Piper said diving outside in the fall is another problem.
“Our divers are gymnasts,” she said. “They’re 90-pounders with no body fat. And at a meet a few weeks ago, the wind blew a couple of them off the board.”
That evens happens to the best, like Southridge senior diver Danielle Freund, who finished fourth in the 3A state meet last year.
“Actually on Monday, I was doing my back approach and the wind came up and knocked me off the board,” Freund said.
“Compared to them, we have it easy,” Bratton said.
On any given practice day, divers will try to get 30 to 40 attempts in.
The cold makes things tougher.
“Our diving board gets stiffer when it’s cold and harder to work with,” Freund said. “(Practice) goes pretty fast. We’re running up to the board and diving in. But it definitely allows for more injuries with cold muscles seizing up, making it harder to move.”
To combat these tough conditions, the athletes come up with ways to combat the cold.
Freund makes sure to take her vitamins.
“I definitely stretch a lot,” she said. “When there is a long time in between dives we run to the showers.”
Hot showers at the facilities are key. Tixier says eating healthy during the fall season is paramount.
And for Bratton, it’s looking forward.
“At least for those of us who swim for the Channel Cats, we get to swim indoors (at the Tri-City Court Club) on Thursdays,” Bratton said. “It gets me through those first practices of the week. If I can just tough it out these next few days, I know I’ll get to swim inside on Thursday.”
For the Tri-City girls, there are no excuses. “It is not very wise to tell the coaches you’re going to miss a day of practice,” Tixier said. “I’m one of the captains too.”
In another month, they’ll be competing indoors at the state meet in Federal Way, knowing what they go through outdoors in the fall will make them tougher.
“We think about this,” said Freund. “This is what we have to do.”