A sense of limbo prevails, but local swim clubs like Poulsbo Piranhas Swim Team continue to practice and persevere despite limited pool availability

The saying, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ isn’t a motto most people remember until it’s necessary.

That necessity came to the forefront when Kitsap’s local pools were closed last year due to state-mandated virus precautions. That forced area swimming clubs to rethink and reimagine how, and where, they could practice.

Poulsbo Piranhas Swim Team was one club that started to think outside the box last summer as it became clear the Olympic Aquatic Center and North Kitsap Community pools were not going to open anytime soon.

Holding virtual meetings, sending out one-on-one practices schedules and dry-land training can only go so far.

For the sport of swimming, water is a necessity.

“There’s no substitute for it,” said PPST head coach Ron Allen.

Allen, who took over the club last August, saw the plentiful lakes available for his swimmers and had a revelation. Last summer, Allen took his team to Wildcat Lake for open water practices. Since then, PPST has been renting the pool at Kitsap Tennis & Athletic Club three days a week and travel once a week to Fife to swim at the aquatic center for extended workouts.

The practice sessions at Wildcat were a gift.

Rocco Velie, right, with the Poulsbo Piranhas Swim Team practices his breaststroke at an open-water practice at Wildcat Lake this summer while local pools were closed due to the lockdown restrictions. (Photo courtesy/Ron Allen)

“I had been very excited after hearing about the plans to begin practicing at Wildcat Lake,” said Caylie Slama, a PPST club swimmer and sophomore at North Kitsap. 

Slama was out of the water about six months — an extraordinary length of time for a swimmer who isn’t recovering from a major injury. 

That was tough for Slama, who said under usual circumstances “I spend most of my free time in the water and I had to find alternatives to my usual workouts.”

Getting back to swimming gave Slama the chance to do something other than at-home land workouts.

Open water swimming was also a different experience.

“When swimming in a pool, I’m swimming from wall to wall, within a lane,” she said, “compared to in a lake where there aren’t as many limitations — besides what coach gives us — and I felt like I had more room to breathe.”

Allen said the biggest challenge for his swimmers was the unfamiliarity of swimming in open water — low visibility, fish and other obstacles were some things his swimmers had to find comfortable.

Open water swimming in the summer has now been added to the club’s repertoire. 

“That’s going to become a regular thing for us,” Allen said, adding open-water swimming is growing among USA Swimming clubs. “USA Swimming has been promoting open-water swimming the last 10 years.”

Allen said thanks to the abundance of lakes in Kitsap’s backyard, he is now considering hosting open-water swim meets in the future. 

That idea has been a welcome one for many of the swimmers.

“Since I enjoy swimming long distance, the freedom of open water swimming has allowed me to explore long distance swimming in a different setting,” Slama said, adding compared to a pool where she has to swim back and forth.

The aspect of swimming she misses the most is the competition. 

“I do hope to get in even a little bit of competition,” Slama said. “I’ve missed the adrenaline that comes from racing.”

Swimmers with the Poulsbo Piranhas Swim Team take to the open water at Wildcat Lake this summer as they kept up on their practice while local pools were closed due to the lockdown restrictions. (Photo courtesy/Ron Allen)

Allen’s weekly virtual meetings have included the idea of intrasqaud meets, inter-squad virtual meets as well as being prepared for further rollbacks and shutdowns by local officials.

“I want them to be braced for anything,” Allen said.

He’s also praising his athletes for their resiliency. 

“I tell my kids we have to hunker down hard for the next three months but we will get through this,” Allen said.

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