Swimming challenges its athletes and demands extensive effort. It is often overlooked during the winter season for other winter sports in terms of attendance and attention. Many people are unaware of the taxing season swimmers undergo from September to March.
While spectators watch the sport from above the water, few are aware of the challenges that take place in the water.
“Looking at that black line and having your head down, you get acquainted with yourself and who you are because the sport can be solitary. I mean, your head is underwater. You’re not talking to people; you’re swimming back and forth,” said Russ Hunt, head swim coach.
Mental toughness is only part of the grueling demands the sport requires.
“We are up at 5 every morning, and we are going back and forth, and then, we do it again at 6 at night. Our days are 14-15 hours sometimes. The commitment to the hours and the commitment to the training is very difficult,” said Hunt.
For Hunt, there are 3 parts that makes the Malone swimming program successful.
“First, I need people that enjoy swimming and want to make it part of their experience. Second, is that they understand the broader picture and they know what they’re doing in the classroom is going to come first, so they need to be studying and keep their eyes on that prize. Third, is that they understand what it means to be a part of a team and they understand that it is a team and that team has to come before any individual,” said Hunt.
Another thing that separates swimming from other sports is how individually distinct it is.
“The sport is so personal. I’ve never seen more athletes cry than at swim meets. It’s so personal between you and the clock,” said Quincy Livchak, junior swimmer.
Since swimming has such a direct effect on each individual swimmer, the coaching staff has a more intimate role with the athletes. Each swimmer places a tremendous amount of faith in the coaches.
“Coach plans the season as a whole, backtracking from when he knows the date of conferences. He knows all of us inside and out. There’s 30 of us and he knows us all so well,” said Livchak. “He cares about swimming, but that’s not his end goal. Coach says, ‘You’re here to hopefully get your life together, find Christ, and know how to serve him and go out into the world.’”
As the season winds down, the team is getting ready for Appalachian Swimming Conference Championships on Feb. 8-11. For many athletes, this is the most exciting part of the season.
“Our conference championships are coming up and we usually swim our best, sometimes breaking records. Seeing all your hard work pay off at the end of the year is why I continue to swim, and it’s such a rewarding feeling,” said Collin Schmid, sophomore swimmer. “Swimming is definitely hard, but it’s also rewarding. You get to be a part of a team and you get to try new events. You get to create endless memories beyond the pool.”
It is this kind of community-centered team that makes the Malone swim program thrive. In just his third year as head coach, Hunt has created a family where swimmers say they feel and know they are loved in spite of the taxing demands placed on them.
Grant Burke is a staff writer for The Aviso.