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by Susan Dawson-Cook

May 13, 2020

Masters swimmers are finding innovative solutions during pool closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic

Helene Nehrebecki, 40, a Davis Aquatic Masters member, last trained with her club on March 16, the day before her facility closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the classes she was teaching at American River College were moved online, and her 7-year-old daughter was suddenly home and required home-schooling.

Nehrebecki missed her training and craved having her water-based outlet to cope with stress. After three weeks on land, she searched online and found an above-ground pool online that could be delivered. The pool and filtration system only cost $150. The round 12-foot-long, 30-inch-deep Intex pool, Nehrebecki says, took an hour to put together. She filled it and had it swim-ready in her backyard quickly.

“It took a while to get used to swimming in shallow water,” she says.

Nehrebecki ordered a swim tether and a waist belt that can be found on websites such as She clipped the bungees to a tree. She had to experiment to get the height right. If she put it too low, the bungees got tangled in her feet while swimming.

She usually does intervals of 100 strokes or fewer and uses stroke count to estimate yardage. Her usual stroke count per 25-yard pool length is about 22 for freestyle and backstroke, 13 for breaststroke, and 11 for butterfly. Nehrebecki does her kick sets holding a kickboard against the wall instead of using the bungee, which often pulls her backward because she doesn’t kick as quickly as she swims. Even though she’s glad to be getting wet, long workouts in the absence of swimming friends has been tedious. She says a “2,000-yard” workout is about all she’s up to in her small pool.

Nehrebecki says swimming with a tether feels much different than normal swimming. “I will say this. It does take getting used to. I have to be careful not to crash into other side if sprinting or doing fly.”

She has made some adjustments to her strokes to make it work. But she has adapted quickly, even implementing dives and backstroke starts into workouts.

“You learn to adapt your stroke and focus on technique more,” she says. Breaststroke and backstroke are good core workouts, she says. “I hope it will keep me conditioned enough that when I go back to practice, it won’t take me as long to get back into it.”

Even small pools require maintenance, with testing kits and chemicals being available online and in stores. She may invest in a pool vacuum because bugs and yard debris end up on the bottom before she can skim them off with a net.

Colorado Masters Swimming member Shauna Ratcliff, 32, found a similar solution to Nehrebecki’s. Before pools closed, she swam with a small Masters team that trained at a Westin Hotel at the base of Beaver Creek. Then pools closed and her plans to compete in the Colorado Short Course state meet were disrupted.

She quickly got frustrated with the long dry spell and began searching online for possible above-ground pool solutions. She knew that having a home pool would be complicated and cold while living at high altitude in Colorado.

“It’s still dropping into the single digits at night,” Ratcliff says.

Because of the frigid temperatures, she sought a pool that would fit into her garage. She ordered a 14.75-foot-by-8-foot Intex Kids Rectangular Frame Outdoor Above Ground Swimming pool online for $249 with three-day shipping.

Her pool took about an hour to set up and a day to fill directly with water from her hot water heater. Within a short time, “it was still pretty cold,” Ratcliff says. Initial swims required a wetsuit. Shauna later purchased a small heater online.

“That made a big difference,” she says. “It’s about 73 degrees right now.”

Until the swim tethers she ordered arrived, Ratcliff used a dog leash to do stationary swimming. She now attaches the bungee cords to bike hooks on her garage wall.

At first, she trained mostly with a snorkel to adjust to the body position change that occurred when tether swimming. Her hips ride higher in the water and occasionally during the snap of her breaststroke kick, her feet catch more air than water.

“It was hard to get the breathing right,” she says.

She usually starts workouts by swimming freestyle straight for 15 minutes followed by five minutes of backstroke. She also does ladder kicking sets of 50 kicks down to 10 kicks and does sets that mimic 100 IMs, performing 20 strokes of each stroke per repetition.

“Waves get really big doing fly,” she says. Transitioning to backstroke in the IMs settles the turbulence.

She also does some all-out sprints, pushing off and swimming hard until she she’s almost to the other end and then continues sprinting until the cord starts pulling her back. She says the resistance swimming slows stroke rate and makes speed work a real challenge. “I try to do as fast of a turnover as possible.”

She always finishes with easy freestyle, with workouts typically lasting 40 to 45 minutes.

“That’s what I’m good for right now. I always tell myself I’ll stay in for an hour. But after 45 minutes, you get kind of bored,” Ratcliff says.

Other Options

There are other options for inexpensive above-ground solutions online. Swimmers can consult with others employing above-ground pool solutions on the Above Ground Swimming Pools Facebook page.

Scattered pools nationwide have cautiously opened, but many others plan to stay closed for months or longer. There’s also the possibility that COVID-19 infection rates will surge in some parts of the country and even opened pools will close down again.

For this reason, swimmers wanting to explore more permanent—albeit more costly—solutions for backyard swimming may want to contact Endless Pools. These pools can be installed in most backyards and implement an adjustable current to allow for resistance swimming.

“From the time of delivery to operation can range from a few days to a week or more,” says Frank Danay, Endless Pools marketing representative. “We encourage anyone interested to speak with one of our product specialists, so they can learn more.”


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