Swimmer Fayrouz Mourad pulling a five-gallon bucket on a bungee cord strapped to her waist for a breaststroke set with Susanna Price along for the ride. Courtesy photo
Owen McLaughlin watching the clock for the next send off. Courtesy photo
Senior Susanna Price pulls a five-gallon bucket for a breaststroke set during practice. Courtesy photo
Michelle Lo ends a backstroke sprint. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos Aquatomics swim team has been in the Los Alamos community since 1963 and is one of the oldest USA Swimming Teams in the United States, however, the last year has most likely been the most difficult year the team has had since its inception.
The Los Alamos Reporter met last week with Aquatomics coaches Mark Scott and Maribeth Englert along with several young swimmers from the club to discuss how they were gearing up under COVID restrictions for their first championship event in a long time.
The team has had no chance to compete in over year. In fact, the Aquatic Center was actually closed for three months. Coach Englert noted that the kids really enjoy competing.
“They’re competitive by nature, they love going to meets. It’s a social thing, but that has not been available and yet they get in the pool every day and they work incredibly hard – perhaps the hardest I’ve ever seen them work and yes, they’re willing to put the work in even though there’s not this end goal that we usually have,” she said.
Coach Englert said she always talks about upcoming swim meets in terms of how far out they are on the calendar and what the swimmers need to do to get ready during any particular week.
“We don’t have those conversations any more but the integrity that the swimmers have shown in getting in and doing the work anyway is amazing. We often talk about how it’s a journey. It’s not the endpoint that’s so important. It’s doing your best, day in and day out. It’s every little moment during the day – that’s what makes up our lives,” she said.
She said the young swimmers have responded really well to being able to continue swimming.
“I think part of it is just that they love swimming, they love the team, they love their teammates and being able to get in the pool and have some structure in their lives in those months when there wasn’t anything else, I think that was such a wonderful thing. They got in and did the work and it shows the integrity of the kids and their dedication and motivation. You always want your athletes to rise to the occasion and bring in their best selves, and we have just seen that, day in and day out,” Englert said.
Englert , who swims daily herself, said out of everyone she has seen the aquatic center, the kids are the ones that have followed the COVID protocol.
“That was slam dunk for them. They came in, they knew how important it was to impress the staff at the aquatic center, to show them that we are capable of doing what we need to do in order to continue swimming and they did fantastic and continue to,” she said.
Coach Marc Scott said they have had multiple conversations on deck and that a fair number of them have been inspired by the swimmers’ behavior their focus and their maturity.
“It’s been exceptional to say the least. One of the things I’ve pointed out to the swimmers on a couple of different occasions is we were one of the first five percent or so of teams that were actually let back into a facility after their first round of closures and shutdowns due to COVID-19. There wasn’t a protocol. There wasn’t anything lined up before we got into the pool. There were some very general ideas about what it was going to look like but we really didn’t know and our swimmers managed to lead the way, literally at a national level, for what to do and how to do it,” he said. “We set very high standards and aquatic center and staff have expressed how impressed they are with what we are doing…. For this, I want to say to the swimmers – nice job!”
Michelle Lo, a fifth grader, told the Reporter it’s very different from what the swimmers would usually be doing but she likes having more space and it’s pretty helpful for her.
“Social distancing has been pretty hard because you can’t hang out with people and there’s a limited amount of time you can be in the pool, especially now that we have full-time school, you don’t have as many lanes. We recently switched to three people in a lane. That gets confusing at times,” Lo said.
She thinks the workouts themselves are still pretty hard and getting harder but having a chance to socialize with her teammates is nice.
“Before school started I got to see my friends at the pool and they and they kept me sane as well,” said Lo, who has been with the Aquatomics team for some five years. Her hope is that she can compete at least at one meet because she is very curious about whether or not she improved during the pandemic.
Owen McLaughlin, a sixth grader, and his siblings Ashley and Joshua all belong to Aquatomics and their father, Heath McLaughlin is a coach for the team. Owen noted that the workouts have gotten harder as they move along. He enjoys socializing with his friends on the team. His sister, Ashley, a third grader, likes having more space. There have been two swimmers per lane, one at each end with their own little area to swim in. Joshua, also a third grader, has been on the team for three years and his favorite event is the 100 meter breaststroke. The young swimmers said the pool was very crowded pre-COVID and they all like having more space.
Coach Englert noted that the kids don’t get to socialize as much in the pool as they don’t get as many kids in their lane.
“But they do get to see people and be there with them while having so much more room,” she said.
Coach Scott chuckled as he introduced high school level swimmers Susanna Price and Fayrouz Mourad, saying the two girls have been doing a spectacular job of socializing to the point that he is not too worried that they’re feeling all alone in the world.
Price a senior in high school, joined Aquatomics just three months ago after relocating from near Albany in upstate New York. After living and swimming at 300 feet in elevation, the altitude in Los Alamos took a little time to adapt to. Price tried to run on her first day in town and found it rough, however, she had two weeks to quarantine so she had some time to adjust before she hit the water.
“When we first got here the social distancing made it hard to meet people because you’re so spread out. It took me a couple of weeks to meet Fayrouz Mourad and really get chatting but once we did it was good because we’re a couple of lanes apart and we can’t be together on the deck and we don’t change in the locker rooms anymore which is where a lot of the socializing happens,” she said.
Right now, Price said she often has a lane to herself for most of practice because she is homeschooled and show up earlier than most people on the team. She finds this nice because it never happened with her old team. Price has meet coming up in Utah and said she just would like to beat her best times.
Coach Englert noted that Price is a great swimmer and a great addition to the team. Price, who has been on a swim team since she was seven years old, will be swimming for Roanoke College in Virginia.
“I’m going to study either physical or occupational therapy. I would really like to join the U.S. Navy and do that there,” Price said.
Fayrouz Mourad, a sophomore, said she found social distancing hard for a while because she likes to talk a lot.
“I think the procedures have helped me focus on my goals and getting back in shape to go to meets in the future and score points for the team. Being an older kid has been cool, because a lot of the older kids drifted away and quit over the course of the pandemic and I know I have to be more focused and hopefully help inspire the younger kids because I know a lot of them look up to the older kids for encouragement and guidance,” she said.
She said the team coaches have helped motivate the swimmers during a time when it has been pretty hard to find motivation.
“I just think that’s incredible. I had lost motivation for a while and Coach Mark kept pushing me and I’m really grateful for that. Swimming is something that I’m really passionate about and the lack of motivation I had experienced due to COVID-19 was really depressing for many athletes so I’m really glad and thankful for the encouragement the coaches have provided for us,” Mourad said.
Coach Scott discussed the challenges COVID has brought with scheduling the 68 members of the team into the little space they have. Oftentimes the coaches are not informed as to how many lanes they get to use until literally the last minute. Both coaches have been known to spend upwards of 20 hours a week just on trying to make sure the slots are used. Although the swimmers noted it has been going very well, Scott said he has lost his mind several times completely. COVID numbers in the County have meant the status of the pool has changed and wishes more information was available to the public in general.
“For the most part, we base what we’re doing on the next meet and that hasn’t been there. A couple of dual meets are in the process of getting scheduled. The Aquatic Center doesn’t have the staff at this time so the meets will be in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. The meets will give the swimmers the opportunity to go race and get some times,” Scott said.
Coach Scott has also appreciated having more space for swimmer to train in.
“We’ve had up to seven seniors per lane and up to nine age groupers per lane before the pandemic protocols were in effect so these kids are used to full-contact swimming, literally. It’s hard to swim without swimming into other swimmers and while it does really help the socialization and getting to know people – how they swim, where they swim – I think we will see some higher level of performance because we’re not seeing full contact swimming anymore,” he said.
Coach Scott said the swimmer have been able to focus more on their mindset during Zoom dry land meetings which last 45 minutes to an hour.
“I love psychology, it’s what I majored in and this is an opportunity to start working on applied sports psychology. The swimmers have been eating this stuff up and have really taken it to heart.” he said.
Scott said it’s always been a two-way street with the swimmers motivating and inspiring the coaches.
“The good coaches allow the swimmers to inspire them to show up to the pool ready to go and to be able to give the swimmers what they need…. The swimmers are helping us to get motivated and inspiring us because they’re doing some pretty exceptional stuff out there,” he said.
Coach Scott has been a head coach for some 30 years with experience in USA Swimming Age Groups, USAS Senior, NAIA, NCAA Divisions I and II, and high school swimming. His swimmers have won NAIA National Team Championships, a high school state championship, numerous individual All American Awards, Academic All American Awards, and many others. His coaching style includes techniques learned from 17 years of competitive swimming, Judo, Jujitsu, U.S. Chess Federation and tennis.
Coach Englert, an educator, previously taught high school and was the principal of an elementary school before she began coaching in 2008. She trains for Open Water Swims and has won the national title for her age group in the 3K. She swam in the National Championship 10K race in South Carolina in the summer of 2008.
For more information on Aquatomics go to: https://www.teamunify.com/Home.jsp?tabid=0&team=nmlaa