Orinda Aquatics’ Staff Supports Athletes Through Pandemic Years

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(Fred Stambaugh, Photographer)
Thanks to Orinda Aquatics’ commitment to safely return its swimmers to the water, the team was able to continue providing opportunities for members to excel.

    Persistence, discipline and unwavering commitment to athletic excellence are the pillars for training at Orinda Aquatics (OA).
    Started in 1995, OA is known as one of the top smaller swim teams in USA Swimming. Over its history, OA has produced numerous Olympic trial and national level and top collegiate swimmers. With a strong tradition of success, OA has been able to fulfill its commitment to develop high-character and high-performing swimmers through collaboration, flexibility and adaptability.
    In March of 2020, when California was placed under strict stay-at-home orders, OA knew its tried-and-true rigorous year-round training of daily workouts, almost monthly meets, mental preparations and team-building would be disrupted.
    OA’s staff and volunteers began working immediately with experts and facilities to develop plans to return athletes back in the water safely. In June 2020, the team began training again with many new protocols in place – fewer swimmers per lane and individualized equipment use.
    That was the first hurdle.
    The second hurdle was to provide swimmers critical opportunities to compete in sanctioned meets in which swimmers earn “official times.”
    To this end, Director and parent Jane Healy described the detailed and hard work required: “Our team worked collaboratively and constantly with the governing body and our home facility to adjust our meets for COVID-19 safety compliance.”
    She explained, “We installed social distancing measures – from marking where swimmers would rest, to how they line up before the starting block. We also required swimmers to wear a mask to the starting blocks, place it with their belongings in a garbage bag while they raced, then re-don the mask before exiting the start area.”
    As a result of hard work and collaboration, the team held its first sanctioned intrasquad meet Feb. 2021.
    Co-head Coach Don Heidary reemphasized the mission to his staff and thanked them for the innovative ways they found to deliver coaching. “It was very important for us as a staff to not only stay connected to the kids, but to keep them connected to the sport,” said Heidary. “In the 10 weeks that we were out of the water, we maintained virtually daily contact via Zoom meetings, newsletters, character issues, video review, inspirational guest speakers and team-building.”
    Heidary added, “We were very fortunate to have access to the Soda Aquatic Center early in the pandemic, when many clubs around the country could not utilize a facility. The training through 2020 was invaluable on several fronts as kids could connect with their peers, alleviate some of the mental strains and pressures that accompanied that period and set themselves up for athletic success in 2021.”
    The persistence of the organization, along with the athletes and their families’ flexibility and adaptability, provided the athletes with one and a half years of almost uninterrupted daily workouts, sanctioned meets in 2021 and opportunities to connect with team members.
    For more information about Orinda Aquatics, visit www.orindaaquatics.org.

Angie Zener can be reached at zenerfam@gmail.com.

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