In the midst of the global pandemic, local swimmers from across the valley with the Avon Swim Club channeled their inner Dory from “Finding Nemo” and just kept swimming.
With meets canceled last minute and pools shut down last March due to COVID-19, some of the older, longer tenured Avon Swim Club members rallied their swim friends from surrounding mountain regions last May to swim in freezing high alpine lakes in the Rocky Mountains.
“That’s how badly they needed to be in the water,” said Tom Kiddoo, parent and volunteer with the Avon Swim Club, a publicly run swim program led by supervisor Meghan Hershey.
Hershey joined the Avon Swim Club in 2017 and has continued to grow and develop young swimmers from across the valley of all ages, as well as instilling the love of being in the water. With no local high school swim team, local swimmers compete with the Glenwood Springs High School team.
“I dropped 8 seconds within my first year with her in my 100 freestyle,” said Kylee Smith, a senior at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy who recently committed to swim at Washington College in Maryland. (Fun fact: Smith used to be allergic to chlorine.)
Not all members of Avon Swim Club compete, and Hershey and her team host local schools for swim days at the pool as well as other community outreach programs.
“When I came into the program it was a relatively small program,” Hershey said. “There were probably 10 kids that competed on a regular basis, and now we have 25-30 kids competing on a regular basis. The team’s grown from 25 consistent kids to around 75, and a lot of them are recreational and don’t compete.”
Battle Mountain senior Charlie Kiddoo started swimming his freshman year of high school. He’s committed to swim at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.
“The wet suits were good,” Charlie said of the unofficial meets at high alpine lakes in May, “but your hands and your forehead were cold.”
Charlie, who works at the Avon Recreation Center where the Avon Swim Club is located, has enjoyed the camaraderie that has come with being a swimmer in a land of skiers and snowboarders. From long drives across the state for minutes spent in a pool to snowball fights on the top of Vail Pass on their way home from swim meets, local competitive swimmers are a tight, yet welcoming unit.
“Some kids are just built for swimming but have never tried it,” Charlie said. “If anything, swimming is an individual sport, but it’s so social.”
With almost an entire season off due to COVID and continued limited pool time and restrictions, local swimmers are doing the best with what they have, usually starting their days before the sun rises.
“It’s worth it for sure,” Charlie said.
With swimmers going from about 12 hours a week in the pool to five hours, Hershey encouraged dry-land training and Zoom calls to stay on pace.
“These kids are awesome,” Hershey said. “Recently this year we’ve had numerous people move here from other states because of COVID. They come to the program and see a difference with how we coach and the personal interaction with the kids is different from the bigger programs they might come from like New York City.”
A common theme with Hershey’s swimmers is their ability to always see and hear their coach.
“She’s really good at individualizing what each swimmer needs, and she’s very supportive,” Smith said. “One of the things that drives me at all of my races is watching her bounce up and down on the side. It’s so funny — you can notice her when you’re in a race when you’re not supposed to be noticing anything.”
For Max Bradbury, who swims multiple events including breaststroke, he hears Hershey every time he comes up for air.
“Go! Go! Go!” he hears every time he comes up.
“You can always hear Meghan,” Charlie said. “And you can always see her.”
Now that the season is wrapped up, Avon Swim Club competitive swimmers are celebrating a successful season. At the 10 and younger state event earlier in April, Avon Swim Club members won all six events — with personal bests for many of them. One of the 10-year-olds is top 20 in the nation. And the older swimmers like Charllie, Smith and Bradbury are taking advantage of the college opportunities swimming presents. They recently competed in Arizona to wrap up the season.
“I feel like for a sport like ours, it’s less the times you make and more the work you put in,” Smith said. “They can see the determination. They look at your past, your growth and how much you can grow. It’s definitely more than just the one number.”
Smith and Charlie are both part of Hershey’s first graduating class. Bradbury will be a senior next year.
“We’re just blessed to be in the water,” Hershey said. “The town of Avon has been amazing working with us through this.”
Avon was also part of the only Colorado Swimming Inc. sanctioned event during COVID-19, an outdoors event at Nottingham Lake that brought in about 100 hotel stays over two nights.
The month of May is a transition time for the Avon Swim Club, and a great time to join. Email Hershey at email@example.com.
And whether it’s at the Avon Rec Center, high alpine lakes or a new and improved swim facility that serves as a state destination — local swimmers are going to just keep swimming.
Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.