Confined in still water: Looking into the 2021 PSI bubble

As restrictions ease, collegiate Filipino swimmers finally received an opportunity to dive back into the sport.

After months of anticipation, the local swimming community finally opened its doors to hold the first-ever meet since the COVID-19 pandemic started through the 2021 Philippine Swimming Inc. (PSI) National Selection at the New Clark City Aquatics Center last October 22 to 24.

The event, which allowed 71 local swimmers to vie for a spot in the national team training pool who will compete in upcoming international competitions, saw Lady Tanker Xiandi Chua and Thanya Dela Cruz of the Ayala Harpoons Swim Club leave lasting impressions in the three-day meet. Joining them was one of the most well-renowned swimming instructors in the country, coach Archimedes “Archie” Lim—head coach of the Ayala Harpoons Swim Club and program head of CAL Swim School. 

Sharing their thoughts on navigating the new bubble competition setup and preparing for the long-awaited PSI meet, Chua, Dela Cruz, and Lim dive back into the waters of competitive swimming. 

Expectations and realizations 

Spending so much time away from the pool due to the closing of sports facilities amid lockdowns was definitely a struggle for swimmers and coaches alike. Everyone needed to adapt to the unconventional setup during the pandemic. In the rare instances of training sessions being held, smaller training pools were utilized, meaning that only a handful of swimmers were allowed to participate. Although once struggling with this adjustment, Chua explains she managed to keep herself conditioned, “I just had to be consistent in putting in the work and pushing myself until I [regained] my competitive form.”

Dela Cruz, meanwhile, shares how having supportive teammates kept her spirits up, having spent time with them in between training sessions. “At first, I was sad. I used to train with a lot of people every day. Having a positive circle definitely keeps our spine stiff through difficult [training],” she expresses. Chua echoes Dela Cruz’s sentiments and talks about how her teammates serve as energy boosters that keep her going. For her, teammates provide moral support and “push and bring out the best in each other,” which proved pivotal in their quest as players for the national team.

And the best did come out during the meet.

The 18-year old Dela Cruz pushed on to break the pre-pandemic national record for the women’s 50-meter breaststroke with a time of 32.89 seconds, while also finishing first in the women’s 50-meter freestyle event, clocking 27.92 seconds. “I actually wasn’t expecting anything from that meet. When I [finished] the race and looked [at] the scoreboard, I was speechless and I didn’t know how to react,” she remarks.  

Chua, meanwhile, showcased exemplary results after topping the 100-meter freestyle with a whopping 59.68-second run—the only run under a minute among her competitors. The surreal performance made headlines as she kept a winning pace in the 200-meter individual medley and the 200-meter freestyle. 

A coach’s perspective

With constant changes in the lockdown guidelines, it was difficult to create a consistent training schedule for Lim’s team. “It was frustrating to me and the swimmers to work hard then suddenly stop training, [coupled] with the uncertainty of when we will be able to get back,” he voices out. This challenge included the scheduling of the PSI meet itself, with the meet being repeatedly pushed back to uncertain dates.

Furthermore, a vital part of meets before the pandemic was the noise coming from fellow athletes who cheered for their teammates. “There were far fewer swimmers who attended, so it was kind of ‘quiet’,” Lim points out. Should there have been a warmer atmosphere, the added fear of possibly catching and spreading the virus also would have contributed to a stressful atmosphere for the participants. 

Despite all these setbacks, Lim persisted and found ways to keep his swimmers motivated, helping them understand why they are doing this in the first place. Constant communication became a huge factor, with the head coach assuring that everyone is capable of adjusting. He justifies that through this practice, his swimmers “understand where [they] are and what [they] can do in terms of performing better.” 

Same folks, different strokes

With Chua and Dela Cruz having closed the competition with record-breaking results, it is evident that their future and budding careers are bright. 

But these record holders did not reach this level of skill overnight. Dela Cruz owes her performance of breakneck speeds to her personal dedication and perseverance in the sport. “One thing that I learned [from] my coaches [is] that it’s always up to you on how you [want] to be or [what] you [want] to become. It’s you against yourself,” she quotes.

For Chua, the invitation to be part of the PSI bubble gave her motivation to go after the UAAP title as well, “It gives us, swimmers, something to look forward to.” With her track record, it is just a matter of time before she contributes podium finishes for the Lady Tankers.

In terms of the UAAP resuming, the grueling wait is a shared experience, with a lack of access to DLSU’s facilities to boot. “DLSU Tankers have weekly online land training sessions but we are looking [forward to] the possibility of training together face-to-face once the use of the swimming pool in DLSU has been approved,” Chua adds. 

Hopefully, the ravaging pandemic will soon be put at bay so these swimmers can wade the waters again. But only time will tell when this will be. For now, these athletes will have to make do with what they have and stay in competitive form to be able to make waves in what is to come.

Joaquim Antonio Arquelada

By Joaquim Antonio Arquelada

Tana Melgar

By Tana Melgar

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