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No pool, no problem: BAC swimmers brave chilly Lake Elmo

Posted at 6:13 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 11:45:28-04

BILLINGS -- Last month a picture of the Billings Aquatic Club Stingrays surfaced online as some youth swimmers were testing the chilly waters at Lake Elmo. That's right, April outdoor swimming in Montana with high temperatures in the 50s, sometimes dipping into the 40s.

"Your face would go numb and it would just be impossible to talk because your lips were just frozen and your feet and hands would just go numb," said Stingray Claire Kaufman, who'll be a junior at Billings Skyview.

"I think in the middle of last week it was down in the lower 50s," added teammate Peter Thompson, "and that was brutal."

West High's Samantha Sheridan summed it up this way: "It was a little rough. You were a little cold at first, but you get used to it. It was fun to be back in the water again."

Ahhh, the simple pleasure of enjoying water other than a shower during the coronavirus pandemic, even if it meant gearing up in a wetsuit.

"A wetsuit can make you seem a little bit buoyant, so when you get back into a regular pool with nothing on, it definitely feels odd," said Liam Kerns, who will be a senior this fall and just Tuesday committed to swim for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Kaufman agreed that the extra gear took some adjusting.

"At the beginning I had a seven-millimeter wetsuit, so it was really stiff and it wasn't the easiest to swim with, but I got a thinner one and it's doing a lot better," she said.

For those wondering whether wetsuits are a cure-all for the chilly conditions, Thompson cleared up any questions.

"We didn't get to swim one day just because of the temperature. The wetsuits are only rated down to a certain temp, so at some point it's about safety," he said.

The Stingrays have been one of Montana's very few sports teams working out together since April. As pools were shut down for weeks, BAC coach Sean Marshall cleared the idea with the City of Billings.

"We came up with the idea that it's the only water that's open and available to us," Marshall said. "So, we contacted a couple scuba places and checked out what wetsuits they needed, five millimeter, seven millimeter, because when we started -- the water is still right around 58 -- and when we started it was 51, 52."

The club will finally be able to return to 80-degree pool temperatures as a group on Monday. Between now and then Marshall continues to design a variety of courses surrounding Lake Elmo.

"He usually sets the buoys up about 1,000 yards as a full loop," said Thompson, who is committed to swim for the University of Virginia. "I mean, we swim out to set them up and do usually two to three full loops. I'd say (we swim) about a mile and a half to two miles a day."

Keep in mind, this is open water swimming against the elements. No pool deck to grab hold of if a swimmer tires. Either before or after lake laps the Stingrays are also land training. It's safe to say they're in shape.

USA Swimming has canceled all of this summer's state, regional and national meets, according to Marshall, which means his Stingrays are swimming for the distant future. And gaining an edge with every chilly lap over two months.

"I actually really enjoy open water swimming and I've though about it doing it a lot and going to meets for it," Sheridan said. "I enjoy it a lot."

Then there's the bonus of just hanging out with friends again.

"We were quarantined for about two months and it's just miserable not seeing friends and family," Kaufman said, "so coming back was real nice."