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Swimmers happy to be back in the pool

‘New normal’ includes reservations, one per lane, exercise only

Swimmers swim laps at Sakamoto Pool in Wailuku on Monday, the first day public pools around Maui County were allowed to reopen since being shut down 2 1/2 months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photos

KIHEI — With Maui County swimming pools opening on Monday, Reid Yamamoto was back in his element, albeit still somewhat remotely.

The veteran Maui High School and Hawaii Swim Club coach sent 10 swimmers to work out in non-saltwater for the first time in 2 1/2 months. He posted a suggested workout on the HSC website and got up-close feedback from his daughter Mari, a rising junior at Maui High.

Yamamoto had been under the impression that only adults swimmers 18 years old and above would be allowed in the regulated return of the county pools, but he found out a few days ago that age-group swimmers 13 and older could also return with proof of their affiliation.

“My daughter was real excited, kind of a breath of fresh air,” Yamamoto said. “It was kind of amazing how excited she was. It’s good, I mean I’m hoping things slowly will get better so that we can actually have just a normal workout.”

Swimmers are required to call the county appointment hotline at 270-6116 from 8 a.m. to noon for an appointment one day before they wish to swim laps. Each lane is limited to one swimmer for a 45-minute workout at six intervals daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — the lifeguards disinfect the facility for 15 minutes until the top of the hour for the next session.

A sign posted at Kihei Aquatic Center informs swimmers of new rules, including reservations and wearing a mask upon entry.

There is no swimming at the noon hour during the lifeguards’ lunch break.

No matter the restrictions, Yamamoto was just happy to be back nearer to normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the county facilities in mid-March.

“It’s a start, so I was happy,” he said. “It’s not the beach, which we were lucky to have, but the pool is always better. I saw my kids and they looked pretty happy, pretty much relieved.”

The summer swim meet schedule has been wiped out through August, so Yamamoto has been telling his troops for a while that they are now working for next season. The state age-group meet is usually held in December, which is also when the Maui Interscholastic League season begins.

Coach Soichi Sakamoto Pool in the War Memorial Complex has just eight 50-meter lanes available, while the Kihei Aquatic Center had 24 25-yard lanes available with a bulkhead in the middle of the large pool and a warm-up nearby.

Swimmers’ belongings are placed on a bench in numbered areas corresponding to their lane assignments at Sakamoto.

Yamamoto sent swimmers to both facilities on Monday.

“It feels great, but we have to be patient because it’s not like we’re the only ones in this situation — there’s a few states that have fully opened up where teams can have practice, but there’s also a lot of states that have not yet opened,” Yamamoto said. “We’re just going to take what we get and make the best of it.”

While lifeguards at Sakamoto Pool said they were booked solid for the day, KAC lifeguard Dennis Campos said his facility was nearly booked with three times the lanes available. Swimmers must enter the facility with a mask on and may use the locker room facilities only for the toilets, meaning they arrived and left with swimsuits on.

At KAC, swimmers’ names are on benches near their assigned lanes, while at Sakamoto there were designated numbers on the bench separated by blue tape where the swimmers put their belongings — the numbers corresponded with the lane assigned to each swimmer.

“It’s basically get to the pool, enter the pool by reservation, 45 minutes and then you’re going to exit through the side,” Campos said. “One swimmer per lane. … It’s only for exercise — you cannot be coming to the pool, reach the wall and just hanging out. You have to be constantly moving and keeping that social distancing.”

Kathy Lyle of Kihei was thankful to be back at the KAC, where she usually swims several times per week.

“Oh it was great,” Lyle said. “It’s a regimented deal, reservation required, which is fine, show your ID. It was really nice.”

Lyle said she had no problem securing her reservation on Sunday.

“You can’t call for two (people), each person must call, even if you’re a married couple,” Lyle said. “Oh sure, everything was good. You can use the restroom, there’s showers, soap, you just can’t change.

“It was all pretty nice, nice to get back in the water.”

Lyle’s friend Mila Kalid was also happy to be back at the KAC. She normally swims there at least four times per week.

“It was fantastic, it feels fantastic,” she said. “It was like back to old (times), but it’s a really, really good new norm. It’s the new normal and I would like to see it stay that way.”

Kalid said she has been swimming in the ocean since the shutdown of the pools.

“I need to swim every day,” she said. “That’s why I moved to Maui, so I could do it for my health. It’s good for mind and body.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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