By Ray Hamill — Despite the ongoing pandemic and being shut out of the pool for much of the past nine months, the Humboldt Swim Club is coming off what head coach Mike Nichols described as “an exceptional year of training.”
The local club certainly appears to be thriving in the face of the adversity, and has found innovative ways to keep its members busy and have them ready to go when they do return to competition in 2021.
“It’s their perseverance,” said Nichols, who has coached the team for the past two years. “I’m really impressed with how consistent the kids are in their training.”
The club, which operates out of the Arcata Community Pool and features swimmers aged 6 through high school, has 69 full members right now, maintaining close to a full membership through the pandemic.
They were shut out of the pool in March but able to return again in July, only to be shut out once again last month.
But that hasn’t stopped them.
During the early summer months, Nichols organized outdoor swimming in Big Lagoon and the Mad River, and has kept his swimmers busy with a variety of outdoor workouts in small groups to get them away from their screens.
The response from the swimmers, he says, has been impressive.
“It’s been positive,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the area or the team culture — I think a lot of it is the community — but they’re always positive, always looking at the bright spot. They find that silver lining.”
While several swim clubs in California have traveled out of state to compete, the Humboldt Swim Club has taken a different approach and remains patient.
“We wanted to be responsible with what we do with our community,” he said. “We’re trying to protect our community.”
In the meantime, the club has been busy overachieving elsewhere, raising more than $17,000 at this fall’s Creepy Crawl fundraiser and way exceeding expectations.
Nichols set a team goal of a combined 50,000 yards for the event, but his enthusiastic swimmers almost doubled that, swimming for 92,000 yards.
“I’ll have to re-set my goals for next year,” the coach said.
That’s not all the Humboldt Swim Club has going for it these days, and a recent partnership with The Club in McKinleyville is paying big dividends training wise.
“That’s been a huge boom for the program,” said Nichols. “We wanted to find a way to offer dynamic workouts to reduce the stress on the body from (constant) swimming.
“The opportunity to introduce weight training to our high school athletes has reduced their in-pool training needs and put them in a spot to effectively train as they would pre-COVID scheduling.”
The Humboldt Swim Club generally competes year round, traveling for around 10 events.
In addition, several swimmers from Arcata High compete in high school meets, including CIF and NCS competition.
This year, Nichols expects to have around 20 high school swimmers, well up from recent years, including some from Eureka and McKinleyville.
The Arcata swimmers did compete in one high school meet in Mendocino before the March shutdown and it was a very positive start to the season, with three different NCS consideration marks set.
Junior Emily Nalley (a sophomore at the time) set an individual NCS time in the 50 Free, as well as teaming up with Lizzzy Johnson, Flannery Warner and Sadie Breena to set a pair of NCS times in the 200 medley and 200 free relay races.
“They were excited. It was the first meet of the year and they had those times,” Nichols said, adding that because of that performance and the ensuing shutdown “they are coming back hungrier and hungrier.”
McNulty shines in college
The local club also has had recent success at the next level, with 2020 Arcata graduate Kieran McNulty off to a remarkable start to his college career at Division-I Cal Poly.
“He’s a wonderful kid,” Nichols said of McNulty. “He has a unique mindset and his willingness to train like he did alone was impressive.
“Just his ability and maturity at his age to train on his own at that level was impressive.”
The club features mostly girls, but two boys in particular — sophomores Lucas Blair and Keenan Riggs-Turpin — appear ready to step up and perhaps follow in McNulty’s footsteps.
Nichols, who moved to the area from Orange County, believes just about any of his swimmers could go on to swim in college if they have the desire.