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Olympian Lilly King and other pro swimmers train in Indiana pond

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Olympian Lilly King and other pro swimmers train in Indiana pond

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Professional swimmers Cody Miller, Lily King and Annie Lazor discuss a unique way to practice during a pandemic.

Indianapolis Star

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Chlorine does not burn your eyes and there is no danger of brushing on a track marker or crushing your hand while pushing against a wall.

This is swimming like Lilly King never imagined. With turtles in the water and moss in the background. With temperatures so low that she wears a diving suit.

What else will you do when you are training for the Olympics and a pandemic closes all pools? Go jump in the lake.

"I definitely never thought I would be swimming in open water, going out and training in the lagoon," said King. "But it has been a good change here."

King, 23, is one of the most prominent swimmers in the world. She has two Olympic medals and 11 gold medals in the world and eight NCAA titles. She set 16 American records and holds world records in the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke.

Lilly King prepares to practice at Howard Lake on Saturday, May 23, 2020 in Bloomington, IN. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times) (Photo: Richard Janzaruk)

However, she struggled when the state went into confinement. While NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and alphabet soup from other leagues are closed, there is little respite for aspiring Olympic athletes. Even though the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for 2021.

"Either way, you usually have to wait years for the Olympics," said King. "So, what's another year?"

That's how she and others in the Indiana University professional training group meet here twice a week, on a lake on the grounds of a southern subdivision in Bloomington. There are buoys about 100 meters away, and professionals swim back and forth, replicating the exercises in the pool as much as possible. Nobody knows how fast they are, because nobody knows the exact distance.

The connection to the pond was made through Bloomington South High School coach Kandis Looze, wife of Indiana coach Ray Looze. Kandis meets Tim Henke, a developer and triathlete from Bloomington, who received the swimmers.

Swimmers said the stress was removed by the announcement that the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to July 23 – August. 8, 2021. Tests come together to select the US team in June 2021. Swimming in the USA has canceled its summer championship, but it can organize regional meetings before the end of 2020.

A summer without a culminating championship was "strange, but good," said King.

"I'll be honest. It's been nice. I haven't exactly had a break since I was 8 years old. So it's good to just step back and swim just to swim, and not necessarily to introduce yourself on a date."

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In case of doubt, King was in it just to be the queen of the sport.

"Yes, if you don't like it, you're certainly not doing it right now, swimming in a lake," said Cody Miller, 28, the chest fighter Hoosier who won Olympic gold and bronze medals in 2016. "But anything is better than nothing. "

On this day, Zane Grothe is the first of seven swimmers to arrive. Grothe, 28, who set two American records in 2017, said he was “excited” about the lagoon. He was out of the water for six weeks entirely.

"Every day I'm like, 'man, I have to work hard. I have to get in shape, I have to get in shape', 'he said … before adding that there is no nothing important for 13 months.

Indiana's indoor and outdoor pools are off limits. On the day that Miller was supposed to get in his car and drive to the US Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the facility banned non-resident athletes.

The lagoon was not the only training base for professionals.

King swam in a pool in Evansville, his hometown, until he was expelled. She traveled to an undisclosed Indianapolis residence to use a 10-foot, 25-yard private pool. "Batman's Den" is what Miller calls it. Jimmy Nash City Park's pool in Martinsville may soon reopen for professionals.

The swimmers took weights to a park for training on land and performed CrossFit exercises. Miller said they are close friends and stay motivated.

Lilly King practices at Howard Lake on Saturday, May 23, 2020 in Bloomington, IN. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times) (Photo: Richard Janzaruk)

"Not that I didn’t respect their hard work or anything before. But it gave me such new respect for people that I’m around everyday, really,” said Annie Lazor, 25, a 2018 world champion who won three gold medals at the 2019 Pan American Games. "They are willing to do their best to improve and stay in the water during that period."

Surprisingly, the swimmers said that they felt lucky to have these options. Most college and high school swimmers don't have this training – until the pools reopen anyway. Michael Brinegar, from Indiana, a swimmer from Columbus, Indiana, is training in Mission Viejo, California.

It's not all about the Olympics or the World Championship, said Lazor and Miller. They would be happy to have any meeting scheduled for the Olympic Games. The professionals were financially overburdened, losing sponsors and chances of winning cash prizes.

"We are not just exercising. We also want to get back to work," said Grothe.

Ray Looze suggested that swimmers in other countries had fewer interruptions than in the United States, where 100,000 deaths were attributed to COVID-19. He said that UI professionals have shown character and perseverance.

"It is really the Olympic spirit," he said. "Regardless of how they can leave a year from now, they have already shown me that they are champions."

Follow David Woods on Twitter: @ DavidWoods007.

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