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Lisa Paul opens up about her passion for swimming and how she has coped without being in the pool.

For as long as I can remember swimming has been a part of my life. Unlike a lot of the other girls at my school who dreaded the compulsory biweekly swimming lesson, I recall feeling sick with excitement for it. As I grew into my teens, I wanted to take it more seriously. My dad (reluctantly) started to taxi me along to early morning training and competitions; I had become hooked. Not only because of the endorphins that would ensue from spending hours in the pool but because it had become a ritualistic escape from the stresses of daily life. I could just put my head in the water; focusing on placing one arm in front of the other, kicking, turning off the wall, and repeating until our coach bellowed the next set from the poolside. 

When I came to university, I was unsure of what to expect. But the one thing I knew I would definitely do, come hell or high water, was join the Glasgow University Swimming and Water Polo Club (GUSWPC). On arrival, the club felt like a safety net; a familiarity that I welcomed with open arms. I didn't know how to reference a journal article or find my way around campus, let alone the rest of the city. I was having a difficult time coming to terms with being a small fish in a big pond. Although the location and coaches were new: swimming was something that I knew I could do. The club was far bigger than the one I had had at home, with understandably more talent. I was now swimming beside people that had gone to British Championships and played water polo at an international level. I was intimidated, but I settled in. 

Through the club, I made friends: walking to training together, sharing long chats in the Stevenson building's steam room followed up with free pizza from Bank Street Bar. I was finally starting to feel a sense of belonging that I hadn't yet found on my course or through my halls of residence. I had ordered my own Glasgow University Sport branded sweatshirt with the leggings to match; eager to wear them throughout the second semester. But my eagerness was short-lived. By mid-March, coronavirus was spreading throughout the country and within the space of 24 hours, the University was closing its facilities and had cancelled all upcoming face-to-face teaching. I begrudgingly made my way home on the first available train. 

To begin with, the cancellation of sport hadn't crossed my mind. Instead, I was absorbed in the initial excitement of the pandemic; arguably the most major international crisis of my life to date was unfolding, and I was watching it all escalate from the comfort of my parents' living room. But, once I had acclimatised to the new normal, I realised just how much I'd taken the sport for granted. I was growing irritable in the house, anxious to fill the void in my routine that was triggered by the pool's absence. Within a fortnight I had exhausted the few Les Mills home workouts that were on the internet for free, I ran when I could, and went for regular walks with my family to fill time. Although these activities helped to clear my thoughts, it wasn't the same as being in the water, and unfortunately, I didn't have a loch or a beach nearby to try my hand at open water swimming. I, like many others, had to wait it out. 

Pools are set to reopen in Scotland on 31 August. However, they won't be how we fondly remember them. In an attempt to limit face-to-face contact, pool opening hours look likely to be highly restricted, limiting the number of training hours available. Water polo is forecast to see the most drastic changes as the swimming regulatory body, Scottish Swimming, states that there should be no gameplay or physical contact in the water. Instead, water polo shall be limited to individual drills: each player spread two metres apart with their own ball passing to themselves until restrictions are eased further. Additionally, the add-ons that would normally make the experience of training more relaxing but chats in the steam room and regular socials look to be in jeopardy. 

When I think about what the sport means to me on the one hand, it's just about being in the water: a way to relax and get away from essay deadlines or stresses at home. But when you take away the add-ons, the socials and the gossips exchanged before and after training, the prospect of getting back in the water doesn't fill me with as much glee as it would've done previously. Since coming to university, the sport has taken on a different meaning for me: belonging to something bigger than myself and having a place to make and maintain friendships. I know I will be able to maintain these from a distance, and soon our routines should return to normal. But in the meantime, I'll have to carry on making do with home workouts and Zoom socials, going easy on myself in the water's absence.


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