Swimmer Phoebe Bacon is training toward Olympic-sized dreams in a friend's 15-meter pool
If the postponed Tokyo Olympics mixes up its event offerings and decides to add a lightning-fast 15-meter swimming race, Phoebe Bacon will be ready.
Like elite swimmers all across the country, the 17-year-old found herself scrambling for a place to train last month when pools and swimming facilities abruptly shut down amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. With little notice, the 25-meter short-course pools closed, the 50-meter Olympic-size pools were shuttered, and training ground to a halt.
Bacon's solution: A family friend had a covered, 15-meter pool attached to their home in the Maryland suburbs, and that allows her to get in at least some training while much of the sports universe remains at a standstill.
"I think it is important for me to stay in the water a little bit and just keep training," said Bacon, who had qualified for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in four events and is vying for a spot at her first Summer Games. "I know there really isn't any competitions at the moment, at least on my radar. But being out of the water can be a very big disadvantage. For me, it's kind of like, 'If I have the ability to be in the water, I want to take advantage of it.' "
That certainly wasn't how this spring was supposed to go. Bacon is wrapping up her senior year at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Any dreams of prom, a high school graduation ceremony and Olympic trials were upended last month, and now Bacon is just trying to make the most of the time she has - including an extra year to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
In 2016, Bacon was just 13 when she competed at her first Olympic trials in Omaha. Since then, she has grown stronger and faster, winning gold in the 100-meter backstroke at last year's Pan American Games in 59.47 seconds. Following a similar path as Katie Ledecky, another swimming prodigy from Stone Ridge, Bacon was looking forward to a breakout meet in Omaha this year.
Her final high school season was strong - she broke the national high school record in the 100-yard backstroke - and she was supposed to attend a training camp last month at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But that was canceled when the facility closed. She got in a couple of days of training with teammates at Nation's Capital Swim Club before Washington-area pools also shuttered.
"And I was like, 'I do not know what to do,' " Bacon recalled. "There was a little bit of panic because I had no pool and flying somewhere was kind of out of the question because that wasn't safe."
But training also felt mandatory. The Olympics had not yet been postponed, and any time out of the pool felt crippling to preparations for trials.
"So it was like: 'How do I keep myself in water? It doesn't have to be a full 25-yard or whatever-size pool. It just needs to be something,' " she said.
For the past month, Bacon has been going to the family friend's home in Potomac. She's not getting near the yardage she's used to, but she is getting in work.
"I'm keeping my strokes up and doing a lot of skill-oriented focus," she said.
Without as much time in the water, Bacon is putting more effort into her workouts on dry land. She has been biking and running for cardio, which she hadn't done seriously in several years, and she meets with a trainer three days a week, usually for outdoor workouts at a park near her family's Chevy Chase, Maryland, home.
And then there's the family's informal exercise program.
"My dad, my brother and I, we'll do it right in the living room. My mom's never too happy about it," she said with a laugh. "But we'll get it done. It's between my dad's work calls or right before dinner or sometimes in the morning - wherever it fits."
They'll do ab exercises (such as leg lifts and crunches), pushups and pullups, usually about a half-hour session.
"I honestly feel like I'm getting better at a lot of different things that I've always wanted to be able to do," she said. "During the hard training season, it's so much swimming, so trying to do a set of five to 10 pullups would be impossible. I would maybe get one. And now every time I walk past the pullup bar, I'll hop up, do three or four, and then kind of carry on.
"So I'm not saying this is great, but I'm able to get better at some things that I've wanted to be better at."