Photo courtesy of Michigan Athletics.

I live with three other members of the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team. On the evening of Jan. 24, we were at our house on Dewey Ave, playing Nintendo Switch. As I aggressively stared at the screen, trying to eliminate Yoshi and the other players, we received a phone call from our coach, Mike Bottom.

It was at that moment that we learned the entire Michigan athletic department was shut down for 14 days due to recommendations from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

The timing of the shutdown posed an enormous threat to the seasons of winter sports teams as they were in the height of their season, swimming especially. 

I was crushed. What did this mean for our season with the Big Ten Championship so close? 

The entire team was shocked. For the entire year, our program trained 20 hours per week, determined to dominate the Big Ten and the NCAA. We were performing well in the water and were extremely diligent in maintaining safe social distancing practices with a very low number of positive COVID-19 tests. 

Our coaches and captains stressed the importance of practicing safe social distancing protocols to ensure that we would have the opportunity to perform at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. And we followed them.

However, because of the shutdown, our final dual meet against Ohio State was canceled, creating uncertainty for both the team and individual athletes. 

I had already missed two competitions after contact tracing forced me to quarantine earlier in the year. And because of that, I am lacking the racing experience needed before a meet the size of the Big Ten Championships. 

Overall, there has been a great lack of clarity for what is going to happen in the coming weeks. 

The 2021 Men’s Swimming and Diving Big Ten Championships are to be held March 3-6 while the NCAA Championships will run March 24-27. Not being able to train this deep into the season was very threatening to the Men’s Swimming and Diving team, as it jeopardized our performance in the championship season. 

But, despite being locked out of our facilities, the men’s swimming and diving team was determined that the shutdown was not going to be the end of our path to another Big Ten Championship victory. 

“We are going to keep training regardless of what comes in our way,” senior captain Will Roberts stated when asked about the shutdown. “That is what Michigan men do, and we owe it to our program, our university and the alumni who swam here before us to push through the difficult times. We are not going to cave because of this lockdown.”

My junior teammate and housemate, Will Chan, built a squat and bench press rack out of wood that was cemented into two buckets on our basement floor. We accompanied this with two spin bikes and an area for ab workouts and boxing. 

Our junior class went all out to make sure we would have the right resources to keep training through the shutdown. Out of the water, the Wolverines also hit the streets of Ann Arbor to get our cardio in and run several miles to ensure that when they returned to the pool, it was like they never left. 

The Big Ten Championships are on the horizon, and we find ourselves at an unprecedented disadvantage. We just got back into the pool following the end of our shutdown, while No. 7 Indiana and No. 17 Ohio State — our main competition — have consistently trained throughout the 2021 season. 

With the competition not having to miss out on any training, it seems like the odds are stacked against us. But we never care what the odds say. 

“This year has been encapsulated by perseverance,” Roberts said. “Reflecting on this season, our team has accomplished some amazing things. As a captain, I have been fortunate to witness this firsthand.

“No matter what happens, our team knows that we can overcome any obstacle and accomplish our goals. We have fought through the athletic shutdowns, forced quarantines, and the sad, unfortunate loss of our teammate Ian Miskelley. We will continue to fight all the way through to Big Tens and NCAAs. The pursuit of a goal is all we need as these opportunities are only presented to us for four years and we will make the most of it.”

When the shutdown ended, we returned to Canham Natatorium filled with excitement. We were ready to get back to work and when we hit the water, we knew that there was no stopping us. 

This was simply another obstacle that stood in our way, and we are ready to prove to everyone how tough we are when we step on the pool deck at the Big Ten Championships.

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