[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is 6 a.m. sharp on a Monday morning, and the pool deck is cluttered with kick boards, pull buoys, and a few water bottles here and there. While most other Niles West students are still dormant in their cozy beds, the boys’ swim and dive team is awake and ready to start their day. Some might be yawning or grumbling about having practice at such an ungodly time of the day, but they still jump into the pool, which feels colder than water straight off a glacier.
“When I wake up, I feel extremely tired and I’m just hoping for an easy practice,” senior captain Andrew Mudreac said. “I feel like I’m going to be too tired to stay awake for the entire day.”
Fellow senior captain Eric Himmler agrees.
“If I had to pick between mornings and afternoons, I’d pick mornings. There’s nothing going on at that hour of the morning. But in general, no, I don’t really appreciate mornings,” he said.
While the boys are busy swimming their usual warm-up, head coach Dan VanderJeugdt writes a set for the boys to complete on the mobile whiteboard. To a non-swimmer, the writing on the board would be mumbo-jumbo, but to a swimmer it is the difference between a good day and a bad day. Repetition is the theme of the day, with multiple sets of kicking, pulling, and even some tempo sets mixed in.
“Quite frankly, I dread [the idea of three more seasons of swimming]. But what the heck. It’s only four years out of 100,” commented freshman Eric Scott.
Vandy is sipping some coffee from a silver thermos while freshman coach Jason Macejak directs his 15 boys to keep their heads down while swimming freestyle. Mace paces the slick deck and uses wild hand gestures to get his point across to the freshmen.
At the deep end of the pool, a diver stands at the edge of the diving board, oscillating slightly. After a few seconds, he launches himself off the board, contorts into pike position, and lands headfirst into the water made choppy by the varsity swimmers passing by. Coach Adrian Lovera offers some words of praise as the diver lifts himself out of the pool.
Just by sound, you can tell that you’re on a pool deck; the splattering of hot water from the divers’ showers serves as a sort of background noise as coaches inform their swimmers on how to improve their technique. “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads plays through the speakers, serving as a way to make practice feel less like torture and more like exercise with a soundtrack. This is the backdrop for every swim practice, regardless of time of day: water splashing, classic rock music, and the occasional sound of a coach yelling over all the noise.
It seems like the more experienced a swimmer is, the less a coach talks. While Mace is almost always giving words of advice to one of his freshmen, Vandy sits placidly on the bleachers as the varsity boys read the next part of their workout, already aware of what they must do. They surface at the wall, read the board while taking their allotted rest time, and then resume their swimming.
By the time it is 6:55 a.m., the boys are a little halfway done with their workout for the morning. By 7:45 the boys are done with practice and preparing for school. Then once school ends, the boys have another practice.
“Swimming twice a day may be hard, especially at six in the morning, but the more one does something the better they get. Besides, I’d rather be doing this than going through one four-hour practice every day,” Scott said.
“The doubles help. More time in the water. What you put in, you get out after taper,” he said.
Afternoon practices usually end around 5:30, which sets the boys back at least two hours on homework time. This can also alter the amount of time they get to sleep, as well.
“People tell me to go to sleep earlier, but it’s just not possible for me to come home from afternoon practice, finish all of my homework, prepare food and such for the next day, and get a sufficient amount of sleep,” Mudreac said.
Video by Carly Tennes