BRISTOL - When athletes talk about practicing early in the morning or late a night, itâ€™s often because they are striving to become better in a way that only comes from putting in extra work others are not willing to.
But what if 6 a.m. is the only time available to practice?
The coronavirus pandemic forced the St. Paul girls swimming and diving team to face that challenge head-on because 6 a.m. was the only available pool time at the busy Dennis Malone Aquatics Center. With a team of just eight student-athletes, everyoneâ€™s commitment was firmly cemented as they all rise early to get their laps in before school starts.
â€śItâ€™s been a tough season,â€ť head coach Karim Marbrouk said. â€śWe donâ€™t have a lot of pool time. We swim from 6-7 in the morning. When I look around the entire state, I donâ€™t really think of too many teams that are swimming at six in the morning. I truly think that toughened up the girls and really gave us something thatâ€™s special. They come in, weâ€™re all tired, but we get through it and we swim our butts off and get out every day. I really think thatâ€™s what happened, they saw they can do it, they saw they can do it with limited amount of time in the pool.â€ť
While the time of day may be a factor, practices with Marbrouk in his first year as head coach are yielding results as the Falcons are 5-3 with two more meets on the schedule.
â€śFrom the beginning of the year I went from not being able to do butterfly, to doing butterfly for one of my events,â€ť said junior Payton Upson, who didnâ€™t hesitate when asked if the early practices were worth it.
Being a private school adds to the challenge of scheduling early morning practices for St. Paul. While attending a local public school would likely put most of the swimmers within a short drive of their home pool, many of St. Paulâ€™s students are not from Bristol and are traveling from as far as Torrington to make the 6 a.m. practice.
â€śItâ€™s 100 percent commitment,â€ť Marbrouk said. â€śSwimming is not an easy sport. Weâ€™re a very small team, eight girls on the team, one of them is a diver so youâ€™re really looking at seven swimmers and a diver. Of those seven swimmers, we really only have three really solid year-round swimmers and the other four are more or less recreational swimmers. They only do high school and then they wait around until the following year. To see the commitment from someone, especially the girls who are not year-round swimmers, to me thatâ€™s just amazing. Iâ€™ve swam my whole life, I donâ€™t know that I would have done that if I was just doing it as a high school thing, I probably wouldâ€™ve picked a different sport.â€ť
Practicing before sunrise is just chanllenge for Marbrouk, who was already taking on the daunting job of replacing the late Meegan Martin during a pandemic-altered season. So when the pandemic dealt him 6 a.m. practices he continued to push forward and was lucky enough to have a group of girls who were willing to do the same.
â€śThereâ€™s never been any complaints, not even once,â€ť Marbrouk said. â€śThe team really just showed resiliency and that theyâ€™re just not ready to let it go. [Practicing at] six in the morning, yes itâ€™s tiring, but I guess in a sense weâ€™re better than the rest because weâ€™re able to commit to swimming the way the others may not or have not done. And I think that has made a difference at the end of the day.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org