“What I like about swimming is that I get to stay in shape,” Ayden Kusumoto said. “I am doing online learning, it is hard to find stuff that keeps me active. I swim really hard and, mentally, it helps me get rid of stress. I have a lot of stress because of school and when I swim it just goes away.”
Kusumoto, 15, joined San Benito Aquatics around a year ago and has been part of the swim team since. On Feb. 13, he participated in the first swim meet since last March and was happy to be there.
San Benito Aquatics operates the pool at San Benito High School. The pool is open year-round and offers swim lessons, lap swimming and training for competition.
Swim lessons are currently fully booked, but there is a waiting list available through the website.
The pool is also used for certification of both scuba diving and lifesaving through outside programs.
“The people here are really great,” Kusumoto said. “They really cheer me on, giving me advice, and trying to help me be better. The coach is firm but you always learn from him. And the kids here are good competition which helps me improve as a swimmer.”
With the San Benito High School pool being one of the few sporting venues open to the public at the moment, Ayden’s father, Ray Kusumoto, said swimming has helped his son cope with the isolation imposed by COVID-19.
“He has not been able to go to school as much as he would like,” Ray said. “Swimming has really kept him active—like a lot of teenagers his nutrition is not ideal so this gives him a way to keep up his physical fitness. And mentally, swimming keeps him focused, but being here also gives him time to spend with his friends. It has been huge with him. I would encourage parents to bring their kids down here.”
Mia Guardino, 14, moved from gymnastics to swimming seven years ago on the advice of a friend and has been on the SBHS swim team ever since. In 2019, she successfully competed in the Coast Valley Aquatic League Championships, and the Feb. 13 meet was her first chance to compete in over a year due to the pandemic.
“It has been really sad to not have any events,” Guardino said. “Especially when I pass by the Morgan Hill Aquatics Center, where we had a lot of meets before. I really missed it—trying hard to improve your times and cheering for your friends at the top of your lungs.”
Maddie Corrigan, 15, has been swimming and attending these kinds of meets for nine years. She said they are a way of measuring your own abilities.
“You are not really racing against other people,” said Corrigan. “You are racing against yourself, trying to get your best time you can and do the best you can.”
Corrigan represents San Benito Aquatics in the South Bay Aquatics program and also works as a lifeguard at the pool. During the meets, she’s involved in monitoring the activity of the contestants to help maintain safety and improve performance.
“For a session like this, I make sure all the kids are in their lanes and doing what they need to do,” Corrigan said. “I make sure they have an understanding of the sport and that they are swimming hard and working hard. If the kids don’t do their best time at an event, we will work at the next practice to improve it. But we want to do it in a way that they will enjoy it. But most importantly, that they are having fun.”
The swim meet was held under the direction of Coach Michael Fujii, who was a U.S. National qualifier, High School All-American and Collegiate All-American. He works with the young swimmers five days a week and is grateful that swimming and swim meets are among the few youth athletic programs allowed under current state guidelines.
“We have really had to reinvent meets,” he said. “We have to limit how many people can warm up in a lane, we have to keep up with the social distancing and we separate the older kids from the younger kids. We can only practice for an hour rather than two. We are moving in sessions and keeping the parents off the deck to eliminate overcrowding. It has been complex.”
While the meets are geared toward competitive swimmers, there are programs for all ability levels, from stay-in-shape swimmers to the kids who want to progress in their skills. Fujii said all ages and abilities are welcome at the pool, and he encourages swimming as a healthy and safe form of exercise.
Guardino agreed. “Swimming is great for your health and it involves every muscle in your body. It has made me push myself more and be more confident. It also gives me a place to escape my problems. To me, the water is like a second home.”
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