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Sierra High School’s Linda McGoff performs the butterfly stroke in the 200-meter medley relay during Sierra’s Feb. 11 dual against Widefield. The Stallions earned eight points in the event with their first-place finish.

Attempt to enter the swimming area at Sierra High School and assistant swim coach Chloé DeLisle will briefly thwart those efforts.

DeLisle peppers the entrant with six COVID-related questions: “Have you experienced nausea? A fever? Sore throat? Have you had contact with individuals who have had positive COVID results in the past 48 hours? Have you lost sense of taste? Do you have sense of smell?”

DeLisle memorized the above like song lyrics and no longer requires the sheet of paper listing the protocol. 

As she marks each box and checks temperatures, DeLisle then jots the spectator’s first and last name as they spell both to ensure all is correct. 

Don’t take it personally — the Stallion swimmers on the other side of the door are family, and DeLisle refuses to let anyone compromise their season. 

“I love my team, I love the swim season and I know the girls would be absolutely heartbroken if they didn’t get this [season],” DeLisle said. “Our season is already 2½ months late, we’re down four meets and can only swim against three other teams when we usually go against seven or eight. We want to provide the best experience possible. 

“My mother is an infectious disease doctor, my father is a pulmonologist and my little sister is a contact tracer. My whole world is COVID and ensuring the safety of our population and ensuring we can move on. It’s possible, it just takes more work.”  

Potential COVID exposure forced the Stallions boys basketball team to postpone games Feb. 13-19. Rescheduling basketball games, though, is simpler than swim meets or duals. Heck, holding swim competitions during a pandemic provides a unique experience.

Up north, Evergreen held a swim dual Feb. 13 and started its events at 9 a.m. at Platte Canyon. Meanwhile, their competition, Chatfield, swam at 6 p.m. at Littleton. 

Fortunately, the Stallions haven’t endured such a situation, but do face issues the pandemic has caused.

An already thin team, the combined Sierra-Harrison squad has just eight competitors, instead of the usual 20. Stallions swimmers essentially go back-to-back in events with little recovery time.

Nick Davenport, Stallions head swim coach, remains thankful for the girls’ opportunity to partake in swimming despite the odd guidelines. 

“They’re a tight group and they like to hug each other and we have to kind of discourage that with everything going on,” Davenport said. “We’re lucky enough that there has been enough time where everyone has systems in place for us to have a season. 

“We’re fortunate enough to not have to compete with masks on because I know in other sports they have to compete with masks.”  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds or other treated aquatic venues.”

But swim athletes aren’t excluded from wearing masks altogether. Before starting a race, swimmers remove their mask, place it in a zippered plastic bag, complete their event, dry off enough to not damage the mask, put it back on and return to their designated area.

“Even though masks have been around for almost a year, it’s still really hard to remember that’s a thing,” said senior Aryahanna McClure. “Every time I get out of the pool I’m like, ‘Oh crap, I have to put on my mask.’ It’s tough because you have to put it on and take it off and then in between [events] you have to eat. It’s been rough but it’s not the worst thing in the world.” 

Various Xs decorate the floors at the swim facility to indicate where athletes and coaches can stand safely to follow physical distancing guidelines and protect those who enter. They also have other procedures to follow.

“We’re also not allowed to have anyone outside of the district come in [the building],” DeLisle said. “That’s why I have to walk people to the front office.” 

On March 16, 2020, about a month after the swim season, the world entered lockdown. 

Everyone watched as sports from pros to prep followed suit and postponed play. Even March Madness, the men’s and women’s basketball tournament that takes place from mid-March through early April, and all other NCAA spring sports shuttered. 

COVID was a death knell for prep athletes too as it canceled the boys and girls basketball tournaments and the entire spring season.

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Sierra High School assistant swim coach Chloé DeLisle, left, high-fives freshman Mahkellah McClure after the 400-meter freestyle Feb. 11 at Sierra. McClure completed the race in 5 minutes, 31 seconds, to beat the school record of 6:04.92.

It continues to linger as Colorado High School Activities Association created Seasons A through D to navigate the year. 

“I was nervous CHSAA wasn’t going to let us have a season because of COVID,” McClure said. “Swimming is one of the sports you can’t wear a mask and since masks are such a big thing, I figured we wouldn’t be able to have a season.”

Potential cancellation also worried Davenport and DeLisle as girls ventured to the pool to prep for the upcoming season. Both coaches wondered if they’d eventually have to crush their swimmers’ spirits.   

“There was always that looming feeling that at any moment we’d get the call saying the season is canceled,” Davenport said. “I felt for those seniors who missed out on this experience last year because of the virus.”

Season B has avoided that call so far and swimmers express gratitude about the experience they have at each competition.

They expressed that appreciation moments after the 400-meter freestyle Feb. 11 against Widefield. Freshman Mahkellah McClure, Aryahanna’s younger sister, shattered the school’s record in the event.

Mahkellah finished first and clocked in at 5 minutes, 31 seconds — more than 33 seconds faster than the previous record of 6:04.92. 

After the finish, DeLisle met Mahkellah at the wall and congratulated her on her first-place performance. DeLisle then high-fived Mahkellah and notified her she’d broken the record. 

“We were so proud of what she accomplished,” DeLisle said. “And right after that, I made sure to grab some hand sanitizer.” 

Reporter

Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.