Alys Thomas is grateful to be back in the pool as the first facility in Wales welcomes a select group back under the DCMS 'elite return to training' guidance.
At the turn of the year Alys Thomas was gearing up to qualify for her debut Olympic Games, but fast forward to the month in which Tokyo 2020 was originally set to be hosted, and the Commonwealth champion and European medallist is just grateful to finally be back in the water, after pools were closed and events rescheduled due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking of that first day back Thomas said:
"There was just this buzz that everyone was so excited to be back. I remember the first time walking on poolside, I walked in the building and that smell of chlorine hit me along with the sound of the water and the drains and I was like ‘ah I’m home!’ - I’d missed those simple things and it sounds so silly.
"The whole routine is different, there’s all of the safety measures in place; wearing the mask, walking in and getting our temperature checked, getting asked questions, walking one way to the poolside and having our own little square to do our pre-pool in and all of that. I feel pretty safe, everybody’s following the measures really well, there’s no one moaning or complaining and we all know they’re there for a reason to keep us safe and allow us in the pool."
Having spent several months away from her usual environment, Thomas reflected on what she had learnt to appreciate through that period.
“As swimmers and athletes we are constantly in a bubble, this very repetitive lifestyle and being forced away from the pool out of that environment for a bit that makes you appreciate what you have when you are in that bubble. We do have such a close knit group of friends and we live a lifestyle that isn’t really normal, so to be forced to take a step back I kind of realised that I get to do something I love day in day out and it makes me think ‘ok, I really want to continue doing this’ and perhaps it’s something I’ve taken for granted a little bit.
"And it’s given me a little bit more time in the day to do stuff I normally wouldn’t have of been able to do, not necessarily anything amazing or ground breaking as I can’t go anywhere but just be a bit creative, do some art stuff, let my mind rest and be less stressed for a bit, because there’s nothing I can control about it basically."
One way in which the butterfly specialist did use some of that extra time during lockdown was as part of a joint fundraising effort, as she explains:
“So basically there’s a couple of us in our squad at the Swim Wales High Performance Centre that have parents working in the NHS and we kind of all felt that we needed to do something to give back. Our aerobic conditioning had kind of switched to doing bike sessions at home, and so we thought of doing a virtual charity bike ride where we collectively cycled the length of the welsh coastal path as we wanted to raise some money for the NHS.
"We all organised to do it one Saturday and it worked out at about 70km each, which is quite a lot for people who don’t normally go on bike. It was good fun to just be out in the outdoors, sticking to local guidelines at the time, and we raised over £1500, which we were really proud of."
The compromise at present for Alys Thomas to be able to get back in the pool includes a two hour plus round trip from her home in Swansea to Newport, however whilst it may not be ideal she feels very fortunate to have that opportunity and would love to to see access made available to all levels of the sport.
“Yeah although I’m lucky enough to be one of those starting to get back in the pool now, we can’t really lose sight of the fact there is so many thousands of people that aren’t back in the pool. To have one pool in Wales, the whole of Wales now open is a start, but we need all of them to open across Britain.
"There are other priorities perhaps that don’t seem to make sense on the surface, and I’m sure there are reasons why they're there, but you know swimming is such an important thing for mental health and fitness - it needs to happen that we have our pools open from grassroots level, club swimmers and the public, as there’s thousands of people that have missed their swims and I stand with that campaign to get our pools safely open."