Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos
Belen’s Dylan Jones at the Academy Invitational qualified for the State Championships in the 100 breaststroke.

A cold shower is no fun, but what about a workout in a swimming pool with a water temperature in the low 60 degrees? Imagine a “polar plunge” every training session.

That is what the high school swim teams at Belen, Valencia and Los Lunas experienced for about a month to start the season.  It was not some diabolical training method but a lengthy process of fixing the underground gas lines at Belen High School, which prevented the water in the pool where the teams train from warming up.

The heat is back on now and the swimmers from all three schools are thrilled to be splashing in normal conditions again.

“We did a lot of dry land,” Belen coach Lin Onsae said of the conditioning the Eagles did during the interim. “It was kind of touch and go. Now we’re getting back to swimming which is what we needed.”

No one is more relieved than the athletes.

“Unmotivating” is how Rio Romero, of Los Lunas, described it. “I tried so hard but it got to the point where it was too cold to swim. It was pretty rough.”

Belen’s Dylan Jones agreed.

“It was like 62 degrees,” Jones said. “It was definitely hard for the team but we pulled through.”

The face of BHS coach Onsae, who commutes from Laguna Pueblo, lights up during the session.

“They’re working hard,” he exclaims as he walks along the pool deck. “It’s discipline. The little things really count — the start, the finish, the turns.”

LLHS swimmer Angelica Cox and Gabriella Holmes of VHS go over the schedule at the Academy Invitational Saturday.

Valencia and Los Lunas compete separately, but practice together. Both are coached by Marissa Candelaria-Kimbrull, who swam at LLHS when Onsae led the Tigers. The challenges Candelaria-Kimbrull faces are the commute by the swimmers to the Belen pool and increasing participation.

“Our main goal is to keep the team growing,” Candelaria-Kimbrull said. “This year (LLHS), did get a bunch of new swimmers,” about a dozen — many of them newcomers to the sport. VHS has just two swimmers.

Combining Jaguars and Tigers under the same umbrella has been smooth.

“They mesh really well. It’s like one team,” the coach said.

Both Romero and VHS freshman Andres Burkhard said having more swimmers is fun.

“It’s kind of nice,” said Burkhard. “You’re not practicing by yourself.”

Romero jokes that it can be difficult coming up with a spirit chant that combines the names of both mascots.

The hard work paid off last weekend at the Albuquerque Academy Invitational with a number of county swimmers lowering their times. Belen’s Jones qualified for the State Championships in the 100 meter breaststroke, while teammates Diego Vigil, Iris Silva and the boys’ 200 freestyle relay team are closing in.

Romero, of Los Lunas, and Burkhard, of Valencia, are also pushing state qualifying times.

Despite the obstacles, these young athletes persist.

“It’s just my passion and my drive really,” BHS junior Jones said. “I’ve been doing it so long that getting in the pool is so fun to me, even when it’s so cold and freezing.”

“I really enjoy the competitiveness and how tired you are once you are done. It’s really a fulfilling sport for me,” The Tigers’ Romero adds.


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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.