By JAMES ALLAN
SARASOTA, Fla. — In late November, a countdown began on the white board of Kelsey Drake’s house.
It counted down the days until the end of finals week. The days dwindled until it was officially winter break at the University of Iowa, which meant the Hawkeyes’ swimming and diving team was off to the Sunshine State for its annual training trip.
Iowa departed for the sunshine, beaches, and outdoor training in Sarasota, Florida, on Dec. 15. The Hawkeyes return to Iowa City on Dec. 22.
“It started coming up in conversations after Thanksgiving,” said Drake, a sophomore from Marion, Iowa. “It’s such a fun thing for our team. It’s something we look forward to.”
The Hawkeyes left behind the stresses of finals week for a seven-day period focused on training and team unity.
“One of the biggest benefits is getting out of your routine and comfort zone,” said senior Kenneth Mende. “I love swimming outside because it always gives me that little extra boost.”
“We are able to really focus on training and getting better (on this training trip),” said Drake. “It is easy at home to get distracted with other things that are going on. Down here there aren’t many distractions so we can focus, get down to it, and swim fast when we’re here.”
“The nice weather forces you to go to the beach and do something outside of what you always do,” said Mende. “We have been playing a lot of football games and some people brought soccer balls. It’s nice to be active with the team on a level outside the pool.”
“Even when we’re not in the pool, we’re still working together as a team and building our bond with each other,” said Drake. “We have fun playing around on the beach and building that team unity.”
Mende says the in-water workouts are a grind, but the scenery helps the team push through.
“This is a nice opportunity we have been given to challenge ourselves, enjoy the scenery, while pushing ourselves to the limits,” said Mende. “The sun gives us the last little push. It’s easier to do when it’s nice outside.”
The training trip is the unofficial start to the final leg of the Hawkeyes’ schedule. Iowa will return to the pool for duals against Illinois (women) and Notre Dame (men) during the second week of January before the championships season starts roughly one month later.
“This time of the year is critical in swimming,” said Drake. “I know a lot of people, when we go home, this is the peak of our training. It helps to be able to build up our aerobic capacity in Florida and carry that throughout winter break.
“When we get back, it becomes fine-tuning, going fast in the water, and getting ready for Big Tens and NCAAs.”