Minot Swim Club to host first meet since flood

Spencer Wheeling fondly remembers those cool mornings at Roosevelt Pool.

He arrived early to swim practices with his teammate, Elias Metzigian. Together, they hopped the chain-link fence, stowed their bags in a corner and quietly hid in the blue tunnel waterslides on the east end of the pool. And then they waited patiently for their coach, Nancy Beck, to appear.

Finally, the pair descended the slides and greeted Beck with a dramatic splash.

Wheeling, 22, loved to play jokes on his instructor as a youngster.

“She could tell you a hundred stories about what Elias and I used to do,” Wheeling said.

But that was long before the 2011 Souris River flood, which left Roosevelt Pool in shambles.

The pool Wheeling grew up training in was no longer swimmable. The fence he used to climb over with his buddy Elias was soiled with “crud” and grime. The waterslides the two hid in became no more than a resting place for the pool’s damaged lane ropes.

After two years of meticulous repair, the pool is finally open for business. And swim meets.

On Tuesday, the Minot Swim Club will host a “Back To Roosevelt” meet with more than 100 swimmers expected to participate. The A.S.K. Swim Club and the Williston Sea Lions will also compete.

Wheeling, who now serves with Beck as Minot’s co-coaches, said the flood left the Minot Park District with an extensive list of issues to tend to before the pool could be reopened, let alone hold a meet.

“It took all two years to get it back to where it was at,” said Wheeling, the 2009 North Dakota high school senior swimmer/diver of the year. “It’s a major project. It’s a large facility.”

Ron Merritt, the park district’s executive director, said the repairs to the pool and kiddie pool cost nearly $690,000. Restoration crews cleaned the fence and pool, vacuuming the sediment off the pool floor before disinfecting it. Among many other tasks, fresh coats of paint were applied and underwater pipelines inspected. The kiddie pool required its own set of repairs, too.

The restorations forced the swim club, which competes in Olympic-size, 50-meter pools, to train for two summers in Minot State University’s six-lane, 25-yard offering. Swim club member Else Nelson, 17, said transitioning to the longer pool length proved difficult.

“When you swim a long-course meet, but then you train in a 25-yard pool, it’s a lot harder because your turns you have to work differently,” said Nelson, who attends Minot High School. “If you do backstroke, especially, getting your flags and your number of strokes before getting to the wall is all totally different.”

Wheeling added that aside from timing, training in a smaller pool posed a different challenge: fatigue.

“When we got to the state meet, when it came down to some of the longer races,” Wheeling said, “they weren’t used to traveling that long without having a wall. It took a toll on them.”

This year, Roosevelt Pool opened the first week of June, allowing Minot Swim Club, which boasts 80 swimmers aged 6 to 18, to practice outdoors for the first time in 23 months. The club’s “Back To Roosevelt” meet will provide some of its swimmers the chance to compete in a 50-meter pool for the first time.

“We just want to give them at least one chance, because not everyone can travel out of town (to the state meet in Bismarck),” Wheeling said. “It’s so important to have your own meet just so everyone can get that experience.”

Wheeling says his swimmers are in shape for the meet Tuesday and are “further along than they were last year.” Nelson admits that even the most strenuous practices have been enjoyable this year.

“It’s really great to be outside,” Nelson said. “Workouts aren’t so hard. It seems easier and more fun when you’re outside and with your friends. It’s great to be back.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.