Pool parties still on hold, Borowski navigates unsettled waters during COVID-19

  • This year's 26th annual Kings Swim scheduled for July 4 has been canceled. (Rani Henderson/Hawaii Sport Events)

  • RANI HENDERSON/Hawaii Sport Events Coach Steve Borowski talks to masters swimmers on deck during a session prior to COVID-19. Borowski plans to follow USA Swimming social distancing guidelines that prioritize health and wellness upon return to the pool.

Steve Borowski looked forward to 2020 being another year coaching his Kona Aquatics masters and age group swim teams, organizing the 26th annual Kings Swim and attending the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Instead, the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Famer and decorated swim coach found himself navigating through a pandemic amid social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols since mid-March, which meant cancelling all group swim sessions with the Kona Aquatics and recently, his popular 26th Annual Kings Swim, a 1.2-mile open water swim in Kailua Bay calendared for July 4.

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“We were really looking forward to having the Kings Swim especially after the other two races, the Cinco De Mayo and Hapuna Rough Water swims, were canceled prior to the coronavirus,” Borowski said. “In all the years, the Kings Swim has never been canceled.

“We tried to delay the postponement of canceling the Kings Swim for as long as we could. It finally got to the State DLNR Harbor’s Division and they basically said ‘no’ because we have a little over 200 people. Once the swim starts it wouldn’t be a problem as being in the water is basically safe. When you are swimming your head is above water so you are only inhaling, not exhaling, so it’s safe.”

While Mayor Harry Kim recently issued an eighth emergency rule that permits most businesses and activities on Hawaii Island to reopen Monday under exhibit five of the mayor’s new rule, public swimming pools and large outdoor venues that lists sports shall remain closed.

The Kona Community Aquatic Center has been closed since mid-March, almost a year since the previous closure in March 2019 that lasted through November for repairs. During the eight-month closure, Borowski said he was able to continue group swim sessions in Kailua Bay, but not this time around.

“When the pool was closed for the eight months we trained daily at the pier with the kids age groups, and three times per week with Masters,” he said. “But this time around we couldn’t because in the beginning, we couldn’t have any social contact. So yes, it’s been really tough.

“But the good news is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone has gained some weight and everyone has lost some of their aerobic base because our masters and age Group programs have both been canceled for the last three months. And still no word from the county when the Kona pool will be opened. All the pools on the other islands are open, just the Big Island pools are not open. Some people are still swimming on their own or with two or three people out in the ocean, but pool swimming has been out.”

Once the county gives the green light for the Kona pool to reopen, Borowski says he will follow USA Swimming social distancing guidelines that prioritize health and wellness.

“I expect to have just four or five in a lane with the masters training and we will be spread out from one another in addition to having five-second send-off times,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be a problem to keep the social distance and with the younger age groups, the little kids, there are other ways to train like doing fun dry land activities.”

With the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, postponed till next year, Borowski’s trip will also have to wait.

“I was really hoping to go to Japan for the Olympics, it would’ve been really nice,” he said. “When I was a senior in high school, I got selected to go to Japan to the 1964 Olympics as a youth ambassador, all expenses paid, with Jesse Owens and his wife. It was a huge experience for me, and I was kind of hoping to reminisce and go back and see the games again.”

Borowski, who was 17 at the time, was one of six teens selected from more than 200 students from the Chicago area to go on a trip to Japan as a U.S. youth ambassador with the four-time Olympic gold medalist and his wife serving as primary chaperones.

Owens was an African-American track and field star athlete who achieved international fame by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which took place during the rule of Adolf Hitler. He won gold in the 100-meters, the 200, the 4×100 relay and the long jump, managing to break or equal nine Olympic records while also setting three world records.

“I’d like to go next year if my health isOK,” Borowski said. “Housing would be the biggest thing but I do have a few Japanese contacts and also the possibility of working with the organizing committee with the Olympics in aquatics to help at the swimming venue.”

While it may a few more weeks before the county allows public pools to open, Borowski says there are ways to keep swim fit.

“Biking and running of course are great and the people that are in our program know the kind of training we were doing,” he said. “Like instead of swimming long and easy, you can incorporate some interval training between buoys in the ocean. For me, I have a little TRX band at home so when the ocean is a little too rough and not clear, I’ll do that. Otherwise, I’ve just been swimming in the ocean.”

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Yet what Borowski misses most is the genuine camaraderie among his masters and age-group teams, and seeing people improve their swimming abilities across all ages and fitness levels.

“The most rewarding for me is to see the progression of those who initially were afraid to swim or couldn’t swim, to actually learn how to swim and enjoy it. I can’t wait till we are all back.”

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