Rick Walker, has coached Southern Illinois University (SIU) for 21 years while also coaching at 11 USA Swimming national open water teams at various World Championships.
His unique experience as a college pool coach and national open water swimming coach allows him to incorporate the best practices of both disciplines for the good – and enjoyment – of his athletes.
For years, Walker has incorporated open water swimming into his NCAA Division I men’s and women’s programs, partly because the SIU (Cardondale campus) is conveniently located near four lakes where the SIU teams conduct pre-season open water training practices.
Coach Walker explains, "We start lake swims at the beginning of our season as a form of “dryland” training. Our swimmers enjoy the change of scenery and we like the aerobic base it builds. While we gain very quick aerobic capacities, we are also limit the injuries that athletes might get in running and/or biking."
The teams starts the season by going to the lake 1-2 times per week and ends their pre-season with a 5-7K open water swim. During their lake swims, the swimmers rotate fast cycles with easy cycles. The swimmers not only swim freestyle, but also incorporate other strokes in point-to-point swims. The swimmers also play catch-up between packs and have a practice-ending “bagel swim” where the fastest swimmers get their choice of bagels at the end of their open water practice.
"By the time we begin our cycle of training, we are totally prepared and in shape for the rigors of the season in front of us. The swimmers are thrilled at the variety and if they don’t like the open water swims, they sure do talk up some great stories about them the remainder of the year," said Coach Walker who is sometimes on an escort boat and sometimes gets in the water to demonstrate navigation or positioning tactics used at the Olympic 10K level. "The end result is we start much better at the beginning of the season, we have less shoulder issues and less ankle or back issues while doing the open water training."
Photos by Isabel Madeira of the SIU team at Little Grassy Lake after a pre-season open water swim.