Calm Strikes University of Hawaii Swim Team During False Ballistic Threat

University-of-Hawaii-Ha
Original Photo From University of Hawaii; Altered by Swimming World

Commentary by Kasey Schmidt

On Saturday morning, for a brief moment, I worried that I might not finish a swim practice. And no, not because the workout was overly strenuous. Actually, it wasn’t an issue pertaining to swimming whatsoever, the cause of my worry resulted from something completely out of my control.

My name is Kasey Schmidt and I compete for the University of Hawaii women’s swim team. Living in Hawaii is exactly as one might expect: awesome. The island of Oahu is riddled with beauty with regards to breathtaking hikes and relaxing beaches. But, island life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows recently (at least not in the figurative sense).

In October, the University of Hawaii at Manoa took action to inform students about the possibility of a nuclear attack from North Korea. This information came by means of a virtual flood; emails and power-points and Q&A session dates filled my inbox. Our head coach even felt the need to address the situation and encouraged us to stay informed by means of reading the news (reals news, not Facebook articles) and communicating with one another. Personally, I felt slightly concerned, but I went about my daily routine of class, practice, and the beach (of course).

At 8:10 am on Saturday, January 12th, (Hawaiian Standard Time) the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency issued an alert reading, “A ballistic missile threat is inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” At 8:10 am, I was in a swimming pool alongside 50 other preoccupied college students gasping for air during a challenging, Saturday-morning workout.

I watched the demeanor of our coaching staff shift as I waited on the wall for the sendoff. Even through my blurry goggles, I could see that they were no longer concerned with the times we were holding on 50s fast or what pump-up song to blast through the speakers situated at the edge of the pool. They exuded a more serious aura, and certainly, one more frightening.

Our head coach took a deep breath and calmly instructed the 50 swimmers to exit the pool. Slowly, cautiously, curiously, I lifted myself out of the water and followed the other swimmers across the pool deck towards the diving well. The coach opened a door I had never noticed before and asked us to walk down the stairs into what looked like complete darkness. We shuffled down concrete stairs in single-file and filled a rather moldy room that hadn’t seen a human or a bleaching agent for a couple decades. I learned later that it was called, “the dungeon” for obvious reasons.

Once everyone in the Aquatic Center (UH swim team and coaching staff) gathered into the room, we were told exactly what was going on. The head coach lowered his voice and began, “There is a missile headed towards Hawaii; that’s all the information we have. please try to remain calm and we will try to keep you updated.” I wouldn’t say that I felt panicked; I’m more optimistic than that, but I would be lying if I claimed that I didn’t assume the worst. The truth is, I had no idea how long we would be in that room, or whether or not we might ever get out.

It’s interesting how something so frightening as facing one’s own mortality can connect a group of individuals on such a deep level. What shocks me the most is the fact that everyone managed to remain (relatively) calm. There were tears, hugs, and prayers whispered in the dark but neither swimmer nor coach broke into a panic. In the moment, I couldn’t pinpoint what quality brought about the atmospheric tranquility; but in retrospect, I realize that we were in the best scenario we could possibly be in in the face of an uncontrollable situation.

Firstly, the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Center might be one of the only locations on Oahu with an underground, concrete basement. If I were, instead, at my one-story house filled with windows and resting on stilts I would have rushed to seek alternative shelter. Secondly, although I wasn’t sure if I would see another day, I was comforted by my surrounding swimming family. There was an immeasurable amount of fear circulating the room, but there was also immense amounts of love for one another.

I know it sounds ridiculous to claim that I was “glad” to have been at a swimming pool during a missile threat; but the truth is, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I was soaking wet, claustrophobic, cramping, and situated in a dark room; but I was surrounded (perhaps too closely) by the people I love. There is an intangible, yet undisputable sense of connection between members of a swim team. We share passions and watch each other grow as athletes and individuals alike. We take pride in each others achievements and feel responsible for each others failures. We see our teammates plenty during mandated practices and then choose to spend time with those same teammates elsewhere. We spend so much time together that we, eventually, develop into our own unique family.

By the time our coach spoke again, the tension in the room had been diffused by inappropriate giggles resulting from excessively dark humor. We received another emergency alert around 20 minutes after the initial missile threat stating: “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” Our head coach relayed that message to us and we promptly exited the “dungeon,” and emerged back onto the pool deck. Our coach instructed us all to grab our cell phones and call our loved ones to let them know that we were alright. In a follow-up, he encouraged us to stay informed, stay safe and enjoy every second you have.

Needless to say, there were hugs, happy tears, and “I love yous” shared from teammate to teammate. I’ve found that my love for swimming is grounded in the relationships I’ve built with athletes and coaches in the past 15 years. Through trials, tribulations, and missile threats, I have no doubt in my mind that I am accepted, valued and loved by a group of people who share a passion for the water. I can only express endless gratitude for the sport and its mechanisms to connect me to the people who I can now call my family.

(For those of you who are wondering, no, we did not finish the set… we’ll probably complete it on Monday)

18 comments

  1. Brad Boelter

    There was no ballistic threat

    • avatar

      For you …. no. For those of us living on the islands there was. For 38 minutes.

  2. Rick Waldock

    This is amazing. 💪🏼❤️

  3. avatar

    There’s something wrong with you Tony.

  4. Ryan Steven

    You guys are amazing keep it up……….kiss

  5. Irene Theders

    Happy there was no missile… glad you were together and learned what to do if something should happen❤️

  6. avatar
    Oldfan58

    Beautiful heart song, Kasey. Just beautiful. ❤️

  7. avatar
    Bess Auer

    What a great reflection on what, I’m sure, was a very scary 38 minutes. Thanks, Kasey!

  8. avatar
    Katie B

    Love you kase! Glad you’re safe 😇❤️

  9. avatar

    Proud of your coach Dan Schemmel…..his calm during a possible ballistic attack….getting his team to the most safe possible place in minutes ….shows true leadership and above all….concern and responsibility for those who he is in charge of. Truly a genuine leader.

  10. avatar
    M Amag

    Outstanding reflection, thank you Sunshine!

  11. Paula Manns

    Kenyon Kellett

  12. avatar

    Kasey, this was so well written! I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished!

  13. avatar
    David Hsu

    Thanks for sharing this experience, we were out on a group ride rounding Koko Head at the time. Very anxious times for all!!