Texas’ Sam Pomajevich Finding Solace in Racing During COVID-19

Sam Pomajevich
Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

Texas’ Sam Pomajevich Finding Solace in Racing During COVID-19

There is the old adage that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes.

In the swimming universe, you can add one more thing to that list: the Texas Longhorn men love to race.

The Longhorns opened their season last weekend with their annual orange vs. white meet and it was their first opportunity to race since the Big 12 Championships at the end of February.

It is what has kept the team driven toward their goals and kept them positive in a season with so many uncertainties surrounding it.

“It’s been tough on a lot of people,” said Texas senior Sam Pomajevich about attending school in the middle of a global pandemic. “It’s been tough for me as a senior knowing that my last year could be a weird year and might not even happen completely because NCAAs aren’t a sure thing yet and Trials aren’t a sure thing yet. We are training now and doing things day by day, knowing that we all love to swim and keeping a positive attitude.

“These little meets like this weekend help reinforce that positivity and wanting to go fast and knowing that we are working towards something. So I think it is important to have little meets where we can show off our hard work, because if we didn’t have these, it would be really tough with the uncertainty to just swim and not know what to expect at the end. I think it is really important to show off what you are doing along the way and if something does happen at the end then we will have these opportunities to swim fast.”

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Sam Pomajevich. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Pomajevich was hit hard by the pandemic like many of his peers in the sport. His sophomore season didn’t go as planned, so he was hoping his junior year NCAAs would be a source of redemption for him. Entering the 2020 NCAAs, he was seeded third in the 200 butterfly, and was hoping for a time around a 1:38 low or a 1:37 high, which would have given him a good chance at standing at the top of the podium. But when the NCAA meet was canceled, it was understandably devastating for him and the rest of the Texas Longhorn team.

“We found out NCAAs was canceled at practice right when we were about to start so that was a pretty big bummer,” Pomajevich said. “I think we all took some time to decompress from swimming a little bit and that was when pools were shutting down so everyone spent some time with their families and got to live life without swimming for a little bit. That break was good.”

Cancellation after cancellation affected the summer, as Pro Series meets got wiped away, and the Olympic Trials got pushed to 2021 along with the Games themselves. Meets consisting of more than one team were rare, and pool space was tricky to find. For Pomajevich, he stayed in Austin all summer and was able to find pool time at Austin Swim Club, and at Waterloo in Austin. By August, the team had reconvened at the new outdoor pool while the main indoor pool was getting finished with re-tiling.

But even though the team is back together on campus, there are still no scheduled meets that are certain to happen. The team can’t gather in groups of more than ten, so socially it is a difficult time to mesh as a team. In a normal year, September would be full of recruiting trips, team outings, team meals, and overall opportunities to get to know the new faces. In COVID times, they’ve had to make adjustments, but they have adapted well.

“We mainly have been interacting with freshmen and everyone on the team to get talks going during practice and get to know each other while we are on the wall,” Sam Pomajevich said. “We usually have a team meeting outside every weekend. That way we can still be distanced and clap up people’s achievements during that week. We want to make sure the freshmen know our team culture and get integrated.

“We used to have a team dinner every Friday where most of us would go out to eat, and have a couple goal meetings spread throughout the year where we would get together without the coaches and set goals as a team. We haven’t been able to do that, but we are going to have a goal meeting over Zoom because that’s the only way we are able to be together outside of practice.

“We’ve had some meetings earlier this year about COVID just because freshmen are not used to being in college with adult responsibilities so we have been trying to help lead them and be here for them and educate them on what they can do and what we need to be the best team we can be. We want to make sure we are doing the right things by being safe and telling them how we are going to get through this as a team and set a plan of how we can still maintain our team culture. We’ve had some team meetings on Zoom already.

“We have transitioned from being in someone’s house and have the whole team there for maybe a dinner and now it will be over Zoom. It’s a whole different thing because we are not there in person.”

These are just some of the adjustments the Longhorns have had to make to their social lives during the pandemic. But as for swimming, racing is pretty much the same as it has always been.

“Usually we call October, “Rocktober” because it is the hardest month and we would start racing in November for Invite. This year has been tough because we have been training hard for months and months so everything has been pushed forward like two months. We feel like we should be close to taper but we still have another month before we are even close.

“That’s been tough, but we have been able to get through it very strong because of how hard we have been training.”

In his pet event the 200 butterfly, Sam Pomajevich swam a 1:42.78 last week at the intrasquad meet – right where he was expecting himself to be.

“Lately I had been swimming just as fast as last year so I’m feeling pretty good and confident that I’ll be able to show off what I didn’t get to show off last year. Last week I did a set where on Friday I suited up and did 3×200’s fly from a push. I was 1:49, 1:48, 1:46.3, so from a push that was pretty good.

“My goal was to go 1:42 or faster at our intrasquad meet so I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve never been someone who swims fast in-season so it’s been turning a new leaf where I’ve been able to knock these times out in-season and I think that goes to show I have so much when it comes to NCAAs, where a sub-1:38 is where I want to be this year.”

It was the first time Pomajevich had put on a racing suit and gone off the blocks with touch pads in the water since February.

In a year where nothing feels normal, going off the blocks with a racing suit and getting an official time has been a sign of normalcy for Sam Pomajevich and the rest of the Texas team.

“If none of us were pushing each other I don’t think we would have been able to keep training so hard and long for all these months.

“That’s definitely the biggest part – we just drive each other.”