Oct. 24, 2013
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - University of Notre Dame men's swimming and diving head coach Tim Welsh anxiously pointed to this week on the calendar at the start of the season.
Coinciding with the university's fall break, the Irish planned to travel to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train at altitude for the first extended period in program history. The purpose of training at altitude was to better prepare Notre Dame for its first road dual meet of the season at Air Force in USAF Academy, Colo. on Friday at 8 p.m. (ET).
The Irish left on a flight for the U.S. Olympic Training Center last Sunday afternoon, and have not looked back since.
"It is a big physical challenge, but the guys have adapted well," Welsh said. "We're drinking a lot more fluids, we're eating a lot more, the guys like that part, but the biggest thing is it's inspiring. We walk out of our dorm and over to the athlete center where the dining hall is, and you're looking at Pike's Peak. We've had beautifully clear days, so you can see the snow on the top and the trees on the way up. Everything on the ground here is Olympic-oriented and there are reminders of Olympic excellence everywhere."
The reminders of Olympic excellence are as small as the staff in the facility wearing Team USA clothing to banners and murals all around the complex commemorating past and future editions of the games. Welsh said that such imagery on the periphery serves to motivate all athletes, the Notre Dame team members included, to be at their best.
"When we walk into the pool there is a board on the wall that has an inspirational saying every day, and in the comprehensiveness of the schedule there is a Paralympic team that trains ahead of us and there is a modern pentathlon team that trains behind us," Welsh said. "It's just one excellence in sport after another all day long, it's just inspiring."
Being roughly 6,000 feet above sea level presents a number of challenges, with the thin air making it harder to breathe during any kind of physical competition or activity. The change is even noticeable when walking down stairs or up any type of incline. The Irish men's swimmers have not seem fazed by the obstacle, walking nearly 10,000 feet further into the sky during a hike earlier this week.
"Tuesday we went from 6,000 feet here at the training center to the top of Pike's Peak, which is 14,000 feet, and it was a little harder to breathe up there," Welsh said with a laugh. "The guys have welcomed the challenge of it, taking the incline walk especially. Spirits are great, and the attention to try to do a great job every day, the guys are just doing a super job."
The last time Notre Dame traveled to the Air Force Academy was Oct. 18, 2002, when the Falcons downed the Irish 178-120 in a dual meet. Not being accustomed to the severe change in altitude, Welsh recalled that the meet took a lot out of the team, which was the crux behind the week of training in advance of this year's contest almost exactly a decade later.
"If you look at practices they have been good, the effort and the energy has been good, and with altitude adjustments the performances have been good," Welsh said. "I think we will swim very well Friday being at altitude, and we're going to go there with our eyes wide open, with our hearts full of excitement and we have to race with everything we've got. At the end of the meet we will add up the score and see how it came out."
As he outlined during the pre-season, Welsh believes that the entire training experience will serve as Notre Dame's jumping off point in the 2013-14 campaign, building momentum for the remainder of the season schedule. Achieving goals in the face of new challenges being the basis for the competitive growth.
"This week of training here will launch us into the rest of the season for sure," Welsh said. "The fact that it's not something that we can compare to the Michigan and Auburn meet a few weeks ago is a good thing. This meet is its own entity and we will be launched from here into the rest of the season. We will come back excited, I can promise you."
Walking around the U.S. Olympic Training Center earlier in the week, Welsh noticed a profound note of motivation that has stuck with him throughout the trip. In a central area of the facility, where the athletes cross when walking to and from the dorms, the pool, and even the dining hall, reads a large inscription that is built into the floor: "Amazing Awaits."
The Irish believe that it does, in more ways than one.
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant