“When you have something unbalanced and you make adjustments to level that out, it’s a game changer.”

So says Janelle, a Masters Swim Coach & Aquatic Aide at the Boothbay Harbor YMCA, reflecting on the results she sees teaching swim clinics at the Y’s Aquatic Center.

With the Y’s doors closed during the coronavirus lockdown, however, Janelle has not been near a pool for quite some time. She misses both the coaching and her own regular swims.

Janelle moved to Boothbay from Bozeman, Montana, in April of 2019 when her husband, Jacob, took a job with Bigelow Labs as a marine biologist. Shortly after arriving, she went to the Y (“I needed to go in for a swim to manage my stress from my cross-country move”) and was literally hired on the spot. She started work the next day.

Until things shut down, Janelle’s duties ranged from coaching to teaching swim clinics to life guarding. As COVID-19 made its way to Maine and just prior to the lockdown, cleaning and maintenance as a health precaution also became part of her work routine (this gave Janelle a heightened appreciation for the work of the Y’s maintenance crew: “I hadn’t given them enough credit for all they do”).

Then the Y closed. It was a blow.

On a personal level, athletic training has always been important to Janelle—swimming especially. She began swimming competitively at age seven, and though she takes part in triathlons, swimming has been her go-to sport (“I enjoy the health benefits of staying active”).

No longer able to coach or swim as she once did, Janelle has had to make adjustments, and she’s surprising herself with how well she has been managing.

For example, as a way to exercise the breath control she previously practiced with swimming, Janelle has added yoga to her routine. She has also found riding her bike on rollers in her basement an unexpected pleasure (“something about the repetitive motion of the bike is soothing”). She has also warmed to running, enjoying the discipline of setting and meeting self-imposed time and distance goals.

“I wasn’t finding joy in my running and biking before now, and now I do,” she observes.

Janelle has also found innovative ways to keep up the coaching, even without a swimming pool or direct contact with her swimmers. Inspired by a coach she admires in North Carolina and with encouragement from the Y’s Aquatics Director, Janelle now sends weekly emails to those who have been a part of her swim clinics. Each email includes a yoga video, a “dry-land” swim exercise (“last week I gave them an exercise using soup cans as weights”) and a broader personal challenge of the week.

“I found the weekly challenge from the North Carolina coach uplifting,” she says. “His first one was about there being beauty in pain; that was thought provoking to me. I used that as one of my challenges: to find something beautiful in the pain of the pandemic.”

Janelle’s own experience these past months might be understood as a journey of finding beauty in pain—or more precisely, new possibilities from hardship.

At the pandemic’s onset, Janelle’s life was upended. With both coaching and swimming (each so important to her own sense of grounding) taken away, she found herself in need of making adjustments; Janelle was like an unbalanced swimmer in need of one of her own swim clinics.

The beauty in her story is that she has made the adjustments, finding fresh pleasures in a new training regimen and discovering a new online coaching style.

And that’s not all: the adjustments she has made are beginning to take Janelle beyond merely compensating for the loss of her pre-COVID swimming and coaching life.

She has rediscovered her art.

Janelle taught art for a year in her native Hawaii after graduating from college as an art major in 2012. She also made her own art at the time, pursuing personal expressive directions. But after getting a piece of unsettling negative feedback, she gave up art. Other than a brief stint while in Bozeman working in a realist style (“it was therapeutic for me and safe”), Janelle has not touched her art since.

But now, she is contemplating her art again. This is a big step for someone who at times has difficulty with self-confidence.

“With swimming and coaching, confidence is not so hard—I can instantly see what I do makes a difference. With other things, like art, there are not such obvious outcomes to feel good about. I’ve always struggled with believing I have ideas that are worth putting out there.”

With the adjustments she has made as an athlete and a coach—discovering how well she can cope—Janelle has discovered her confidence is on the rise. With that comes her interest in returning to creativity. She has begun exploring website design and other visual art work, and wonders if this might be an avenue she can now pursue.

She marvels at this most unexpected outcome from the pandemic—this re-awakening of long-dormant passions and dreams.

“I wonder if this is my chance to try the thing that’s been singing at my heart since childhood?” she muses.

And that would be a game changer indeed.