Dartmouth swim team on St. Croix for both fun and work

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ST. CROIX - Who says you can't work hard during vacation?

The Dartmouth College swim team is well aware of the physical endeavors that awaited after fall semester exams were done and the rest of the student body returned home for the holidays.

"It's called winter season training and it always kicks our butts," senior co-captain Mark Chu said from a crowded deck at the Country Day School pool Wednesday morning. "It's like vacation, but we're training."

Chu and the other 46 Dartmouth swimmers had just completed a 2-hour, 20-minute workout and even though another arduous workout awaited in the afternoon, most of the athletes were smiling.

"I think the kids love it," said Dartmouth coach Jim Wilson, who is in his 18th year with the program and has been at the helm of both the men's and women's teams since 2006. "The goal is to do this every four years, so no one graduates without making a trip like this. Getting out of the cold weather and training outdoors - that's why they're smiling."

Dartmouth is an Ivy League school located in Hanover, NH, where the thermometer registered an icy 19 degrees on Wednesday.

Instead of training at the school's indoor facility, Wilson decided to bring the Big Green to St. Croix. It's the third time he's brought a Dartmouth squad to the territory. The team has been on island since Dec. 9 - only one day after final exams concluded - and will leave today for an immediate 6-day training stint in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Many college kids visit the Caribbean to cut loose during spring break, but Dartmouth's visit is strictly business.

"It's break time in our season, but we are here for conditioning," said Wilson, who has been visiting St. Croix since the 1980's, and before taking over at Dartmouth, he brought two teams down from the University of Utah. "We've gone up against Harvard, Cornell and Brown already. We're working hard because we still have the bulk of our competition when we get back."

Harvard and Duke are also scheduled to visit St. Croix in the coming weeks for similar training visits.

Because there isn't a single diving board in the territory, the Big Green's seven-member diving team remained in San Juan for diving workouts. They will rejoin the swimmers this week when they make a smooth transition from their comfy beachfront condos to something these college students will be more used to.

"It's been a great stay so far on St. Croix, but I think the kids are in for a rude awakening when they shack up in the college dorm rooms at UPR-Mayaguez," Wilson said. "They may be a little smaller than their hotel rooms, but it doesn't matter because we're here to work."

The swim team is comprised of students from across the country along with athletes from Slovenia and Mexico. For many, this is their first visit to the territory, so in between workouts, a little fun was had.

There's been a couple lounge sessions at the beach, a scuba diving trip and a "workout" at nearby Buck Island.

"It was the first time I've ever gone scuba diving and we went down 40 feet," said Chu, who competed at last year's Ivy League Championships in the 400-meter Individual Medley and 200m Butterfly events. "When we swam around the reef at Buck Island, another captain and I just decided to swim around the whole thing. It was good training."

Bob Halk, who runs the Buccaneer Hotel and happens to be a Dartmouth alum, made the swim team feel right at home. From his kayak, he led the swimmers on a 3-part open swim, during which the Big Green got intimate views of the coral reef and a shipwreck near Buck Island.

Halk (Dartmouth Class of '94) then welcomed the entire team to dinner at his house and left quite an impression on the student athletes.

"Bob said he will always welcome the Dartmouth team into his house whenever we come to the islands," Dartmouth freshman Arenne Clark wrote in a team blog post. "I think we all felt extremely privileged and lucky as we're reminded, once again, that we are all part of an exciting and special Dartmouth community."

- Contact sports reporter Aaron Gray at 774-8772 ext. 352 or e-mail agray@dailynews.vi.

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