Alexandria boys swimming and diving coach Kathy Walker really likes the top-level athletes she has on her team, but there are not huge numbers in the program to withstand a positive Covid case that might force the Cardinals to have to quarantine a large number of kids.

Walker has been very organized about making sure athletes and their families, as well as upcoming competition, know what safety protocols are in place once they get to Discovery Middle School pool so there’s no confusion.

The hope was to avoid any cases where someone would have to quarantine, but Walker recently found out that she will have to quarantine herself for at least 14 days. During that time, she will miss in-person practices and Alexandria’s first dual meet against Brainerd on Jan. 14.

Walker is the primary caregiver for her 86-year-old mother, who found out on Jan. 6 that she had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“She already got the first shot of the vaccine, so I think that symptoms will be not as pronounced as they would be if she had not,” Walker said of how her mother was doing on Jan. 7. “She lives in a complex where she has her own apartment, but there was an outbreak there. She didn’t have any symptoms, didn’t have any temperature, but she called me when I got home (the night of Jan. 6). Because of the outbreak, they tested and she said, ‘I’m positive.’”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Walker visits her mother almost daily. Their most recent contact was on the night of Jan. 5. Walker had not been feeling well herself after that, so she was tested for the virus on Jan. 7. That test came back positive as well. Walker will continue to be away from the team through all of this week, but is hopeful she can be back on the pool deck by Alexandria’s second dual when the Cardinals host Bemidji on Jan. 21.

Steve Kluver will take on the role of acting head coach in Walker’s absence, while Aaron Rooney will continue to lead the divers. Walker has workouts already written out for practices. There are some details to work out with her assistants such as how to put in meet entries for athletes through specific computer software for their opening meet, but Walker is completely comfortable with the job the coaches and kids will do while she is out.

“I’m so blessed to have them,” Walker said of Kluver and Rooney. “I type up the workout and hand it to the kids, and they get in their different training pods in their lanes and do their workouts. We give them feedback as they’re working out.”

Walker also praised the help that Alexandria Area High School activities director Ben Kvidt has been during all the changes teams have to work through during the pandemic in order to compete. Her main focus coming into the season was trying to make sure the seniors on this team have an enjoyable experience through the challenges the pandemic will present.

It did not take long for the Cardinals to be dealt their first obstacle, but Walker says this team is well equipped to handle any adversity that is thrown its way this winter.

“It will be (a challenge), but these kids know,” she said. “Last year, we had kids with (mononucleosis) and pneumonia. We kind of just roll with it. Every meet could be our last. Ben and I have talked about this that every meet is vitally important, and we’ve talked to the boys about that. We don’t have time to say, ‘Next time I’m going to be whatever.’ Because you need to put it all out there now because you don’t know if there’s going to be a next time.”

It was only a couple of days that Walker was able to be with her athletes at practice after the Jan. 4 start to the season. She believes the swimmers and divers are well on their way to being ready for the opener as she waits to return.

“They have been looking really good,” Walker said. “We did some 100s off the blocks, and they look super fast. They’re very, very positive and upbeat about being able to get into the pool and being able to train. They’re doing a really good job of distancing and masking and are excited about the first meet.”

(Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 11 from its original version that went online Jan. 7.)