A Commerce Township couple has made what some would say is a pond of dreams for their daughter and her friends.
Madison Sewell, a Walled Lake Central High School swimmer, welcomes many of her fellow swimmers to a big pond in her back yard for training, including other high school boys and girls and even some middle school students.
Sewell's father converted a huge pond in their backyard into a competitive swimming course. It's hidden so deep in the woods that few can see it through the tree-covered area beyond their house, according to Holly Sewell, Madison's mother.
"Swimmers not only from Walled Lake use the pond," she said. "We also have swimmers from Huron Valley Lakeland, Milford, Brighton and other areas using it. Madison told her father she couldn't swim unless it was at 6 a.m., so her father said 'I'll just build you a training course in the pond.'"
A Walled Lake swimming coach organized the initially informal group of pond swimmers into a summer team that competes against other squads in the area.
The pond is about 10 acres on the surface and 38-feet-deep.
"It's a big pond," Holly Sewell said. "My daughter's coach told her in order for her to get a lot better she needs to train in a long course, an Olympic-sized pool which is two high school pools put together."
The only long course pools in Michigan are at colleges and they only offer training hours at 6 a.m., so the Sewells took matters into their own hands and built a training pond for their daughter. Now she and her friends from several area schools use the only long course made from a pond in Michigan.
Madison Sewell's father began to build the pond/training pool in the winter of 2006. He's even constructed just like those in a competitive pool, with flags stretched overhead for swimmers who swim the backstroke, and installed a digital clock for the swimmers to keep track of their times.
"We have the whole nine yards," Holly Sewell said.
The swimmers have to adjust to a few things while training in the pond, such as the absence of lines that would be in the bottom of a pool.
"The coach said it forces the children to pull their stroke and look at the lane lines," Holly Sewell said. "In doing that, it makes them bring their shoulders up, which is a proper stroke, allowing their hand to go a further distance, so it's correcting a lot of stroke issues."
There are also fish in the pond and other wildlife to contend with, according to Holly Sewell.
"(The kids are) swimming and then all of sudden they swim into a school of fish," she said.
During relays races, when some of the swimmers wait for their teammates to finish a leg of a race, the fish are known to come up and nibble on the waiting swimmers' feet or legs, but it's usually nothing more than a harmless nibble.
Holly Sewell said a mother duck and her gaggle once were swimming in a lane, so the kids had to wait for the ducks to make their way past so they could finish the leg of a relay race.
"The babies couldn't make it through the lane line easily," she said.
Deer are also known to drink from the pond, as well.
"We have deer, wild turkeys, and herons that come to the pond," she said.
All three coaches from the Walled Lake high schools are supervising the summer training team.
"What we found is that the kids are competing with a healthy attitude," Holly Sewell said. "They are becoming friends. Now when they go back to school, instead of hating each other and having that horrible rivalry between the schools, it's still a healthy rivalry with healthy competitiveness."
The pond is located behind the Sewells' home on Watuga, just off of South Commerce Road, in a heavily wooded area.
"You would never know a pond was here," Holly Sewell said. "You come back down the road like you're headed toward the lake (Commerce Lake) and we have a private pond. You have to pass the house in order to see the pond."
She said sometimes people "freak out" when they are told there's a pond in the neighborhood being used as a training and competitive pool.
"People just stop and stare when they see it because it's not what you would expect to see back there," she said.
Madison Sewell's father cut down several large trees and dragged them out to the pond when it was frozen, then cut a hole in the ice and pounded the trees into the bottom of the pond in order to construct the swimming lanes. He built flip boards across the ends of the pond, and painted them so swimmers can see them.
The Sewells bought an area school's old swimming pool lane markers, so the pond has a total of four lanes marked.
"My husband had to put up flags in the air overheard so that the backstrokers are able to stay in line in their lanes in the water," Holly Sewell said.
Though they can't see any lane lines in the bottom of the pond, Holly Sewell's husband wants to install makeshift lane lines that will help make the pond feel like a pool and swimmers can move along in a straight line.
"My husband is still trying to perfect that by putting lights down in the water for the kids to be able to see lane lines," she said. "He's still playing with that. It's awesome — you're outside, you're in the sunlight, you're not in the chlorine, and it's all fresh."
Holly Sewell said once the swimmers are back in the school pools during the traditional high school season, they miss being outside in the pond on Watuga during the summer.
"Sometimes it's a bit intimidating because you can't see anything, because it's so black," she said of swimming in the pond. "It's funny to watch the kids in the beginning of the season compared to the end when they have to go back into the pools. They sometimes say, 'I miss the pond.'
"Having the Walled Lake community come to the pond has been phenomenal," she said. "A lot of people helped us set up the pond."
The various Walled Lake school buildings will give the kids pool time in the off season to practice their strokes. Swimmers then to go the Watuga pond to practice what they've learned at the pool in the long distance pond.
Holly Sewell said, on average, they have about 20 to 40 kids from all over the area swimming in the pond, so it can be very busy during a typical training day.
"That's every weekday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m.," she said. "We give them the weekend off, but sometimes we have swim meets on the weekends for the parents to come out to see how their kids are doing."
Some of the other surrounding summer teams wanted to hold a big swim meet at the Watuga pond, but the Sewells' house can't handle 500 to 800 youngsters, not to mention their coaches, parents, and friends who want to come along to watch everyone compete.
"We have become really well known now," Holly Sewell said. "We just went to a big swim meet. A couple of the officials came up to our coach and said, 'We heard all about this pond, we want to know when you're going to hold a meet there,' and I said, 'Oh, I don't know about that!"
Holly Sewell said she might host a small meet with another team at the pond.
She said she wants to see if Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps will come out to see the pond, since he lives close by in Ann Arbor.
"A couple of kids on our team qualified to swim with Olympic swimmers, so that's where they were able to contact him, get an autograph and sometimes e-mail him," she said.