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Swimming blocks installed at Veterans Memorial Pool through donations from area businesses are shown with the newly-added chocks on top, which provide better footing and a better push-off point for swimmers as they dive in to start a race. The chocks were made available due to a grant from the Wildhorse Foundation.

LA GRANDE — Thanks to donations from several area businesses and a grant from the Wildhorse Foundation, members of the La Grande Swim Club and La Grande High School swim teams have secured better footing for the start of their races.

A major splash already was made last fall when business donations allowed for the replacement of the starting blocks at Veterans Memorial Pool — the home site for LGSC and LHS teams. A final piece is set to be put in place with the Wildhorse grant, which allowed for the purchase of angled chocks for swimmers to push off of when they start a race.

“The club was able to buy one to try out,” swim club head coach Amanda Welch said of the chock sets, which she added are about $700. “We asked Wildhorse to put in a grant. They very generously did.”

The Wildhorse grant provided an additional $5,417.65 for the purchase of seven more chock sets, one for each of the blocks at the starting line of the pool.

The chocks, Welch said, are similar to starting blocks for a track runner in that they allow for a better push-off point for swimmers when they dive in to start a race. Welch said they have attended more and more meets that have them.

“The past few years they have started to get more popular,” she said. “A lot of the meets we go to — Walla Walla, Boise, Portland area — a lot of the meets we go to use those now. A lot of our swimmers weren’t prepared for them.”

She said if an athlete isn’t used to them, that “it’s hard to use them to your full advantage….It takes practice diving off the blocks with that.”

Before the chocks were purchased, an effort was started to replace the starting blocks at the pool, which Welch said were about 20 years old.

“They got really slick when the kids would get on there and (are) not quite as safe as (the new) blocks are now,” she said, “and they were smaller. The blocks were really small for a teenager to get up there (and) use them.”

She said the process of getting new blocks took about three years.

“It took us a while to decide what blocks would be best for us and our facilities,” she said.

Club members then began to reach out to businesses, several of which donated funding to help provide the roughly $3,000 per block for the platform itself, non-skid material, assembly and freight, a total cost of $23,967.

“We ended up getting a really fast response once we finally started asking,” Welch said. “Some of the families are involved in the club too.”

Swim Club member Kennedy Kruse also spoke of the benefits the new chocks would provide.

“Considering the wider usage of these chocks among other swim facilities, specifically at larger meets, they will allow La Grande’s swimmers to be better prepared for starts and more familiar with the equipment at out-of-town meets,” she said. “Our local meets will also benefit as more swimmers will have a heightened interest in attending them.”

The upper-end blocks, Welch hopes, will be a draw for athletes out of the area to want to attend meets in La Grande.

“We really wanted to replace our blocks and have good blocks for hosting meets as well,” she said.

The upgrade is the last that will be needed for a while, Welch added.

“A few years back we got lane lines for our swim meets so we could swap out with what the pool uses, and we have a scoreboard system,” she said. “We don’t have plans to upgrade anything else anytime soon.”

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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