bella jones 500 freestyle

North Bend’s Bella Jones competes in the 500-yard freestyle during the season-opening swim meet for the Bulldogs.

COOS BAY — Bella Jones probably always expected to be in the pool on her 18th birthday.

But she probably never thought it would be for a high school swim meet.

Nor would she have expected to be racing in the backstroke or walking to the starting area on crutches or having athletes from the rival school openly cheering for her in every race.

But in this weird pandemic year with switched-up sports seasons, the high school swim season is at the end of the year, along with the other traditional winter sports of basketball and wrestling, so the North Bend senior spent her 18th birthday in the Mingus Park in the season-opening swim meet.

That change gave Jones a chance to rehabilitate from a serious knee injury from soccer in time to complete her senior swimming season.

And the ongoing pandemic has meant North Bend can’t swim it its own pool, so the Bulldogs are working out together with the Pirates, bringing a natural kinship among the two teams.

For Jones, just getting to finish out her high school career is a blessing.

“I’m just glad to be back in the water being able to swim,” she said. “It’s enough for me at the moment.”

It’s impressive that Jones made it back from her injury in time to swim. This year she decided to add soccer as a sport and was playing goalie for the Bulldogs when she took an opponent’s foot to the knee while going for a ball.

She shattered and dislocated her kneecap, requiring surgery.

Jones said the injury, though bad, was a blessing in one way, since it kept her out of the pool for several weeks.

“To have that break was good for me,” she said. “Since I’ve been swimming, I’ve never had that break.”

As for the backstroke, it was an event Jones could do without having to dive of the starting blocks, something she hadn’t been cleared to do by her doctor in time for the first meet — she also swam that leg of the medley relay and swam the 500 freestyle, which doesn’t require a fast start.

“It’s been years (since I raced backstroke),” Jones said, adding that for the medley relay, she usually swims the butterfly leg.

“It’s weird,” she said. “I’m just glad to be back.”

Jones also is enjoying swimming with the Marshfield students — athletes are grouped together not by school, but by whether they are in the a.m. or p.m. cohorts at their respective schools.

“It’s good,” Jones said. “Everybody needed it to bond,

“It definitely brought the people back together. Kids need the sports.”

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