The league, in just its second year, was held in a bubble this season because of COVID-19. The competition was on Margaret Island, on the Danube River in the middle of Budapest, Hungary.
The ISL sees swimmers selected to teams, and there’s competition for points. It’s a new format for swimming that is hoped to bring more profile to the sport. Hayden was a member of the newly formed Toronto Titans team.
The competition ran for a month, with athletes tested every five days. Most of their time was spent in the hotel, then to the pool, because they were only allowed out of the hotel for quick walks around the small island.
“We were allowed out, but only for 90 minutes,” Hayden said. “We had to sign out and sign back in.”
Despite the testing and strict rules, no more than two teams were allowed in the meal room at a time.
“Everyone had their own table,” Hayden said. “It was like a large desk to sit at. And all the teams were relegated to their own time slots. Sometimes your meal timeslot might’ve been like 6 to 7:30 a.m. and the next day it might be like 9 to 10:30 a.m.”
The lack of consistency and late time slots in the evening could be a challenge. But Hayden said it was worth it to race in a healthy and safe environment; especially as he had just returned to the sport last year after coming out of retirement.
Hayden is hopeful to make a comeback and qualify for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo after seven years in retirement.
“I would say my best highlight performance was one of the relays that I anchored,” said Hayden. “I think it was Energy Standard they were leading the whole race, just about, and on the last length I caught Amanda and brought the Titans to first place.
“I had a lot of the other current superstars coming up to me and congratulating me on it, and just telling me how inspiring it was for them to see me back and still being able to perform at a high level.”
Hayden will use his quarantine as a little mini off-season. He’ll be back to training shortly after to continue preparation for Olympic Trials in April.