40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#7: LaGuardia Community College Pool

LaGuardia Community College's only lap lane on Tuesday evening

Location: Long Island City, Queens

Fee: $5

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $55.33

Knowing when to go is key for most pools, and 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night is apparently not the best time to swim at LaGuardia Community College. It was a chore getting there by bike, with the rush-hour traffic heading toward the Queensboro Bridge, but once I hit the bridge I was home free on a dedicated bike path going practically to the door of the college. Then, the pool had a rush hour of its own. It turns out that only one of the six lanes was available for laps; four others were in use by a kids’ team, and the last one had private lessons. I would definitely try this pool again, but I would call in advance to check on lane availability first. Everything else was perfectly fine–water quality, temperature, locker room, showers.

A bike buddy, Zoe, gets points for suggesting this pool and also for being the first friend from outside swimming to participate in the project. I was glad to take her suggestion and try somewhere totally new, particularly after last week’s nostalgic return to Poughkeepsie Middle School. Zoe works right across the street from the college and had swum here once before. I recommend going with someone who knows her way around, since first you have to find the fitness office, where you buy a pass, and then you go to the pool. (Hint: Follow the signs that say POOLSIDE CAFE.)

LaGuardia is part of the City University (CUNY) system, a vast public university consisting of two dozen college and institutions scattered throughout New York City, all with very low-priced tuition. Nearly half a million students attend CUNY, and I myself graduated from an MA program at another campus. It’s pretty amazing. Luckily for swimmers, many of the schools have regulation-size pools that are available for public use. My third pool was at a CUNY school, and I expect that several others will figure in this project. At LaGuardia, anyone can swim with a $5 day pass, and there are also membership plans for repeat visitors.

USS Swimming team practicing at LaGuardiaThe team in the middle four lanes must have been the LGAC Twisters, and I think it would have been fun to swim with them; they seemed very well-mannered and enthusiastic, and not yet big enough to be insanely fast. Their parents sat in the bleachers on one side, and one of them took the picture of me and Zoe.

The lap lane, meanwhile, had a real lack of etiquette and mix of abilities, maxing out at eight people at once and including three guys in long trunks who were mostly just playing; a water-polo player doing a lot of sprints and treading water; and a woman who I’d peg as a triathlete if I were to stereotype based on her tattoo, low body fat, and dislike of putting her face in the water. I navigated as best I could, but after nearly an hour and a half I’d barely done half the yardage of my recent Hour Swim and decided to call it a night.

The bike ride home was well after rush hour and featured one of my favorite views–the Manhattan skyline all lit up as you sink down into it from the heights of the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a nice warm night closing out a January, and I’m glad to be ending the month with a pool tally already at seven.


One Hour Swim, Part 2

One Hour Swim at John Jay Pool

Yesterday I completed the second and final part of my 2012 One Hour Swim challenge by doing the swim in the 40-44 age group. John Jay Pool hosted 8 heats of TNYAers and guests pushing it to the limit for an hour. Volunteers from our charity partner, the AIDS Service Center, were out in force to cheer (note the orange pom-poms, upper left) and provided post-swim treats, acupressure, and massage. Expert counter Janet kept my tally and made kickboard signals exactly as directed.

I’d conceived this as a race between my 39-year-old self and my 40-year-old self. Funnily enough, the latter swam exactly 40 fewer yards. Being a pool connoisseur, though, I realize that the pool must be considered a player as well. Columbia, which hosted my Hour earlier in the month, had the advantage. Although John Jay’s greennees is slowly fading, Columbia has superior hydrodynamics, visibility, water temperature, and bottom-of-the-pool entertainment. Plus, during my Columbia swim I had my own lane and the chance to watch a regular workout, with sprints, across the lane line, rather than being in a pool full of Hour Swimmers slogging away. Regardless, I’m happy with the effort and am already looking forward to trying to improve upon my 40-44 PR next January.

My heat was the first of the day, and I stuck around the rest of the time to catch up with friends, count for other swimmers, and generally support this inspiring event. It was the last one that Conrad directed for the team, as he is stepping down as head coach in March, and I will miss him. Here’s hoping that next year he will get to experience the event in the water rather than on the deck.


#6: Poughkeepsie Middle School Pool

Poughkeepsie Middle School poolLocation: Poughkeepsie, New York

Fee: Free as first-time visitor to FISH Masters, otherwise $10 workout drop-in charge

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $50.33

Sometimes a swim is just a swim. Today’s was a lot more: walk down memory lane, inspiration to seek out an artifact from my teenage years, and meditation on a love lost and regained. With all these Deep Thoughts coming from what is just my sixth pool of the year, I wonder what else this project has in store.

The setting was the pool where I’d spent four fall seasons on the Poughkeepsie High School girls’ swim team, 1985-1988. The pool is totally recognizable from those days, and that’s not a bad thing—it was in good shape then, and it’s in good shape now. FISH Masters packed the place and was all business for the hour-long workout this morning.

Today’s swim buddy was Carolyn, who used to live in New York City and swim at Riverbank and now lives and swims in Poughkeepsie. She’s my opposite in that way but a kindred spirit in another: She is already planning to do the Hour Swim twice next January, as she is a fellow Capricorn and will be advancing into a new age bracket just as I did earlier this month. She helps organize the FISH behind the scenes, and I’m glad to have learned about this team from her during a chance encounter at the ‘Bank.

What can I tell you about the pool? It’s brightly lighted by numerous underwater beams. The temperature and water clarity were fine, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more width in the lanes. The diving board that was in place for my first three seasons and then taken out of service because of a depth-requirement change has not returned. The locker rooms are spacious, the showerheads even lower than I normally encounter. Due to some roof issues, the pool will be closing for repairs later this winter, so FISH Masters may relocate temporarily to nearby waters. For me, their change could be an opportunity to log another pool.

Poughkeepsie Middle School pool record board

The two record boards I contemplated endlessly in my younger days are still in place, albeit with nearly all-new marks in the girls’ column. The record I coveted but never cracked is now about 5 seconds faster. Congratulations to backstroker C. Key, whoever you are.

Returning to this pool prompted me to reflect on the many benefits of interscholastic sports, and to see how consistent my current love of swimming is with my earlier self. Thanks to the swim team, I developed friendships with many people I would not have grown to know otherwise. Because not every school had a girls’ swim team, and Poughkeepsie’s student body was relatively small, we traveled quite a distance to compete with others in our league. We used to fill the time with stories about plunging off the Tappan Zee Bridge on our way to the far edge of Rockland County, and given the state of the bridge today I feel like we were prescient. The schools we competed against were for the most part considerably wealthier and more homogenous than our own, so we learned that Poughkeepsie was different in that regard. We learned about good days and bad days, that sometimes a loss can be as triumphant as a win, and what it means to be part of a team. Shockingly with the benefit of hindsight, we fueled ourselves with McDonald’s.

Pioneer Swimming notebook

My high school swim notebook. The Far Side cartoon caption reads, "And always--always--remember this: A swimmer in the water is worth two on the beach."

The local paper covered high school sports closely. I cut out the articles and compiled them into my own notebook along with annotations and certificates, and I dug this out of the closet at my mom’s house after my swim. Mom was surprised to see certificates from two spring seasons on the track and soccer teams, respectively. That’s all I have from those teams, which competed infrequently and lost consistently; I was not passionate enough to record the details. Swimming is a whole other story—I am certain that I have every Poughkeepsie Journal swimming article from my four seasons, and I annotated the results with details about my starts, turns, splits, and coach’s advice. If a Pool Tourism museum ever opens, this book would have to be part of the collection, as it logs what teams we competed against and in what pools, including one that I described as “disgusting.” (Peekskill. Consider yourself warned.) The meet results show that I swam 100 fly fairly often during my junior and senior years, which I have absolutely no recollection of and which makes my two-year-old effort to swim at least two laps of fly in every workout seem less heroic.

I swam in college for the three seasons that I was on campus, but my devotion to the sport faded. I was not as good relative to my competition, both in the classroom and in the pool, and I was not as socially connected with the swim team. My love of swimming was rekindled largely by NYC Swim open water events, and one reason I’m so enamored of those is clearly the fact that results are recorded for posterity on the web—no scrapbook needed.

With my love of swimming back at the fore these past several years, I’ve found that my times interest me less than they used to. Instead, I enjoy the ever-growing swim community more than ever and also like to undertake swim-related challenges, whether it’s the two-in-one-month Hour Swims, scenic open water events, or a quest to swim in 40 pools. My relationship with swimming may continue to change, but we’re going to be together for the long haul.

A 1988 clipping in my notebook reminded me of another pool important to my development. During the winter season at that time, this article reported, five high school boys’ teams all practiced at PMS (yup, that’s what we called it), and the schedule was inadequate. Some of them also used the Poughkeepsie YMCA, which cannot be part of this project because it closed three years ago. Just two blocks from the house I grew up in, the Y pool was where I attended gym-n-swim as a tot, joined my first swim team (Dutchess Devilfish) around the time of the 1984 Olympics, suffered pool withdrawal when it closed temporarily for asbestos removal, took lifesaving classes, and generally spent a lot of time. RIP, and may that pool rise again to ease the burden in this pool-deprived area so more potential swimmers can be introduced to this amazing lifetime sport.

Meanwhile, should you go to a 6:15 a.m. swim workout at PMS, you might wonder who would possibly bother the stuff in your saddle bag when you lock up your bike with plans to return by 7:30. If you thought that was a rhetorical question, you made a mistake, and the answer is that PMS opens earlier than it used to and thus you should not be surprised to find your 16″ inner tube, adjustable crescent wrench, and reflective cuff strap missing. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, though. Feel sorry for the person whose life is so lacking that going for cheap thrills by stealing other people’s stuff is the best they can do.


Rest Break: Museum of Man in the Sea

me and the man in the sea

My visit to Florida wasn’t all fun in the sun. We also educated ourselves at the Museum of Man in the Sea, a name I cannot say without a deep, authoritative voice reminiscent of a 1950s documentary narrator. Quite close to the pool, the museum proved too tempting to resist. We made a bet about whether we’d be the only visitors, and I’m glad to report that we weren’t. However, the family with young children that I expected to see did not show up, nor did more than four other people, so none of us won.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the name, but it turns out that the museum is dedicated mainly to diving and submarines, important local industries in the Florida Panhandle, with its Naval Surface Warfare Center (not to mention the more recently opened Morrison Springs). They had interesting displays of the technology that has evolved to facilitate underwater work, including wreck recovery, which could have been undertaken by someone in an armored dive suit such as the 1913 model above. One of the items I found most curious was called a bathythermograph and could be used to record underwater temperature changes. Unfortunately, it is too heavy to tie to your suit during a swim at the beach.

Museum of Man in the Sea

Not until after visiting the interior displays did we appreciate the amazing collection of submarines and submersibles outside. The lot around the museum was practically littered with them, including personal transport pods, pressure chambers, the world’s first underwater living facility, and, yes, a yellow submarine. After seeing these, a lot of other things started to look like submarines–the heating/cooling tanks at the pool, electrical substation equipment, and detritus outside storage centers, for example.

There was very little about other seaborne activities like, um, swimming, but I still recommend a visit on your next trip to Panama City Beach. If you time your trip right, you could even enjoy an oyster and grits fundraiser to help save SEALAB-1.

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#5: NYU Palladium Natatorium

me and Lance finishing up at NYU Palladium

Location: East Village, New York

Fee: $10 guest pass with member accompaniment

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards (or 25 meters in the other direction)

Total to Date: $50.33

Today’s swim was exciting for many reasons. It was the first time since starting this project that I visited a pool I’d never been to. My swim buddy was Lance, who I’ve swum with at the beach and in the Hudson and had the pleasure of watching during some amazing races, and who filled in as crew for my Ederle Swim attempt after a last-minute date change a few years ago–but who I’d never done a pool workout with. Plus, Lance is coached remotely by Patrick, who Piez and I swam with at a training camp in Florida two years ago, so by proxy I had him as coach again today.

I really enjoyed both the workout and the pool. The pool natatorium is below street level in a building that’s named after a famous nightclub that stood on the site until the late 1990s. Although I never went there, I remember hearing about it. For some reason I thought it had a different kind of pool–billiards–but I haven’t found any substantiation of that. Anyway, that got demolished and NYU built a new dorm and athletic facility in its place, and that’s where we swam today. They seem to have been smart about hydrodynamics in the construction, as my times were fast today, and Lance agreed that it’s a fast pool. The water temperature felt chilly after the warm outdoor pool in Florida, but actually it was just right–high 70s. We had a lane to ourselves the entire time.

reflection of lighting looks pretty in the windows

The ceiling is illuminated by thin bands of light all the way across, and I really liked the way they made Art Deco-esque patterns in the curved windows looking down on the pool, which you can kind of see in this photo taken from the diving area. Other things I liked: the locker rooms (spacious and well equipped on two floors), the views (basketball courts at pool level, reflecty windows up above), the music playing, the width of the lanes, the lifeguard who kindly snapped the top photo, and the chance to watch some speedy swimmers in the two lanes reserved for  team members. (NYU is a member of the University Athletic Association, a D-III conference of major urban research institutions, meaning that swimmers may travel as far as Cleveland or Rochester for meets.) The only complaint I’ll lodge is about the metal rim that goes pretty deep around the edge of the pool; it is very slippery to push off of, resulting in foot cramps.

Use of the Palladium Athletic Facility is only available to NYU students, alumni, employees, and their families–and NYPD/FDNY, including Lance. The rest of us are allowed in with members for a fee but can’t join in our own right. When I told Lance about my 40 Pools project, he immediately offered up this pool, and I jumped at the opportunity. Many of the other suggested pools are new to me as well, and I look forward to knocking them off throughout the year.

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Not a Pool: Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico near Panama City BeachToday we were able to swim in the Gulf, which previously had been too populated by man-o-war. I dedicated the swim to Gustav and my mom’s new cat, Toby, adopted 15 years after Gustav.

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Not a Pool: Morrison Springs

Morrison Springs diving platformThe PCB Aquatic Center is the only lap pool open to the public in the vicinity of where we’re staying, so Janet did some research into other venues that might qualify for this project. After a nice long course workout in the PCB pool this morning, we drove about 45 minutes north to check out Morrison Springs, a park in Ponce De Leon (pronounced: Pons d’lee), Florida, that opened a few years ago. The groundwater that is used to heat and cool the pool is the same temperature as the springwater that comes up from a dramatic underwater cave here–68 degrees.

Best known as a dive spot, the 200-plus-foot-deep spring-cave was being explored by dozens of wetsuit-wearing divers, who would periodically bubble up from the depths. We basked in the sun for a while and then waded in from the sandy beach for a beautiful little swim. It was hard to imagine doing a real workout here, so it’s not going to count as a pool, but it’s so pretty that I couldn’t resist adding a post about it. Along the sides are Cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. The aqua water is amazingly clear, and there’s some interesting vegetation on the bottom, including bunches of large, lettuce-like plants. We saw schools of minnows and several larger fish, and Janet spotted a big turtle.

The water flowing out of the spring made a twisty, turny river that eventually feeds into the Choctawhatchee River. I went down a few hundred yards and didn’t like how shallow it was getting, or that I couldn’t see the beach, so I turned around and headed back against the gentle flow of the springwater. Anyone looking to do a qualifying swim in 68-degree water would do well here.

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#4: Panama City Beach Aquatic Center

Piez, me, and Janet  at Panama City Beach's outdoor pool

Location: Panama City Beach, Florida

Fee: Free due lack of attendant (otherwise $8)

Configuration: 20 lanes of 25 yards (or 8 lanes of 50 meters)

Total to Date: $40.33

Woohoo, I swam outside today! For the second year in a row, I’m down in the Florida Panhandle for the holiday weekend. Last year, the outdoor pool was closed most of the time because of cold air temps, so Janet and I swam in alternate venues. Happily, that’s not the case this time (although back in New York, the first snow of the winter fell on those poor souls today). Adding to the fun, Piez–also a Janet–is along for the trip this time around.

I do a lot of swimming with both of them, in pools and open water. Piez (rhymes with “cheese”) and I were roommates twice at TNYA’s Fort Lauderdale swim camp, and we did our own camp down there a third year. Janet never met a body of water she didn’t like, and she’s always game for an expedition–usually with home-baked treats to share.

Janet is also a very creative swimmer, constantly coming up with clever workout ideas and new ways to improve. Back in December, she dreamed up a 12 Days of Christmas workout, but due to sickness, pool closures, and holiday travels, none of us swam it . . . until today. The PCB Aquatic Center was a great place to do it, as we each had our own lane and were able to take the swim at our own pace. Having my own lane ensured I avoided collisions, which otherwise would have been an issue given the amount of backstroke and back-dolphin kick in the workout, and the lack of a ceiling to look at to stay on course. Amazingly, my lane had some graffiti in the black line on the bottom that read “I love a swim [heart] Hannah.” I swear I didn’t write it, but I certainly do love a swim in this pool, even if it puts me at risk for a cap tan.

Less than 6 years old, the pool complex is perhaps best viewed by helicopter, as in this aerial shot. The water is so clear that you can easily see all the way from the shallow end down to the deep end, where the pool manager got in with the biggest fins I’ve ever seen to train for free-diving. His goal is to dive down to a wreck in the gulf and spear a fish!

Meanwhile, he’s got a pool to run–a Myrtha pool, no less–and he said it’s been putting him through his paces lately. The ground water here is highly corrosive, so it’s eaten through some gaskets, and thus he’s got new ones on the way from Germany. New gutters are coming from Italy, and vacuum parts are on the way from Sweden, so it’s practically a European pool! The geothermal heating and cooling system is local, though, taking water from nearby wells that hold steady at 68 degrees year-round and using it to warm the pool water in the winter (supplemented by electric heat to get the water up to about 80) and cool it off in the summer. As far as I know, this is the only geothermal pool I’ve swum in, but I hope to experience some others this year.

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#3: John Jay College Pool

John Jay's emerald pool

Location: Midtown, Manhattan

Configuration: 5 lanes, indoors

Fee: $13.33 with TNYA Splash Card

Total to Date: $40.33

My first swim as a 40-year-old was here at John Jay with my team, TNYA. Some 500 strong, Team New York is the most fun, friendly, talented, and supportive group of people I could ever imagine, in and out of the water. I am so glad to be part of it and never, ever regret waking up at the crack of dawn to swim with them. My team also gets the credit for making a pool tourist out of me, between the pool-curious teammates I’ve met, the annual training trip to a gorgeous outdoor pool complex in Fort Lauderdale, and competition opportunities all around the world.

I usually go to the Thursday morning workout at John Jay with Coach Brad, but I’ll be traveling to more far-flung pools that day(!!!), so I came to this workout with Coach Sean instead. That’s me in lane 2 with Jack, Ron, KC-visiting-from-LA, and Joe. Thanks to Lisa Lisa for taking the picture.

One of the great things about swimming a coached workout is you are told what to do. Everything is scripted, from the warm-up to the cool-down, so you don’t have the option of changing your mind and doing a less-challenging workout than you originally planned, which sometimes happens to me when I swim on my own. (I used to swim with my team several times per week, but I reduced my subscription plan when I was training for marathon swims and needed to do higher yardage.)  Plus, the workouts can be very creative, with special theme sets such as Thanksgiving dinner and the Twelve Days of Christmas. I have loads of fun memories from this pool, and I always laugh a lot here.

There is an elephant in the room at John Jay, though, and today it’s a jade elephant. The pool has been a rich shade of green since it reopened last week following repairs and holiday closures. This poor pool, commonly referred to as the Swamp, is the least consistent of the venues I swim in, with extreme fluctuations in temperature and chemical balance and all-to-frequent closures due to things like, oh, the health department as well as meets and maintenance. On the plus side, the lanes are really wide, the pace clocks have just been adjusted so that there’s a working one on either end of the pool, and my favorite type of kickboard is available here.

The green water took a bit of getting used to from an aesthetic perspective, but by the end of the workout it seemed normal. It’s one of those situations where the alternative–losing six TNYA workouts a week–is even worse than the status quo, so we put up with it and hope swimming in a Swamp makes us stronger.

Should you wish to visit John Jay, there are some options for individuals, and my team welcomes drop-ins. May the Swamp be with you.


#2: Columbia University Uris Pool

Location: Morningside Heights, Manhattan

Configuration: 8 lanes, indoors

Fee: $25*

Total to Date: $27

Not only was today’s swim in a lovely pool full of friends, but it took me half-way toward accomplishing my other birthday-related goal. Colubmia’s Uris Pool hosted my first One Hour Swim of 2012, which I did as part of my team’s regular workout in order to squeak in as a 39-year-old. I am taking advantage of a special privilege only available every fifth year to USMS swimmers with January birthdays, i.e., doing the One Hour Swim in two different age groups. Today counts for the 35-39 age group, and when I do it again later in the month it’ll be for the 40-44s.

lion roaring at swimmersBefore I get even more excited about the One Hour Swim, a few words about the pool. My favorite thing about swimming here is passing back and forth over the roaring lion who looks as if he is about to claw out of the bottom right at you. I mean, he’s pretty fierce, right? The picture from the pool is not the best, so below are a few more images from within the fitness center to give you a sense of this ferocious creature. I smile every time I pass him.

Lion logo for Columbia Women's Swimming and Diving Columbia lion on wood wall Lion logo for Columbia Sports Medicine

Another plus for this pool is its good maintenance. It’s usually just the right temperature, and the water is clear. It’s deep and has well-designed gutters, making for fast times, and with eight lanes, it’s relatively spacious. Alas, that roominess does not extend to the women’s locker room, which is smaller than my kitchen. My team practices here a few times a week, but I don’t go that often because the workouts here are just an hour, and I prefer more swim time when possible. For tonight’s purpose, however, an hour was perfect. Unless you’re an Hour Swim junkie, that’s all you need to know about my second pool of the year.

The junkies know, of course, that the USMS One Hour Postal Championships is an annual meet held throughout January across the country, the goal being to swim as far as possible in an hour. It’s called a “postal” event not because it makes people go postal, but because back in the day teams from near and far would stack up their split sheets and mail them in to be tabulated. My team takes part religiously and adds a fund-raising component to make it extra motivational and meaningful. It is always a highlight of our season.

Coincidentally, I joined my team in early 2004, as the training was building up for the Hour Swim, and I loved it–lots of freestyle pace work. I would be happy doing workouts like that all year round. Just last week, my love was rekindled when coach Conrad had us do a 15-minute straight swim at an LIU workout. I swam a bit farther than I would have expected then, and my swim today was exactly four times that. I am nothing if not consistent. (My yardage was right in the middle of all my Hours: higher than 2004, 2005, or 2007, and lower than 2008, 2009, and 2010, when I was doing more distance swimming.) I’m pretty happy with the result given that I haven’t been doing workouts that are longer, distance-wise, than I swam tonight, and I’ve been fighting a nasty sinus infection all week. In fact, if Conrad hadn’t reserved a lane for me, and John hadn’t volunteered to count, I probably would have saved my trip to Columbia for another day.

It was fun to see some teammates who I hadn’t seen for a while, and to watch them underwater in the lanes next to me doing their regular workout.  It was also incredibly luxurious to have my own lane for the swim instead of splitting the lane with another Hour swimmer. The lanes on my other side had open swim, with a kid playing on a floaty noodle, an interesting contrast to the fast, hunky TNYA swimmers.

As always, I loved my Hour. The time flew by as I pondered things like what workouts Cristina Teuscher swam as a Lion, whether I was going to have to stop and cough, if counting for an hour is more work than crewing for five-plus hours during the Ederle Swim (as I did for John in October), and whether time passes more quickly as you get older. I most definitely did not keep track of my laps, and I couldn’t see the clock, but I had John stick in a kickboard every 1,000 yards to give me some sense of where I was. It ended much too quickly. I look forward to more distance work the rest of the month, and to seeing if my 40-year-old self can do better in a lesser pool. Thanks, Conrad and John, for helping me fulfill this swim-nerd challenge.

Columbia staff, students, and alumni can join the fitness facility and bring in a guest for an added fee.  Otherwise, I think you need to be part of a team that’s practicing there to get in.

*This payment covered participation in the One Hour Swim, including the USMS fee and proceeds to the charity beneficiaries.

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