As if the twice-daily free outdoor lap-swim programs in more than a dozen city pools weren’t generous enough, the Parks Department throws a giant awards dinner and pool party at the end of the season. The date is usually the second-to-last Wednesday of the season, the location Hamilton Fish Pool during night owl hours. This year’s took place on August 22, and I was glad to attend with some friends who are more recent converts to the wonders of this Parks program.
There are a few different ways to score an invitation to the dinner, and each comes with its own swag. The most certain is to swim the minimum number of miles to earn a T-shirt. This year was the 30th anniversary of the program, so the cutoff was raised from the usual 25 miles to 30 miles–and in addition to the T-shirt there were beautiful, customized pool mugs as prizes! As I explained at the start of the season, you report your lap tally to the pool staff after each swim. They keep track through an elaborate, error-prone system, so you may want to keep your own log and cross-check their tally if you are on the borderline or a stickler for accuracy.
Another way to get an invitation is to be in the top three by gender and session at your pool. For example, if you are a man with the third-highest tally at your pool’s night owl session, you would be invited to the dinner. At my pool, all the people in these categories are well above the 30-mile threshold, but at some of the less busy pools, it is possible to be on the podium even if you do not earn a T-shirt. All top-three placers get trophies, and there are also trophies for the highest tallies among all the pools.
The third way into the dinner is to swim as part of your pool’s relay. The rules on this are a little fuzzy, but if you are someone who turns in your yardage tally and who has a competitive edge, you may be chosen or be able to nominate yourself to swim in the 4 x 50m mixed relay that kicks off the dinner. As with all other categories, the top three teams get prizes–and as with all other results, your mileage may vary. Caitlin was part of the Red Hook team that was awarded first prize this year, and yet they had not even won their heat.
After you’ve cleared the technicalities, what can you expect? An invitation in the mail, for one, and a phone call from HQ in Flushing Meadows Park to confirm that you will be attending. When you arrive, you’ll find the pool deck festooned with balloons, the dinner tables decorated with framed photos from the various participating pools, and many familiar faces. My pool’s lead aquatic specialist was there, and he reported that breakdown lasted until the wee hours of the morning–and yet there he was at the pool for the 7:00 a.m. start the next day.
If you’re swimming in a relay, you can do a few laps to warm up before the competition starts. My pool’s relay members somehow did not all know they were swimming, so we had to scramble to secure enough bathing suits and then ended up with an extra person who we farmed out to the Crotona team. Competition was strong, so rather than worrying about placement I enjoyed the opportunity to swim with an Olympian. Special guest Bobby Hackett swam legs 3 and 4 of a Parks staff relay in the same heat where I swam leg 3!
After the relays, along with a dinner buffet catered by Katz’s Deli, there is much hoopla: singing, synchro, speechifying, award presentations, and more. You may even be asked to sing along to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Pool.” Outgoing Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe led the ceremonies, and other special guests included Nancy Barthold and John Hutchins of the Parks Department, both of whom deserve great credit for the success and growth of the lap-swim program, and former commissioner Henry Stern, another pool lover.
As a special 30th-anniversary treat, there was a beautiful pool cake (see above). I waited in a long line to get a piece of that delicious pool.
All this celebration is bittersweet, however, as it signals that the season is almost over and that time is running out for outdoor pool tourism. Pools I missed out on this summer include Sunset Park (Brooklyn), Astoria (Queens), the Floating Pool (Bronx), Marcus Garvey (Manhattan), and Lyons (Staten Island), not to mention the dozens of lovely pools that don’t have lap swimming. I’m already looking forward to summer 2013.