40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#84: Jones College Prep High School Pool

DSCN1599_jones_prepLocation: Printer’s Row, Chicago

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: Free as visitor with Chicago Smelts

When I collected Chicago pool recommendations, there were many great-sounding options in addition to the magnificent InterContinental. Thus, I was motivated to schedule strategically for a two-pool trip. The second choice–with thanks to former TNYA meet coach Christopher, now a Chicagoan–was a workout with my team’s Midwestern sibling, the Chicago Smelts, at the Jones College Prep High School Pool.

The pool is behind the highest windows in this new school building.

Look, up on the top floor, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a pool!

The location could not have been more convenient to my hotel, just a few short blocks away–an especially good thing when the workout starts at 5:45 a.m., less than 24 hours after my InterContinental swim. I spotted another swimmer type and followed her into the school and up the elevator to the seventh and top floor. This town gets points for building its pools up high!

Jones College Prep turns out to be one of Chicago’s top public high schools, with a new building and a pool befitting a high-performing student body. Opened at the start of the 2013 academic year, the building added capacity for this selective school. Yes, there were cost overruns, and yes the pool may be partly to blame, but that is not unusual for this type of undertaking.

The Smelts smelled opportunity with a new pool coming online and got themselves booked for regular morning workouts starting just a few weeks before my visit. Swimmers expressed happiness with the early practice options yet were surprisingly blasé about the beautiful facility. A trip or two to my team’s basement pools would add to their appreciation.

The pool? It’s got six lanes, just-right water temperature, and set-ups for all kinds of aquatics, including polo and diving. My photo does not do it justice. (Blame the not-yet-risen sun.) The locker rooms were reasonably spacious, and everything was nice and clean. Good job, Chicago!

The team was great, too. As with many USMS affiliates, visitors are welcome for a week of free workouts. A swimmer named Heidi collected my guest registration receipt on deck, steered me to the right lane, wrote the workout on the board, and proceeded to lead the lane while I hung on for dear life for the next 75 minutes. When my abs hurt the next day, it didn’t take long to realize it was from all the dolphin kicking on my back–something I’d been meaning to do more of anyway. Everyone was friendly, and I appreciated their chatter about the One Hour Swim, which I’d completed recently. Not only were Smelts members in the midst of competing, but they–again led by Heidi–were serving as “host” for the nationwide virtual competition.

After showering and bundling up, I was surprised to find students and staff streaming into the school at 7:00 a.m. New Yorkers are not such early risers, and our facilities are all but deserted at both the start and finish of our (later) morning workouts. I appreciate the Midwestern hardiness and would be happy to swim with the Smelts again and again and again if only I’d stayed in Chicago any longer.

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#83: InterContinental Chicago Pool

Location:  Magnificent Mile, Chicago

Configuration: 4 lanes of 25 yards

Cost: $27.50 including tax

If a picture is worth a thousand words, allow me to be verbose.

Photo by InterContinental Hotel.

InterContinential Pool bleachers


Prior to a recent trip to Chicago, I’d polled the Internets for a pool recommendation. The InterContinental Health Club won out, so I wandered up at dawn last Monday to check it out. Lobby staff directed me to the fitness center, where the attendant was dubious that I’d want to pay $25 plus tax for a swim. “Go take a look,” she cautioned.

Neptune fountainUm, yeah. I gladly forked over the entry fee–not much higher than I pay to swim in a crowded basement in Manhattan–for my own lane and then some in this masterpiece of pool design. Ah, Chicago prices! The ceiling, the stained-glass windows, the arches, the Spanish tile, the terra-cotta fountain, the wrought-iron light fixtures, the rattan-filled bleachers, the sun dancing across the water, the view of the Tribune Building . . . there’s not a thing I would change.

InterContinental had the same thought when restoring it in 1990, and it looks largely the same as when it opened in 1929 as the all-male Medinah Athletic Club for the Shriners. Back then, the property included golf, shooting, and archery ranges, bowling, billiards, a track, and a gymnasium. None of these athletic facilities survives save for the pool proudly on display on the 14th floor. Over the years, Johnny Weismuller, Esther Williams, and Tennessee Williams were among the luminaries who swam here.

the cold-water faucetThe pool heaven at Hansborough and understated elegance at London Terrace came to mind as I worked through my Monday Morning Pyramid* to fully test and appreciate the water and views, but this beauty far surpasses them. It was also pleasantly uncrowded despite the pre-work hour. In fact, when I got into the easternmost lane, I had the odd sensation of disturbing a cold layer on top and swimming through occasional hot and cold pockets, as if in open water. This turned out to be because cold water was gushing in from a faucet in the deep end (above right) while warm water flowed in from underwater vents–and no one was swimming there to mix it up. I moved over once a spot opened up and eventually experienced all of the lanes, which averaged in temperature in the low 80s.

Although the bottom tiling marked five lanes, the pool was wisely roped off into just four, and my split times indicated that the length is 25 yards despite the “Junior Olympic” 25-meter distance cited on the hotel website. I particularly enjoyed backstroking under the ornate ceiling and looking out the windows while using a kickboard. It was fun to imagine the bleachers packed with bespoke spectators enjoying fancy drinks while cheering on swimmers, and to wonder who might have gotten the box-seat-like precipices.

Chicago may be Second City by some standards, but for this pool I give it top billing. I hope to have the chance to enjoy it again. Next time, I’ll ask for the secret tour to learn even more and to be sure I get my money’s worth.

*The Monday Morning Pyramid is a great way to put a pool through its paces. It had been a long time since I actually did it on a Monday, as follows (after warm-up):

DSCN1576_intercontinental150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
100 free, fast
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
2 x 100 stroke or IM
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
3 x 100 pull
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
4 x 100 kick
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
3 x 100 pull
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
2 x 100 stroke or IM
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim
100 free, fast
150 swim, drill, swim, kick, drill, swim