40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#87: The APEX at Lehman College

Lehman College poolLocation: Bedford Park, Bronx

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: $20 for special TNYA workout

Inspiring. There’s no better word to describe this 50-meter, indoor pool encapsulated within a soaring, light-filled natatorium. Inspiring enough to entice me to swim here on the first day of NYC’s outdoor pool season.

In six weeks, 80-something of my teammates and I will be competing in a long-course meet in Stockholm, Sweden. To help prepare, we got a few lanes here at the APEX for a distance workout. Adding to my already considerable enthusiasm–for both meet and pool–the flags and lane lines sported Swedish colors.

The pool's in thereLehman College’s 1994 fitness center was designed by Rafael Viñoly. His firm is also responsible for the John Jay College pool and the building in which I spend my workdays, both places I’m very fond of despite their flaws. I have a vague recollection of volunteering at a meet at the APEX in my early days with TNYA, but I hadn’t gotten in the water and hadn’t ever returned, so this was a bona fide new pool for me. Everything was good: wide lanes, comfortable temperature, good light, spacious locker rooms, an array of warm showers, and even a sauna if I’d wanted to indulge. My only quibbles are that the lane line didn’t tighten sufficiently (despite the efforts of the lifeguards) and there was no T on the bulkhead in the deep end, meaning your arrival at the wall could be a surprise.

The building is lovely as well, arcing over the considerable facilities and sloping into the rest of the campus, communicating at once a sense of serenity and possibility. Indeed, possibilities beyond swimming include diving (1-meter and 3-meter), basketball, volleyball, running, dancing, racquetball, and plenty more.

Its opening coincided with a small wave of 50-meter pools in New York, the others being Manhattan’s Asphalt Green George Delacorte Olympic Pool and the Riverbank State Park indoor pool, and it remains a home for top-level training and competition. Membership is available to the public at a reasonable price, with steep discounts for CUNY students and employees. Rumor has it that TNYA will return as well. I hope so–this one is worth traveling for, even without international travels looming.

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Outdoor Season Preview

New York City’s outdoor pools open on Saturday. I’m looking forward to many of the same treats as last summer: home base at Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, omnipresent lap lanes and weekend food trucks in Red Hook, occasional social swims at Lasker Pool in Central Park, which was green earlier in the week but is enticingly blue now. I prefer early bird lap swim (starting July 6, 2015), and at other times I triple check that I have my lock so as to not get turned away by the pool staff. I can’t stress enough the importance of adhering to the Parks pool rules.
view to the High Bridge water tower
plaque about poolSo what’s new this season? A new way to get to Highbridge Park Pool, for one. New York City’s oldest bridge–built as an aqueduct in the mid-nineteenth century–the High Bridge is also the newest byway for pedestrians and cyclists, having just reopened after being off limits for more than 40 years. It’s beautiful and sure to help many Bronxites get to the pool in Manhattan. I’ve been turned away at Highbridge Park Pool due to arriving too close to closing time, and in fact I was also shooed off the bridge before closing time the other night, but I’ll try again this summer. I at least managed to visit the splashy Splash House (and meet the rec center’s orange tabby mouser-in-chief) during Open House New York last fall.

I thought we might have a longer pool season to celebrate, but it’s looking like just the beach season will be extended until mid-September. The beaches already open more than a month before the pools, so this change heightens the disparity. It’s too bad. I’ve certainly been known to swim at “closed” beaches, but a drained pool is a no-go.

Meanwhile, pools have been in the news of late due to a yet another racially charged, overpoliced situation in Texas. Jeff Wiltse’s Contested Waters documents the changing norms around pool use and shows how pool segregation became completely commonplace, setting the stage for exactly this type of incident. One of this blog’s followers also recommends a children’s book relating to pool discrimination experienced by Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, and I plan to check that out.

Mindful of this troubled history and the contemporary situation, what can we do to ensure that pools are welcoming to all? Use them! While there, be sure to thank the staff, politely heed the regulations (provided they are reasonable and fairly enforced), and swim with, play with, and chat with people whose skin color is different from your own.


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Rest Break: International Swimming Hall of Fame

The 50-year-old International Swimming Hall omuseum buildingf Fame has long been a must for any visit to Fort Lauderdale. Aquatics are on a pedestal in this collection that is part historic, part fine art, and part kitsch. John and I explored the museum the day after his birthday swim.

ISHOF entry ticket for twoThere are many points of entry to the collections. Whether you are interested in competition and records across all aquatics disciplines, swim technology and gear, civil rights, gender equality, swim history, notable figures, fine art, or memorabilia, you will find plenty to enjoy here. One of my favorite Ederle displaydisplays includes Gertrude Ederle’s self-fashioned bikini and memorabilia from her return to New York after her record-breaking swim across the English Channel. Videos of great moments in Olympic competition are always fun to watch, too.

If I were to make any suggestions, it would be to add modernizations such as video touch screens and an interactive database of Hall of Fame inductees, especially to engage with all the young swimmers who find their way here. A bit more selectivity in what makes it onto display would also help. (USMS pin collection: I’d nix you.) Finally, the “international” angle feels half-baked. Why not be an unabashed booster of U.S. swimming?

Unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale has become disenamored of this trove, so the Hall is being wooed across the country to Santa Clara, California, where it may set up in temporary quarters as soon as this summer. During my visit back in March, it seemed that a decision on when to pull the plug was imminent, but nothing is set as of yet, and there are still some working to keep the collection in Fort Lauderdale. The loss would be not just Florida’s but the whole East Coast’s, as the balance of power in swimming tips ever westward.

sandwich board

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