40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#97: Sacred Heart Thornburgh Aquatics Center

empty pool

Location: Yorkville, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 x 25 yards

Fee: School affiliates or seasonal members only

There are a lot of directions this post could go: a story of parking lot turned paradise, a local neighborhood feel-good piece, a test of journalism ethics. The story I’ll focus on is that of girls’ athletics: Not once in 96 pool visits in the past five years had I been in a space designed for and dedicated to girls and young women–until now. It hit me when I looked up at the record board, an experience that proved unexpectedly moving. There was just the one set of records–no boys’ marks here–and Lia Neal‘s name was all over it.

record board

Neal attended Sacred Heart and trained at Asphalt Green while successfully shooting for her first Olympics. This Athletic and Wellness Center was a fund-raiser’s dream at the time, opening in 2014, a year after Neal graduated and left for Stanford. The commitment to supporting all aspects of girls’ growth and development is apparent everywhere, and it got me to wondering when all-female grade schools started having such impressive athletic facilities. Certainly it must be in the post-Title IX era that shares my age. Even the firm that designed this is woman-led.

lockers

Upper-level lockers so high I could barely reach.

The pool was pristine, deck space versatile, locker rooms nicely appointed and stocked well enough to rival my previous new pool, sans towels. Despite being all but empty for the morning adult swim session–a wonderful experience for yours truly a week before outdoor pools opened–it is actually quite fully programmed by the school and other local institutions (Asphalt Green and the 92nd Street Y farm out classes here), photo shoots, rental groups, and more. At 82 degrees, a bit warm for my taste, the temperature is suitable for the many youth programs and students of all grade levels, for whom swimming is mandatory. The school’s varsity team has been crowned league champion repeatedly since getting its own pool.

Of course, Convent of the Sacred Heart has the resources for this and more. A 135-year-old Catholic girls’ school based in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, it counts Lady Gaga and a gaggle of Kennedys among its famous alumni. Its swim team competes in a rarefied league including other prestigious single-sex schools, and it has by far the nicest pool of any Manhattan private, ahem, independent, school.

The rest of us can swim there only through aquatics programs such as the “masters swim club,” aka reserved pool times for the 22-and-up set with a coach on deck some of the time. The coach was waylaid the morning I was there, as were seemingly all but two of the swimmers. In the fall, membership in this program may switch from seasonal to monthly, making it more enticing and flexible.

What of the other themes that struck me? The site used to be a parking garage; it’s a mere three short blocks from my apartment; and if you’re an aquatics director wondering if you should invite me to your pool for some free publicity, the answer is yes.

mural

Following in Lia Neal’s wake is Nicole Aarts ’16, depicted in this mural near the building entrance.

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