40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Swimming Through a Pandemic

pool and open water swim locations in a swim icon word cloud
My pandemic swimming wordcloud (created at wordcloud.com).

Pandemic living stinks. Nearly two years in, our Covided-out world is more maddening and saddening than ever. Rather than providing respite, swimming has become more complicated and less reliable. That said, I appreciate my good fortune in being able to keep swimming this whole time.

I was getting acclimatized to the round-trip bike journey and warming waters at Brighton Beach in spring 2020 when I crossed paths with Riverbank pals Abby and Leslie. It didn’t take long for us to pod up as the Quarantine Beach Club, so named and outfitted by Abby, who whisked us out there in her beleaguered Jetta at the crack of dawn multiple times per week all summer and fall. Among the milestones marked from the BQE: the certification of the presidential vote in Pennsylvania giving the election to Biden.

QBC members Leslie, Abby, and me after a foggy two-hour swim on 6/6/20. Thanks to Jozef for capturing this joyous moment.

Other adventures ensued: Hudson River, Lake Hopatcong, Lake Canopus, and a plan to do the Ederle Swim tandem-style with Abby in fall 2021. Meanwhile, outdoor pools opened belatedly and stayed open into September.

Soon after outdoor season ended, I discovered that Roosevelt Island’s indoor pool was open, free, not taking reservations, and not limiting how long you could swim: a miracle. As with Brighton Beach, I started making the trip by bike. It took several weeks before I noticed how close the ferry stop was, and how neatly the ferry schedule aligned with the pool opening. From that moment on, I had many mental vacations as I caught the ferry from East 90th Street at sunrise, floated down to Roosevelt Island for a swim, and then floated back before my WFH day began. Unfortunately, the pool was prone to closures for mechanical and other reasons, and in summer 2021 it closed its doors for the foreseeable future in order to undergo renovations.

Both my swim team and Riverbank’s indoor pool had started up in the meantime, the latter just as I was recovering from Covid. That first morning lap session at Riverbank in late March 2021, the 50-meter pool felt endlessly loooong, and my goggles fogged up with tears as I reflected on the absence of those waters and so much else the past year. Never mind that pool capacity was drastically limited, swim sessions reduced to one hour, reservations required, and showers on deck only.

Alas, it was a diminished group of morning swimmers who returned. Many of my swim friends had relocated or increased their time spent outside the city, and others had new schedules. The splitting of Riverbank’s two-hour morning swim block into two one-hour sessions divided by a half-hour break also reduced possibilities for connection, not to mention my stamina for long course. The reservation system was merciless, mixing heart palpitations, browser refreshing, and often disappointment at 12:30 p.m. each day that I tried to get a spot for the next morning.

Meanwhile, at my team’s practices at Sacred Heart, the social-distancing requirements on deck and even in the pool sucked away a lot of the fun; it took too much concentration to figure out where we were in the set and when the person at the opposite end of the pool would be starting. (Pathetic, right?!)

Gradually, though, limits loosened. More of us were allowed in the water at once, masks could stay off in the locker room, showers reopened. Best of all, more people emerged once they got their vaccines.

Over the summer, the city again did not offer lap swimming sessions at its outdoor pools, and most pools that in the Before Times had all-day lap areas did not have enough staffing to open those sections. (A vicious cycle is afoot as two years’ worth of potential city lifeguards has missed out on training and employment opportunities. Now that high schools are in person again, here’s hoping that lifeguard cadres will rebuild.) Trusty Riverbank’s outdoor pool filled the gap.

I shelled out for Sacred Heart in September for unlimited, stress-free swimming close to home as I finished training for my Ederle Swim. Come fall, we worried about a prolonged closure for repairs at Riverbank’s indoor pool. Fortunately, the outdoor season was extended, and the repairs were completely before too long and actually seem to have worked: The indoor pool is benefiting from better filtration, quieter lights, and steadier temperatures! Neither of the morning swim times meshes perfectly with my back-to-the-office schedule, so I’ve taken to swimming at 8:00 and then arriving at work a bit late. It seems impossible that I used to routinely get myself to the pool at 6:30 a.m., much as I miss seeing the sunrise illuminate the tower in the northeast corner of the pool.

I also continued swimming out at Brighton Beach through Thanksgiving as I’ve done for many years – with a bigger crowd than ever – even though the Quarantine Beach Club is no more. That’s when Omicron snuck into New York and soon thereafter exploded. For the first time in the pandemic, I voluntarily took a break from the pool starting December 18. No chlorine this Christmas — better safe than sorry given that I was about to see elders, youngsters, and spend time in a nursing home.

I’m not setting any swim goals because pursuing them is too stressful. I’ve gotten used to wearing my suit to the pool, rushing through the locker rooms so as to not lose any precious minutes of the reserved hour, and barely topping 3,000 meters per swim. I’ve gotten more flexible about where and when I swim, more grateful to the pool operators and lifeguards who keep pools running safely, more accepting when swimming doesn’t work out. To combat feelings of loneliness, I’m trying to crawl out of my shell and talk to swimmers I don’t know. My 2021 yardage was my lowest annual total in 15 years, and, unless the Riverbank morning schedule changes, I foresee swimming even less in 2022. I keep getting slower.

My new thing? An hour-long morning walk along the East River on weekdays that I don’t swim. I enjoy the time to myself with the ever-changing water views and boat traffic. Even though my route is the same, it’s never boring. There are far fewer walkers out these days than in the first year of our pandemic, but sometimes I see swim friends along the way.

The setting moon hangs over the East River during my morning walk, 12/20/21.