40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#100: Kosciuszko Pool

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Configuration: 3 wide lanes of 100 feet in Early Bird lap swim area; pool is 230 feet the long way

Fee: Free

The prospect of pool number 100 hung over me all year. I wanted it to be local and special, a tall order given that I’ve spent seven years ticking off other pools that fit those criteria. Happily, Parks came to my rescue by adding a Brooklyn wunderpool to the Early Bird lap swim program.

As soon as I saw Kosciuszko Pool on the list, I asked four of my favorite pool pals — all of them with 40 Pools from the beginning — to join me there for 7:00 a.m. laps one Friday early in the season. In a summer full of unexpected health issues among this cohort and our loved ones, it was extra special that we all turned up that steamy morning ready to explore a “new” pool and check out a neighborhood spot for breakfast. Kosciuszko Pool, correctly pronounced with two sh sounds but known more easily as K Pool, was perfect for the occasion.

5 of us in swimsuits

Pool and the Gang: Amanda, Lisa Lisa, me, Janet, and Piezy sneaking some post-swim pics. That’s a nice-looking shade structure and the lap area off in the distance.

What’s more, Amanda agreed to be our designated photographer, Janet gamely composed a special workout for the occasion, and they both agreed to share their work herein. Thank you Lane 2 buddies!

Check-in was smooth and professional, with Lisa Lisa coincidentally getting card number 100 — a high count given that this was just the sixth day of lap swimming. Clearly, this addition to the Early Bird program was already well appreciated. The locker rooms were roomy with a larger bench area that we are accustomed to, and the lap swim staff and fellow swimmers were welcoming. No pool rage here. (My only significant criticism was that after the swim the showers gave us just a modest trickle out of each head.)

Unlike many of the city’s massive lap pools, this one dated not from the WPA era but the 1960s. Buh-bye brick, hello concrete! Despite the change in materials, the attention to detail was just as thoughtful as the pools from 40 years prior, with Modern play sculptures and a shade overhang incorporated into the design.

Pipes and pyramid

Architect Morris Lapidus designed this play space atop the locker rooms, but the slide he created is no longer in use.

The lap area is at the far end of the pool, and regulars told us it’s even available during the day. (As of this posting date, there are two days left of lap swimming and then one more week of outdoor pools, so get there stat if you want to see for yourself.) One challenge for Janet in her workout writing is that we didn’t know ahead of time what the distance would be. It turned out to be the “short” dimension, which is 100 feet across. Three wide lane-like areas were designated slow, medium, and fast, and the acquatics specialists kept a close eye on things to prevent collisions and misanthropy. More and more swimmers piled in as the session went on, and we gazed longingly at the vast empty water beyond the lap area.

Long view of pool and bleachers

The lap area is so small and far away that you can barely see it!

The week was steamy hot, making the water in my usual Early Bird pool cloudy and warm, but K Pool was amazingly chilly — too chilly for Piezy to even stay in but perfect for me. The biggest detraction was the remnants of a chicken dinner strewn across the bottom or our lane area. Really.

This superblock of a pool was the work of Morris Lapidus, an architect who designed resort pools full of flare in places like Miami and the Caribbean. An immigrant from Russia, he grew up in Bed-Stuy, so it’s fitting that the Parks Department commissioned him for a pool in that neighborhood. Riding my bike here that early morning and then to Queens afterward, I was struck by how quickly and dramatically the neighborhoods in Brooklyn shift. Immediately surrounding the pool are low-rise residences, a school, and not much commercial activity or greenery.

The pool’s namesake, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, an earlier immigrant from eastern Europe, has more than his fair share of structures named after him, including a New York bridge that reopened today. Janet incorporated colorful facts about both of these men into her commemorative workout.

With thanks again to my fellow pool tourists, here is Janet’s workout. And yes, I’ve continued to think about old Tadeusz whenever I try to do a good streamline.

Warmup: 400/533 yards (12-16 lengths). While swimming, streamline off of every wall, imagining your body as stiff and sturdy as the logs Kosciuszko used to dam rivers during the American Revolution. From Wikipedia:

The British advance force nipped hard on the heels of the outnumbered and exhausted Continentals as they fled south. Major General Philip Schuyler, desperate to put distance between his men and their pursuers, ordered Kościuszko to delay the enemy. Kościuszko designed an engineer’s solution: his men felled trees, dammed streams, and destroyed bridges and causeways. Encumbered by their huge supply train, the British began to bog down, giving the Americans the time needed to safely withdraw across the Hudson River.

Kosciuszko pool was designed by Morris Lapidus, the architect of the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach: “During an age when proper, refined American architecture was smitten by the big boxes and straight lines of such European internationalists as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Morris Lapidus was drawing curves and installing cupids in his lobbies.” Be inspired by Lapidus’s curves:
Swim 4 x 1 length, alternating lane leader—play follow the leader, making your length as curvy as the pool/crowd permits.

More Lapidus inspiration, from the Washington Post [with emphasis added by yours truly]:

It was as if American design were dominated by something like nouvelle cuisine — stark portions of food artfully arranged on an otherwise empty plate — while Lapidus was serving up great, heaping, artery-clogging slabs of triple-chocolate cake. As he put it himself: “If people like ice cream, why give them one scoop when you can give them three?” His contemporaries said “less is more,” Lapidus recalls. “And I said, less is nothing.”

So — in celebration of both of triple layers of triple chocolate cake, topped with triple scoops of ice cream, and also in celebration of Hannah’s 100th pool, let’s do
3 x (3 x 100 (i.e. 3 laps)):
          1st set: easy 100, medium 100, fast 100
          2nd set: each 100 easy-medium-fast by length
          3rd set: fast 100, medium 100, easy 100

Now back to Kosciusko: At some point in 1777, Kościuszko composed a polonaise and scored it for the harpsichord. According to Wikipedia, a polonaise rhythm goes like this:
musical notations

Let’s see if we can do 2 x 1 length kicking to this rhythm in honor of Koko.

And finally: Kosciuszko has had monuments/bridges/pools/towns named for him all over the US as well as in Europe, including his native Belarus. Do you know who was born in Kosciuszko, Mississippi? Oprah Winfrey, that’s who! Be your best swimming self as you do 6 lengths perfect stroke warmdown.

nice landscaping outside the pool complex

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Wodny Park Pool

Amanda and Jack, lookin’ better than ever!

Location: Warsaw, Poland

Configuration: 10 lanes of 50 meters plus recreational pool

Fee: depends; see below

Ever-intrepid pool tourist Amander, aka Amanda, visited our beloved lane-mate Jack in his new home turf of Warsaw, Poland, this past spring. On a gray, drizzly, mid-March day, they ventured to an early morning swim with the Warsaw Masters Team at the Wodny Park Pool to provide this dispatch. I miss swimming with them both — Jack’s relocation coincided more or less with the closure of the pool where we all swam together — and love how their personalities come through in this post, which introduces a dialog-based format to 40 Pools. Not to mention, the pool is gorgeous! 

AmandaJack, how did you discover the team?

Jack: First of all, let me just say how lovely it was to host you, Ms. Amanda! As for team, one of the first things I did when we moved from NYC to Warsaw in February of 2018 was to start looking for a team. WMT is pretty much the only viable option in the city, but I found the whole process quite confusing. The website is in Polish (I didn’t speak a lick when I first got here), the whole structure of the team/payments/practices is different from our NY team, and their system doesn’t accommodate drop-ins the way ours does. In other words, you have to be cleared by the Team Administrator to attend a practice in advance, and I found it very difficult.

In the meantime, I swam in a couple of other pools that were closer to home and my office. It was a truly horrific experience. The pools were nice enough and it was beyond cheap, but there was no order in the pool whatsoever. Even lanes that were marked for faster swimmers had extremely slow sidestrokers in them. And forget about lane etiquette! Poland is a very individualistic society, so no one (even at the masters level) would think to stop at the end of the lane to let you pass no matter how much faster you are. So after several frustrating solo swims (one of which resulted in someone punching me in the water so I may or may not have kicked him in the face), I decided the only way to go was by finding a way to join the team and swimming at the Wodny Park Pool, locally known as “Warsawianka.” 

What did you think of Wodny Park, Amanda?

Swoon! (Yes, Jack, I am insanely jealous.)

Amanda: Plenty of aquatics facilities like to tout their “Olympic” pools, but Wodny Park can legitimately make this claim, at least in terms of size, with ten lanes of 50 meters. Additionally, according to the pool information on the Wodny Park website, “The first-class technical fittings include an electronic Omega timekeeper, an area for judges, commentators and trainers and appropriate lighting and sound systems in the swimming pool hall allowing for sporting competitions and television broadcasting to be performed. The water is maintained at a constant temperature. 600 people may watch sporting competitions in the auditorium at one time.”

Impressive numbers aside, this is a truly beautiful pool. In spite of the dreary early spring weather during my visit, the vaulted ceiling with wooden slats arcing gracefully over a full wall of windows on one side of the facility provided generous natural light. The water was a perfect temperature, and the pool is deep with well-marked lanes. Swimming long course was an extra special treat. And our hosts, the Warsaw Masters Team, were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Although the workout was given entirely in Polish, some very helpful lane-mates translated for us.

Jack, are they always so nice?

Jack: For the most part, yes. As I mentioned before, I had a hard time at first getting “invited” to join the team. My husband had the brilliant idea of basically stalking them – going to the pool while the team was practicing, swimming near them, and then introducing myself to the coach afterwards. It worked like a charm!

Once invited onto the team, most of the men and women could not have been more lovely. The main coaches I swim with, Milena and Patryk, always make sure to take time to explain the set to me in English (I’m the only non-Pole in the water on most days) or they ask one of the better English speakers to help me out. At the end of my first practice, I was even welcomed by one of the guys named Bartek to join them for breakfast and a fruit smoothie he had brought in for the swimmers from home!

Amanda – did you notice anything other than the gorgeous pool in the Wodny Park facility?

Family area with yonder water slides.

Amanda: The facility has so much to offer. There is a separate recreational pool with slides and toys for families; sadly, we did not partake. We also skipped the saunas, steam rooms, “snow cabins,” and solariums, but judging by the photos on Wodny Park’s website, it seems like it would be worth the splurge to pay the 79 Zloty (about US$21) for a full-day ticket to enjoy both the pool and saunas. The locker room, in the usual European fashion, is co-ed in the locker area, with private stalls for changing and single-sex shower areas. It is clean, well-lit, and spacious, with amenities like vanity mirrors and hair dryers. There’s even a bowling alley, spa, and full gym in the space!

Jack, have you tried out the snow cabins or the solariums?

Jack: I have gone to the “Russian Bania” once or twice, which is right off the recreational pool. It was quite an experience. I had assumed going in that it would be a more conservative (i.e., clothed) experience, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! Fully nude men, women, and children are all about using the several saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms, and even sunbathing outside on one of two all-nude sun decks. I mean, I’m from freaking Connecticut, you know? This was not normal for me – especially seeing a dad and his 12-year old girl chillin’ naked together in one of the steam rooms! – but when in Warsaw, you know?

Amanda – given all they had to offer, what did you think of the pricing?

Amanda: It’s very reasonable, although it is definitely a better value if you purchase a full day ticket and really take advantage of all the amenities. As a one-time visitor to the facility, I paid for a 2.5-hour single-entry swimming-only ticket for 35 Zloty (about US$9.25). Upon leaving, my ticket was scanned and I was reimbursed for the portion of time on my ticket that I hadn’t used (about 30 minutes). Aside from being a spectacular place to stretch out some sore traveling muscles and enjoy a fun organized workout, it was a really special part of my trip to be able to swim with Jack again and to have a little glimpse into his life in the place he and James are calling home for the next few years. 

Jack, how much did you love having me there??

Amanda: Honestly, it was one of my favorite practices of the year – except for the fact that you are now officially faster than me 100% of the time. Ok, well – we didn’t do any backstroke sets but otherwise you totally owned me!

Seriously though, it was lovely showing you off to my new Polish Team. So happy you came, and to finally be a part of this blog! Thanks Hannah – miss you and hope to swim with you soon!

To close, here are some of Amanda’s views of Warsaw’s Old Town Square, plus a current shot of what we are all missing at John Jay.

pool construction shot

Swamp no more? Reconstruction proceeds at John Jay College. (There’s a broken water pipe somewhere in here.)

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Winter Swimming in England

Thanks to Zoe (pictured at right alongside the Dart) for offering to report on swim conditions from her recent trip. With its year-round outdoor swim culture, England is high on my list of places to covet.

photo: Zoe feeling good after her Boxing Day swim in the River Dart.

Hannah’s suggestion that I visit some outdoor “lidos” during my Christmastime trip to England inspired me to seek out swimming during my vacation. While I didn’t end up swimming in an outdoor lido per se, I had two great swimming experiences.

Lido pronounced “lai-do” is British for swimming pool. Before my arrival in London (from New York), I did some research on winter outdoor lidos in the UK at the Outdoor Swimming Society’s website. A London-based friend directed me to an article, published in The Guardian newspaper in July 2015, on a swimmer’s journey over one weekend across London’s top 10 outdoor pools and ponds. I was fascinated to learn about the vibrant year-round outdoor swim culture in the UK, that also incorporates swimming in ponds and a lake London’s public parks.

In London, I headed to Hyde Park and walked alongside the Serpentine Lake that bisects the park while admiring the rich variety of waterfowl and other birds that inhabit it. Heading west, I arrived at the Serpentine Lido, the area of the lake roped off for the Serpentine Swim Club. The year-round open air swim club is the oldest swimming club in Great Britain. Members swim in the “lido” area between 6:00 and 9:30 every morning and also during its famous Christmas Day race. While I had arrived too late to see any people swimming, it was fun to see the lido and imagine the delights of swimming in this lovely public park.

photo: Serpentine Lake Lido, Hyde Park, London

Serpentine Lake Lido, Hyde Park, London

Hampstead Heath, a public park on a large ancient heath (an open area dominated by low-growing shrubland) in one of the highest points in London, is also well-known for its outdoor swimming. It includes one outdoor swimming pool and three bathing ponds; its Ladies’ Pond and Men’s Ponds are the UK’s only lifeguarded open water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. While I was attracted to the idea of swimming in outdoor pond solely for women, the cold water and my unfamiliarity of the park and the pond made me decide against it as the place for my first swim in England.

photo: light-filled 3-lane pool

The restored Art Deco pool at the Marshall Street Leisure Center in the West End of London.

After some online research, I selected as my swim venue the airy and light-filled 30-meter restored Art Deco indoor pool at the Marshall Street Leisure Centre & Spa, in the City of Westminster, in the West End of London. The location and open swim hours worked well with my schedule so I dropped in on a Friday afternoon after a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. The front desk associate was helpful and friendly, and, noting my accent, asked if I was American. I paid about $17.60 to use the pool and spa facilities, a rate that may have been discounted from the official rate for day use. The pool’s six lanes were divided into three sections: slow, medium, and fast. The medium lane turned out to be suitable for my approximately 20-minute swim, a combination of breaststroke, front crawl, and backstroke that seemed a reasonable workout, given that I was out of practice for lap swimming. Sharing the pool with about eight swimmers, my swim was pleasantly uncrowded. It was fun, as a visitor, to be able to use a gym and pool frequented by locals, and I felt grateful that I was allowed to do so. The swim and quick trip to the steam room afterward were welcome diversions from my sightseeing and made me feel more relaxed and open for the rest of my day’s tourist activities.

On Saturday, I boarded the train to Cambridge where I met my sister, Eve, who lives in and runs an interior design firm in the city. The next day, with her partner and son, we drove to Dartmouth, in Devon on the southwest of coast of England, where we met her daughter and eight other people with whom we would spend the next four days over the holiday in a large rented house up a hill above the River Dart. The Dart is an estuary that rises high to the moorlands of Dartmoor and releases into the English Channel at Dartmouth. The sparkling turquoise blue color of the Dart and the area’s mild climate that is hospitable to palm trees made Dartmouth seem almost tropical, amid the intermittent fog and drizzling rain.

photo: palm trees

A public park with palm trees in Dartmouth, England.

photo: riverside houses

Dartmouth on the River Dart in Devon in the southwest of England.

Swimming, it turns out, is a Christmas Day tradition in the United Kingdom, so on the holiday, I followed my fellow houseguest Tristan to the beach and watched him peel down to his trunks and swim far out toward the mouth of the turquoise river. Tristan told me that he always likes to swim when he’s on vacation. I promised myself that I would go for a swim the next day, which was Boxing Day in the UK. After breakfast the next morning, Tristan, another fellow houseguest Jon, and I set out downhill for the beach, accompanied by three others from our group. With the tide receding, we waded over a rocky bottom to deeper water with a soft sandy bottom, and then, screaming and yelling, we plunged in, while our companions cheered us on from a high point above the water. The river water was quite cold but not icy, and the outside temperature was about 50 Fahrenheit. I played with my fantasy of Dartmouth and England as a tropical paradise as I swam front and backstrokes and tasted the salty water, which Tristan noted was diluted with the onrushing freshwater draining down from the hillside into the river. We stayed in for just a few minutes and then ran out. After a wonderfully warm shower at the house, I was ready for an afternoon walk with my family members and newfound friends, who had generously shared this lovely part of the country and swimming in it, with me.

photo: Tristan swimming in the Dart on Christmas Day.

Tristan swimming in the Dart on Christmas Day.

Swimming, I learned, is an exceptional way to immerse myself in a culture and make a connection with people and a place. I returned from my trip energized and inspired, and excited for more swimming adventures in the new year.

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#99: MIT Zesiger Center

MIT pool - long viewLocation: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Configuration: 12 lanes of 25 yards plus diving well; 50 meters long in total

Fee: $10 day pass with non-MIT student ID, $15 day pass without student ID

A work event brought me to Boston in late September, so I seized the opportunity to try out pool #99 for a Friday night workout with MIT Tech Masters. What a good choice this was! The MIT Zesiger Center pool turned out to be the nicest indoor facility I’ve swum in on the East Coast. Opened in 2002, it still feels and looks brand new. The temperature was perfect, underwater visibility incredible, and my times faster than usual. If there had been a hot tub on deck, I’d probably still be there.

Coach Bill welcomed me to the workout, the club’s first on a Friday night since the spring. I shared a lane with just one other swimmer and somehow ended up doing about 14 laps of butterfly and 12 of breaststroke during the workout. Ouch!

The existence of a second pool (upper right) didn’t even tempt me, this one was so nice.

MIT pool artSwimming in the shallow end had the added benefit of proximity to a multipart art installation by Matthew Ritchie. The view at left, taken from the hallway outside the pool, is not as good as the one from within. Every time I breathed facing that window, I tried to figure out if it was a giant equation or other key to the universe. MIT takes its public art seriously, with a Percent-for-Art program of which this piece is just one example.

If the pool is any indication, sports facilities are taken seriously too — even though MIT is Division III. I wish schools in New York could do the same.

 

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Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

Amanda’s summer 2017 return visit to Iceland brought her to many Westfjords pools, which you can check out in her photo essay. Herein, she tackles Reykjavík, site of some of our previous exploits. Due to the “no photography” policy posted at all of these pools, she’s listed links to the websites for the facilities, which include images. The photographs below are hers. 

After a spectacular road trip around the Westfjords, we ended our 2017 Icelandic vacation with several days in and around Reykjavík, which in turn provided opportunities to visit a few more pools. My first stop was a return to Laugardalslaug, site of the IGLA Championships in 2012 that first brought me to Iceland. Unsurprisingly on a beautiful summer day, the outdoor pools and hot pots were crowded, but I had the indoor pool essentially to myself and enjoyed a nice long-course workout. I thought that the sight guides on the ceiling were a new addition, but photographic evidence from this blog proves me wrong. Nonetheless, swimming backstroke here remains a challenge. Most importantly, we did not leave the complex without a joyous trip down the waterslide, which was just as much fun as I remembered.

We spent a few lazy days at our friends’ summer house in the village of Borg, about one hour east of Reykjavík. Borg’s swimming pool is connected to an athletic complex featuring a gym, soccer fields, basketball courts, and a playground. Our 1000kr (US$9.30) entry fee gave us access to 4x25m outdoor lanes, one designated for lap swimming, two hot pots, a kiddie pool, and a basic (especially compared to the one at Laugardalslaug) waterslide. I found this pool unremarkable except for an epic meltdown by a young girl in the locker room, complete with crying, screaming, and the slamming of bathroom doors.

spectacularly blue waterfall

The spectacularly blue Brúarfoss, found not far from Borg.

What I did find remarkable was a pool in the quaint Reykjavík suburb of Hafnarfjörður, a picturesque harbor town and the third-largest city in Iceland, with 30,000 inhabitants. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Hafnarfjörður is that it is essentially built into the lava, with its well-kept houses, yards, and streets nestled carefully among hardened lava flows.

flowers

Some landscaping among the lava flows in Hafnarfjörður.

The city of Hafnarfjörður boasts three swimming facilities. We visited one: Suðurbæjarlaug. The 1100kr (US$10.25) entry fee included towel rental, which was convenient because we had walked there from where we were staying in Garðabær. The swimming facility is edged by a beautiful dark wood-paneled building, with a 5x25m outdoor pool with marked and roped lane lines for lap swimming connected to a smaller open swimming area. This large pool is also connected to an indoor pool, separated by a wall above the water, so you could swim under the wall and into the indoor section. It must be terribly convenient on rainy or snowy winter days.

At most of the pools we visited in Iceland, if anyone was using the designated lap-swimming lane it was usually only to swim a few leisurely laps before retreating to one of the hot pots. Suðurbæjarlaug was the only pool where I saw several serious lap swimmers with caps, goggles, and “toys” like fins and kickboards. There are also starting blocks, so my guess is that this is regularly used as a competition pool. As much as I enjoyed coming across this ideal set-up for swimming proper sets, I tried to keep my workout short so as not to get in the way of the locals.

The outdoor area at Suðurbæjarlaug also featured three hot pots and a cold pot, a kiddie pool, two waterslides, a steam room, as well as gender-specific nude steam rooms. The main locker room was spacious with full-size lockers, mirrors, and hair dryers. But one of my favorite features was the open-air locker room. When it’s available, I always opt for an outdoor shower. There is something especially pleasing about showering with an open sky above you. The presence of a neighborhood swimming facility like Suðurbæjarlaug makes it easy to understand why Iceland repeatedly ranks high in happiness measures.

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður.

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Closed for Renovations – John Jay College Pool

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

Cheers theme song

John Jay College Pool is–or was–my pre-work happy place, where I was guaranteed to see friends, laugh, vent, continue conversations from week to week and season to season, and always be glad I came. Here we effortlessly sorted ourselves into lanes, trading the lead and adjusting intervals without need for discussion, as only long-term swim mates can do. We also traded cookies, books, gossip, even bathing suits (mostly too-small hand-me-downs to Lisa Lisa and Piezy). The community here supported each other through sporting endeavors and also, simply by being there, through career ups and downs, sickness and health, births and deaths, and other life changes.

This is not to downplay the pool’s issues: bugs on deck, the non-working suit spinner and wringer, inconsistent water and deck temperature, periods of chemical imbalance and lifeguard unreliability, pieces of the ceiling falling onto swimmers, faded lane markings, uncleanable “white” boards, menacing hair balls, malodorous locker rooms, and broken lane lines are among the things we grumbled about. Nonetheless, these were far outweighed by the convenience and luxury of having the whole pool to ourselves before work two mornings a week.

My team’s history here is as old as the pool itself, dating to 1990, and this is where I first sampled TNYA in the early 2000s. Through December, we held about 9 swim practices here weekly, along with synchro and polo sessions, taking over all five lanes each time. Thus, the long-threatened and now actual closure of John Jay as of this week is a seismic jolt.

JJ website screen shot

Much has changed in the area since 1990. The neighborhood, and Hells Kitchen to the south, have gone from dicey to high-end, the college has expanded through the rest of the block and been surrounded by Citi Bike stations, the hospital across the street has been taken over by a conglomerate, the nearby breakfast options have multiplied, a subway line going from my apartment to this part of town has opened, and the pool was overdue for refreshing. The nascent rehabilitation holds the promise of “new tile work in and around the pool, new mechanical systems including the pool chlorination system, a new ceiling and lighting and renovated locker rooms.” (Confession: I left behind a swim suit, slightly hidden, as a test to see just how thoroughly the locker room is renovated.)

TNYA’s leadership has diligently sourced other pool options, though none as convenient or capacious at the crack of dawn. The team is hoping that the work will only take a year, which is hardly a nanosecond in the CUNY-verse, but the college has quoted its swimmers a period twice as long. Either way, I already miss John Jay terribly and would return to the hairball-infested, overly chlorinated water in an instant if only I could.

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#98: Richmond Plunge

full length of pool

Location: Richmond, California

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards plus shorter shallow lanes

Fee: $6 for non-residents

I thought I’d found pool heaven at Hansborough in Harlem, but it turns out that there is an even bigger, more light-filled pool paradise across the bay from San Francisco in Richmond, California. It’s the Richmond Plunge, which I visited on a sunny September Friday morning with local pool blogger Dave, who is a regular here on weekends. What a treat!

exterior with MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM sing

If only NYC’s Riverbank State Park had been built 70 years earlier, it might be showier, like this. The tunnel to the left leads to Keller Beach.

I’ve been unable to find an exact definition of this sense of “plunge,” but it seems to imply a cavernous, indoor, public pool built in the first half of the twentieth century, for both swimming and socializing, and situated near the California coast and likely near a train, too. The Richmond Plunge, opened in this bustling port and railroad town in 1926, ticks all these boxes. In fact, I first saw the building on my last trip to California, on the way to Keller Beach.

We had to wait a while out front for the pool to open due to a late lifeguard, something all too familiar to Riverbank swimmers a few years ago. The regulars who were gathered were reminiscent of Riverbank, too–a diverse slice of local life–making me speculate that perhaps my public pool of choice would have turned out like this if only it had been built 70 years earlier.

high ceiling above pool

How about that natural light and fresh air?

Once inside, I changed in the vintage locker room and paced the deck to fully take in the marvelous structure. The lights weren’t even turned on, all the better to appreciate the beams of sunshine streaming in from the east through windows that actually open.

The north half of the pool was set up with 8 x 25-yard lanes, and it was uncrowded enough that circle swimming wasn’t necessary. There was shorter-distance lap swimming without lane lines in the other end. The water had a silky quality due to the saline treatment system that was installed during a major renovation/rebuilding earlier this decade and is touted for its environmental sensitivity.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is adding new travel and recreational options for the area, which is part of a historic district in a town that’s seen some rough times. Anchored by this exemplary public amenity, and with a number of parks, museums, and historic sites nearby, Richmond and its plunge seem to have a bright future in store. I certainly hope to be back, especially now that my count of nearby nephews has doubled.

women's locker room windows

Simple yet classy locker rooms.

mural

This mural, based on a nearby park, was added during the recent renovation.

Hannah and Dave

Thanks to Dave for facilitating this pool visit.

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Cal Legends Aquatic Center


pool view through front door

My recent visit to the Bay Area did not include a swim in one of its newest pools, Cal Legends Aquatic Center. It’s unavailable to the likes of me, being reserved for the sole use of UC Berkeley’s renowned intercollegiate aquatics programs. The Golden Bears were constrained at the workmanlike Spieker pool, so a group of alumni up and bought the land for “more water,” had it built, and donated it to the college. How’s that for being true to your school?

I came by early on a Saturday morning to peer in through the fence at the year-old facility. The boxed-in setting is so similar to Spieker that I thought I might be in the wrong place, but the new diving tower is the giveaway. No more do Cal divers have to travel to Palo Alto to practice their high dives.

A group of women were nervously huddled on the highest platform, jumping one by one, so I’m convinced I was lucky enough to see varsity swimmers or fledgling recruits.

Meanwhile, Spieker and Cal’s other pools–Hearst, Golden Bear, and Strawberry Canyon–remain open to the rest of the community. Sources tell me that it may be possible to get into Legends if the other pools have to close unexpectedly, something not uncommon based on my experiences trying to swim at Cal, but in that case you get the water only and not the heated locker rooms and hot tub. (If any pool closures happen during my visits, I hereby plead the Fifth.)

As a staunch supporter of public education, I was glad to see that Cal beat the Cardinal team last year (in the Spieker pool no less). That said, I do find Stanford’s facility to be much more inspiring even than this new pool. Perhaps getting past the chain-link fence would change my mind.

pool view through the fence

Are those varsity swimmers up on the tower?

pool view through the fence

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#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. [Spring 2018 update: shampoo/conditioner dispensers have been removed.] 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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#96: Asphalt Green Battery Park City

photo: deep end of pool as seen from behind training pool

Location: Battery Park City, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 x 25 yards

Usual fee: $35 drop-in

Asphalt Green’s Battery Park City outpost was a long time coming. The Battery Park City Authority awarded the contract back in 2006, choosing Asphalt Green’s more expensive but more lucrative proposal over that from the YMCA of Greater New York. A target opening date of 2011 was set.

photo: entrance on North End Avenue

Entrance on North End Avenue.

BPCA leadership changed, the contract negotiation was revisited, and it looked like a 2012 opening was possible . . . and then along came Sandy. The superstorm hit hard in Lower Manhattan, and this facility was one of many casualties. Subsequent repairs and politicking added more than another year to the project, which finally opened in June 2013. Battery Park TV has the complete blow-by-blow for those interested in a lesson in civics and real estate.

After all those delays, it took me another few years to finally check out the pool. My lack of enthusiasm for the Upper East Side location and the existence of an identically configured but far more affordable Stuyvesant Community Center pool two blocks away are partly to blame. Luckily, a swim meet this past Sunday evening provided an easy, social, cheaper-than-drop-in opportunity to visit this pool.

photo: windows on west side of pool

Check out all the windows in this below-grade pool. Here’s the west view looking toward the World Financial Center and through the also well-fenestrated machine room. The upper-level windows on the east side (above me as I took this picture) allow passersby on North End Avenue to gaze in.

My assessment? While it probably would have been better for the community at large if a Y had opened here, it’s better for swimmers to have another Asphalt Green-run pool. It’s just your basic six-lane, 25-yard rectangle, but the water was deliciously cool even on this very hot afternoon with the sun streaming in and dozens of swimmers churning up the water and hanging out on deck. (One complaint: no chairs.) The staff and volunteers handled the meet operations very efficiently, and the adjacent movable-bottom, warm-water pool keep the members’ little kids happy.

photo: starting blocksBest of all were the starting blocks, a feature I don’t usually review. These had large, very gently sloped platforms, a great no-slip surface, and a step on the side for ease of ascent. The backstroke holds were nice and high, too. All in all, I’m convinced these represented the latest and greatest in block design.

Unlike at the uptown location, the locker rooms do not differentiate between members and guests, meaning that there are towels, shampoo, conditioner, and other well-stocked product dispensers for all comers. You should have heard the squeals of delight in the women’s locker room as the swimmers discovered this abundance.

blurry photo: Janet and Hannah

Pool pals. Photo by TNYA member Stan.

The “pentathlon” meet, consisting of five back-to-back sprint events, was quite a departure from my long-distance comfort zone. Fortunately, Janet joined me on the heels of her recent competition in Miami in both pool and synchro events, and there were a couple other TNYA members participating as well. Looking at the heat sheets, Janet and I learned that we were both the only entrants in our respective age groups, so any thoughts of just doing the warm-up and then ducking out were replaced by the idea of “winning” all five events.

I swam them all–50s of each stroke and then a 100 individual medley–and was pleased to beat my seed times in three of the events. The fact that I missed two reassured me that I wasn’t sandbagging. The atmosphere was low-key and welcoming, and there were more than a few novices giving it a go. There was also some seriously good swimming for those paying attention. All and all, a great little event courtesy of AGUA Masters and meet director Jack Fabian.

I can’t say what it would be like during regular lap swimming here, and $35 is steep for a 25-yard box, but the light is great, the lanes are wide, and the water’s cool–and that’s a lot more than you often get at New York City pools. Plus, did I mention the free conditioner?

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