40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#76: Hopkins School Pool

Amanda and me at the Hopkins poolLocation: New Haven, Connecticut

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free as visitor to Hopkins Masters Swim Team

In addition to the California trip during my time off in May, I took the opportunity to visit friends and cats in New Haven. Amanda had long been lobbying for me to join her for a masters swim there, and I was glad to finally do so, even if it was more of a hot cocoa kind of day than you’d expect after Memorial Day.

She used to do morning workouts at a certain Ivy League college but decamped for an even older school: Hopkins, home of the Hilltoppers. Founded in 1660, Hopkins moved to its current location atop a hill on the west side of town in the 1920s. Students here follow a traditional curriculum including the study of Latin. My friend Karen is an alumna, and she said the smell of chlorine at a recent reunion instantly evoked her school days.

Amanda’s first dip there was last November. “The pool is beautiful, water temperature is perfect, the coach was lovely, and the workout was challenging without being impossible,” she reported. All of this proved true. The evening masters workout with Coach Bob was nicely tailored to the various goals of the small, friendly group. We used three lanes, and the Hopkins girls’ team zipped around in the other three. The pool somehow reminded me of my own school training grounds: Poughkeepsie Middle School. Perhaps it was the shape of the room, the position of the bleachers, or the corner door to the outside.

pace clockThe real curiosity, though, was the clock. As Amanda described, “the coolest thing (I thought) was that they program the entire workout, including rest, into the digital clock, so you don’t ever have to keep track of where you are on the intervals. The clock tells you which set and repetition you’re on, so you just leave at the appropriate time.” My photo does not do it justice.

I have never seen such a thing and didn’t fully grasp it. As Coach Bob said, it’s idiot proof but not fool proof. You still have to know the number of repetitions and the interval for your set. If, say, you’re in lane 2 doing 6 x 100s on 1:30, you’ll use the second row of the clock. The rep number displays in the second column, and the time ticks away to the right of that. When the clock shows 1:30, you take off, the time switches back to 0:00, and the rep changes to 3. It requires the coach to plan ahead–even the rest between sets is preprogrammed–but that groundwork means that swimmers do not have to calculate intervals.

Little did we know that my swim was especially well timed. Soon after my visit, Amanda up and got herself a job in New York that starts next week. She’ll really miss Coach Bob and the hilltop pool, but she’s glad to be returning to the Big Apple after an eight-year exile. Carpe piscinam, as the Hilltoppers might say.

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#74: Avery Aquatic Center Belardi Pool

Belardi training pool

Belardi Pool

Location: Stanford, California

Configuration: You name it. 10 lanes x 50 meters during my workout in the Belardi Pool.

Fee: Free with Stanford Masters Swimming

Australia has met its match in Stanford University’s Avery Aquatic Center, a quartet of pools best viewed by helicopter or wide-angle video. I swam in the 50-meter-by-25-meter deepwater pool last Monday at lunchtime while Dr. Little Brother worked on campus.

It took me some time to understand the array of swim options here, so allow me to elucidate. The pool the masters team used–Belardi, at right–is the biggest, but just barely. Across the deck is another 10-lane, 50-meter pool, with the distinguishing attributes of being more shallow and just 25 yards across. That’s the Baker Pool (below right), and it was open to aqua jogging and solo lap swimming.

Meanwhile, two other pools sat idle. I could admire the 10-meter diving platform–a feat of architecture–of the Maas Diving Center during my laps. I could also see the stadium seating by the Competition Pool, where most of the high-speed action takes place in a 25-yard format. It can host springboard diving for good measure, too. It’s no coincidence that Stanford’s athletic programs are second to none.

If you were to max out the pools in short-course configurations, you could have more than 40 lap lanes under the Silicon Valley sun. Who needs 40 pools with all those options?!

Baker Pool

Baker Pool in the foreground, with Belardi Pool off yonder.

Maas Diving Center

Maas Diving Center

Competition Pool

Competition Pool

While many generous donors have contributed to making the facility so top-of-the line, including an anonymous donor who paid to renovate the team locker rooms, the Avery family is the benefactor behind much of this aquatic wonderland. However, their generosity did not stop here. They funded a new, purely recreational pool–also 50 meters–that opened on the other side of campus last fall.

The masters team was the only way in for an unaffiliated civilian such as myself, and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. In fact, workouts are free for all visitors. We had the deep, clear saltwater of Belardi Pool all to ourselves, an incredibly luxurious feeling. The coach placed me into a lane, and one of the other swimmers gave me the crucial bit of information that they space themselves out by 10 seconds, since they have so much room. For a while, it seemed that we gained a new swimmer with every two laps, but I didn’t overlap at the wall with most of those people.

With such amazing pools, the guest locker rooms were a bit of a disappointment, not least because they lacked lockers. Perhaps a donor can be cultivated to add secure storage and additional benches within this otherwise perfect facility. Meanwhile, don’t let this minor drawback keep you away.


These two doors go to the exact same place.


#73: Clarke Memorial Swim Center

Walnut Creek pool, the long wayLocation: Walnut Creek, California

Configuration: 20 x 25 yards (or 9 x 50 meters, and there’s also a 25-meter pool)

Fee: $6 drop-in

I traveled across the country for an intensive training weekend at the Clarke Memorial Swim Center several years ago. Highlights outside the pool included a nutrition workshop at a nearby store and a community pancake breakfast with the most delicious strawberry preserves I’ve ever had. There were scores of swimmers and at least a dozen coaches, and I had a great time.

The head coach of the weekend and the pool’s USMS team, Kerry O’Brien, is the namesake for USMS’s annual coaching awards. Other renowned programs here include a youth synchro team and an age group team.  They churn out records and Olympians at an alarming rate.

occupant load limitsI’m back in the Bay Area for family festivities and was happy to return to Walnut Creek for the Saturday morning USMS workout at the suggestion of Dolphin Club Swimmer Suz. Her friend Cindy transported me from the nearby BART station and filled me in on the latest pool news. Shockingly, this legendary pool and year-round community hub is under threat of closure for most of the year to help right the municipal budget.

Needless to say, swimmers and their families have rallied on behalf of their beloved pool, and it looks like the City Council may have listened, however the budget is not yet finalized. I plan to send off a note in support of the pool and hope that anyone else who has taken advantage of this facility will do the same.

The masters workout had about 10 lanes or so, with part of the pool sectioned off for synchro competitors to warm up in–although the entire pool is quite shallow. I shared a lane with two younger women who were sisters and their mother, who kindly welcomed me into their swim family. The water was lightly salty and very clear.

DSCN1232_walnut_creekIt’s hard to say whether the pool makes the community or vice versa, but it really is a special place. The facility was overflowing with people during my visit, and I had to wait a while for a spot in the shower after my swim. I was happy to enjoy the locker room chatter in the meantime (“locker room” being a misnomer for this room without lockers).

The swim complex sits in Heather Farm Park, which includes all kinds of things–lake, gardens, community center, play areas, picnic areas, tennis courts, an equestrian center, and a bike path connection. If for some reason you wanted to a non-swim activity, there are plenty of choices. Me, I’ll stick to swimming and hope that’s an option next time I’m in town.



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#62: Hostos Community College Pool

Hostos Caiman logoLocation: South Bronx, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: $13.33 TNYA drop-in

Ever resourceful and adventurous, my team recently added an outpost in the Bronx: Hostos Community College. This change, made because the City College pool is likely to remain closed the entire school year, reflects both the beauty and frustrations of the City University system–the former being that so many of the campuses have pools, the latter how poorly they are maintained.

shallow end

Happily, the Hostos pool is a worthy substitute for my beloved City College, with six lanes of sparkling clear water. It dates to just 1994, when the school’s East Academic Complex was built, and recently underwent renovation, so we can hope that it still has many good years ahead. Moreover, for many of my teammates, it’s easier to get to than City College despite being across a borough line, because it is on the same block as an express subway station. Arriving via bike, I was glad that the location is just a few blocks from the 145th Street Bridge.

We had a good turnout the night of my debut swim there, last Thursday, with Coach Scott at the helm. Pool pals Janet, Audrey, and I shared a lane going on the same intervals as the boys next door. Could the water have been cooler? Yes. Better pH-balanced? Definitely. Would I go back? Of course. Can you swim here? Only with my team or if you have a Hostos affiliation, as far as I can tell.

suck it in

What’s up with the alligator on the wall, you may wonder. I thought it may have been a reference to the mythical alligators in the sewers of New York, something best not to dwell on when in a pool connected to said system. However, it turns out that the logo depicts a caiman, which became the school’s mascot in 2002.

The locker room had more lockers per square foot than I’ve ever seen, a feat accomplished by a great slimming down of usual locker dimensions. It took some muscle to get my bag jammed into the locker, and even more to get it out again later. The ratio of showers to lockers is rather skewed. Of the three showers, only one had a handle, making it the only one we could use. Next time, bring a vice grip.


Swimming My Age

Swimmer Magazine Fourth of July group photo at Riverbank

Look, kids, we made Swimmer! This picture from our early morning Fourth of July swim at Riverbank’s outdoor pool accompanies an article about age-related swim quests in the January-February issue of the USMS magazine. The other main subject is a gentleman who set out to swim in all 50 states as he approached 50. Hmmmm. . .

I like the title of the article, “Swim Your Age,” and think it works especially well with this picture showing friends ages 26 to 50 all doing the age-appropriate activity of swimming on the nation’s birthday.

My only quibble with the piece is that it got my age wrong! At the time it was written in the late fall, I was up to 53 pools and still just 40 years young, but it says I’m 41. That was a bit of a shock to read when it came in the mail, a few days before I marked that milestone.

Read the full article here.

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#47: Chelsea Piers Sports Center Pool

Lounging by the poolLocation: Chelsea, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free with guest pass, otherwise $50 per day

Fees to Date: $191.87

As impossible as it seems four days later, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a Hudson River pier was a relaxing place to spend Friday night. I hurried out of work to meet a few friends down at Chelsea Piers, the luxe sports complex, as Janet had some free passes that were about to expire. She, Rondi, John, and I got in some sorely needed practice with pool-to-hot tub transitions and did a challenging workout with the USMS team alongside our beach buddy Sil.

The four piers that are now part of the sports and entertainment complex known as Chelsea Piers entered this new chapter of existence in the mid-1990s, having outlived their glorious maritime past. (How glorious? This is where the Titanic was heading a century ago.) Photos from the piers’ heyday line some of the repurposed waterfront walkways, lending a sense of place and history. People who come here now intend to stay rather than to set sail.

The developers of the new Chelsea Piers focused on sports that weren’t widely available in New York. You won’t find tennis or handball here, but you will find gymnastics, bowling, boxing, rock climbing, ice skating, beach volleyball, a driving range, a marina, and a pool. Throw in a quarter-mile indoor track, a large assortment of machines and cardio equipment, and a spa, and there’s more than enough to do for days on end. The pool is part of Sports Center at Pier 60, which is the membership gym, whereas the rest of the piers are mostly pay-as-you-go.

hot tub!

Me and Coach David after the workout.

I can’t say I’m in love with the management here, nor do I appreciate how the complex squished the Hudson River Greenway into a dangerously skinny strip out front, but I always appreciate a visit to the pool and locker rooms. The pool is on the upper level at the western end of the pier, far out in the Hudson, with seemingly only a sun deck separating it from New Jersey. The floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides bring in my second-favorite pool amenity: light. In the corner, there’s my favorite thing–the hot tub. I only wish I had visited on a sunny day so that the pictures truly captured the experience. Instead, check out this 360-degree view.

Without these elements, the pool is just standard. It’s a bit on the warm side–though you don’t realize this when you come from the hot tub–and the water always seems to be a little cloudy. A strange rim around the edge a few inches below the surface messes up my flip turns. The lifeguards are fairly proactive about ensuring a pleasant swim experience, but space is limited.

The locker rooms, on the other hand, are a cut above, with attractive tiling and wood decor, private showers, plush chairs, and plenty of room. They give out bathrobes (see above), and I recommend that you take one for the long walk to the pool. Towels are abundant, as is all manner of product for hair and body. Pretty much all you need to bring is your swim suit, cap, and goggles.

The facility sustained significant water damage and lost power due to the storm and is now closed at least until next weekend. The piers have seen a lot in their day, so here’s hoping that they are soon again in business and that this latest challenge becomes just another page in the history books.


#12: LIU Brooklyn Pool

LIU basketball court inside old Brooklyn Paramount Theatre

Brooklyn Paramount Theatre basketball court image courtesy of the internets.

Location: Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $13.33 with TNYA Splash Card

Total Fees to Date: $128.91

The basketball court in the old fitness center is a great reason to visit the LIU Brooklyn pool in the new fitness center. You enter campus via the former, which was originally the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, described as the most beautiful movie theater in the world when it opened 1928. The theater closed in 1962 and the next year was transformed into, of all things, a basketball court. Remarkably, many aspects of the theater remain intact and exposed, including ornate balcony seating, an intricately latticed ceiling, and the elaborate proscenium and stage area. Apparently there’s even a Wurlitzer organ that used to play during games–talk about Linsane! (Word is that the new Wellness, Recreation, and Athletic Center aka WRAC hosts the basketball games now, sans organ, but the teams still sometimes practice in the old Paramount.)

Be sure to look around in here on your way to the pool. (You can also get a sense of the place in these pictures and these). Then, exit to the courtyard, walk past an outdoor seating area, go straight ahead into the new WRAC, and head one flight down for the locker rooms and pool.

Elisabeth, Conrad, me

Miss Co-President, coach Conrad, and me.

My trip to this marvel was prompted by fellow John Jay morning swimmer Elisabeth, who was just elected co-president of TNYA, the first time in my membership that we’ve had someone from the women’s locker room at the helm. (Go Elisabeth!) As part of her inauguration tour, she decided to visit our Brooklyn outpost, which has practices at the same time we usually swim at John Jay. Never one to miss a pool opportunity, I joined her there for this morning’s workout. I was also glad for the chance to swim a last workout with Conrad, whose stint as head coach ends soon.

LIU Brooklyn poolThe pool that hosted us opened in 2006 with the rest of the WRAC, which is much more slick, albeit less charming, than the converted theater. The new facility was designed by the founded-in-Miami firm Arquitectonica. Any connection to southern Florida bodes well for a pool, and indeed this one is well done and well maintained, though on the warm side today. It has 8 wide lanes plus an entry nook, a high set of windows on one side, and a view up into the campus Fitness Center on the other. The weather today is pretty dreary, but when it’s nice out the sun shines in. The locker rooms, too, are pleasantly spacious.

Like other private college pools, this one is generally not open to the public, so you’ll have to swim with my team or finagle another way in if you want to visit. [Update: Neighborhood residents who show ID can get in on Saturday afternoons approximately 12:30-3.] If you can’t make it as far as the pool, I hope you at least get to see the old basketball court.


#11: SUNY New Paltz Elting Pool

Location: New Paltz, New YorkElting Pool at SUNY New Paltz

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free drop-in with Gunks Masters

Total Fees to Date: $115.58

I was back in my hometown of Poughkeepsie last night and used the opportunity to swim this morning’s Gunks Masters practice, which was over the river and through the woods at SUNY New Paltz’s Elting Pool. The team had five lanes of the pool for a 1 1/2-hour practice coached by a recent New Paltz graduate, Pete. A varsity women’s swimmer in training for NCAAs used the sixth lane, right under the record board where she’s listed multiple times.

Dave, who had suggested I visit, is a friend from the beach and NYC Swim events. Two years ago, he rented out this pool for 12 hours in order to celebrate his 45th birthday by swimming 45,000 yards. Last summer, another swimming brainchild of his came to life: the seven-day, 120-mile 8 Bridges Swim through the Hudson Valley. The man likes to swim.

I think I had been to this pool once or twice in my younger years, but I’m not 100% certain. It was built in 1964, and, as Dave quipped, it has not stood the test of time as well as one of his teammates who was born the same year. The lanes are rather narrow, the room is dark despite a line of windows on the north side, and climbing out requires considerable upper body strength unless you opt for the ladder. The women’s locker room was designed for people with smaller dimensions than my own; the shower hit me slightly above the belly button. Happily, there is a plan for a new pool to be added within the existing building, but the timeline is unclear.

Post-breakfast at Karma Road

Ed, Tera, Willie, Dave, and me--chlorinated, full, and happy.

After a nice warm-up, the practice switched gears into a fast-paced distance set. Two of my lane-mates had wing spans significantly wider than my own long arms, and it took concentration to not hit them. (I succeeded in avoiding them but was not so good at staying clear of the adjacent lane, twice making contact over there. Sorry!) I enjoyed looking up at the brick-red ceiling during backstroke.

Following the workout, several of us partook of the other time-honored masters swim tradition: hearty servings of breakfast and swim gossip. Yum!

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One Hour Swim, Part 2

One Hour Swim at John Jay Pool

Yesterday I completed the second and final part of my 2012 One Hour Swim challenge by doing the swim in the 40-44 age group. John Jay Pool hosted 8 heats of TNYAers and guests pushing it to the limit for an hour. Volunteers from our charity partner, the AIDS Service Center, were out in force to cheer (note the orange pom-poms, upper left) and provided post-swim treats, acupressure, and massage. Expert counter Janet kept my tally and made kickboard signals exactly as directed.

I’d conceived this as a race between my 39-year-old self and my 40-year-old self. Funnily enough, the latter swam exactly 40 fewer yards. Being a pool connoisseur, though, I realize that the pool must be considered a player as well. Columbia, which hosted my Hour earlier in the month, had the advantage. Although John Jay’s greennees is slowly fading, Columbia has superior hydrodynamics, visibility, water temperature, and bottom-of-the-pool entertainment. Plus, during my Columbia swim I had my own lane and the chance to watch a regular workout, with sprints, across the lane line, rather than being in a pool full of Hour Swimmers slogging away. Regardless, I’m happy with the effort and am already looking forward to trying to improve upon my 40-44 PR next January.

My heat was the first of the day, and I stuck around the rest of the time to catch up with friends, count for other swimmers, and generally support this inspiring event. It was the last one that Conrad directed for the team, as he is stepping down as head coach in March, and I will miss him. Here’s hoping that next year he will get to experience the event in the water rather than on the deck.


#6: Poughkeepsie Middle School Pool

Poughkeepsie Middle School poolLocation: Poughkeepsie, New York

Fee: Free as first-time visitor to FISH Masters, otherwise $10 workout drop-in charge

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $50.33

Sometimes a swim is just a swim. Today’s was a lot more: walk down memory lane, inspiration to seek out an artifact from my teenage years, and meditation on a love lost and regained. With all these Deep Thoughts coming from what is just my sixth pool of the year, I wonder what else this project has in store.

The setting was the pool where I’d spent four fall seasons on the Poughkeepsie High School girls’ swim team, 1985-1988. The pool is totally recognizable from those days, and that’s not a bad thing—it was in good shape then, and it’s in good shape now. FISH Masters packed the place and was all business for the hour-long workout this morning.

Today’s swim buddy was Carolyn, who used to live in New York City and swim at Riverbank and now lives and swims in Poughkeepsie. She’s my opposite in that way but a kindred spirit in another: She is already planning to do the Hour Swim twice next January, as she is a fellow Capricorn and will be advancing into a new age bracket just as I did earlier this month. She helps organize the FISH behind the scenes, and I’m glad to have learned about this team from her during a chance encounter at the ‘Bank.

What can I tell you about the pool? It’s brightly lighted by numerous underwater beams. The temperature and water clarity were fine, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more width in the lanes. The diving board that was in place for my first three seasons and then taken out of service because of a depth-requirement change has not returned. The locker rooms are spacious, the showerheads even lower than I normally encounter. Due to some roof issues, the pool will be closing for repairs later this winter, so FISH Masters may relocate temporarily to nearby waters. For me, their change could be an opportunity to log another pool.

Poughkeepsie Middle School pool record board

The two record boards I contemplated endlessly in my younger days are still in place, albeit with nearly all-new marks in the girls’ column. The record I coveted but never cracked is now about 5 seconds faster. Congratulations to backstroker C. Key, whoever you are.

Returning to this pool prompted me to reflect on the many benefits of interscholastic sports, and to see how consistent my current love of swimming is with my earlier self. Thanks to the swim team, I developed friendships with many people I would not have grown to know otherwise. Because not every school had a girls’ swim team, and Poughkeepsie’s student body was relatively small, we traveled quite a distance to compete with others in our league. We used to fill the time with stories about plunging off the Tappan Zee Bridge on our way to the far edge of Rockland County, and given the state of the bridge today I feel like we were prescient. The schools we competed against were for the most part considerably wealthier and more homogenous than our own, so we learned that Poughkeepsie was different in that regard. We learned about good days and bad days, that sometimes a loss can be as triumphant as a win, and what it means to be part of a team. Shockingly with the benefit of hindsight, we fueled ourselves with McDonald’s.

Pioneer Swimming notebook

My high school swim notebook. The Far Side cartoon caption reads, "And always--always--remember this: A swimmer in the water is worth two on the beach."

The local paper covered high school sports closely. I cut out the articles and compiled them into my own notebook along with annotations and certificates, and I dug this out of the closet at my mom’s house after my swim. Mom was surprised to see certificates from two spring seasons on the track and soccer teams, respectively. That’s all I have from those teams, which competed infrequently and lost consistently; I was not passionate enough to record the details. Swimming is a whole other story—I am certain that I have every Poughkeepsie Journal swimming article from my four seasons, and I annotated the results with details about my starts, turns, splits, and coach’s advice. If a Pool Tourism museum ever opens, this book would have to be part of the collection, as it logs what teams we competed against and in what pools, including one that I described as “disgusting.” (Peekskill. Consider yourself warned.) The meet results show that I swam 100 fly fairly often during my junior and senior years, which I have absolutely no recollection of and which makes my two-year-old effort to swim at least two laps of fly in every workout seem less heroic.

I swam in college for the three seasons that I was on campus, but my devotion to the sport faded. I was not as good relative to my competition, both in the classroom and in the pool, and I was not as socially connected with the swim team. My love of swimming was rekindled largely by NYC Swim open water events, and one reason I’m so enamored of those is clearly the fact that results are recorded for posterity on the web—no scrapbook needed.

With my love of swimming back at the fore these past several years, I’ve found that my times interest me less than they used to. Instead, I enjoy the ever-growing swim community more than ever and also like to undertake swim-related challenges, whether it’s the two-in-one-month Hour Swims, scenic open water events, or a quest to swim in 40 pools. My relationship with swimming may continue to change, but we’re going to be together for the long haul.

A 1988 clipping in my notebook reminded me of another pool important to my development. During the winter season at that time, this article reported, five high school boys’ teams all practiced at PMS (yup, that’s what we called it), and the schedule was inadequate. Some of them also used the Poughkeepsie YMCA, which cannot be part of this project because it closed three years ago. Just two blocks from the house I grew up in, the Y pool was where I attended gym-n-swim as a tot, joined my first swim team (Dutchess Devilfish) around the time of the 1984 Olympics, suffered pool withdrawal when it closed temporarily for asbestos removal, took lifesaving classes, and generally spent a lot of time. RIP, and may that pool rise again to ease the burden in this pool-deprived area so more potential swimmers can be introduced to this amazing lifetime sport.

Meanwhile, should you go to a 6:15 a.m. swim workout at PMS, you might wonder who would possibly bother the stuff in your saddle bag when you lock up your bike with plans to return by 7:30. If you thought that was a rhetorical question, you made a mistake, and the answer is that PMS opens earlier than it used to and thus you should not be surprised to find your 16″ inner tube, adjustable crescent wrench, and reflective cuff strap missing. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, though. Feel sorry for the person whose life is so lacking that going for cheap thrills by stealing other people’s stuff is the best they can do.