He'll Miss the old Swimming Pools

darkenedpoolWhen I was a kid, I never wanted to get out of the lake at the end of the day. My mom would yell from shore: “Look, your lips are blue. If you don’t get out this minute you’ll die of pneumonia.”

Of course I didn’t die from blue lips. And while I’ve gotten tired from swimming, I’ve never gotten tired of swimming. Not once. For someone who loves to plod from one end of a pool to the other, over and over and over, working at St. Thomas has been natatorial nirvana.

We didn’t have one pool, we had two. At the moment, however, we have zero. O’Shaughnessy Hall and its leaky, 70-year-old pool was demolished to make way for the new student center. Last Friday, I took my final swim in the 42-year-old McCarthy Gym pool on south campus. When a renovated McCarthy opens this fall, it won’t have a pool.

So for a few months, St. Thomas swimmers are tied to the dock. Watch out; we are addicts and without our pool fix we’re going to be crabby until the new aquatic center opens this August in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. It makes perfect sense to have a single, spectacular pool on campus, and I can hardly wait to dive in. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the old pools. They were familiar and comfortable, as were the cast of locker-room characters whom I’ve come to know as well as members of my family.

During my last swim in McCarthy, I tried to recall if I’ve had any profound thoughts while swimming here over the past 30 years and several thousand miles. I believe the answer is not even one, except maybe this one that snuck in last Friday.

It occurred that what draws me to the pool each day is the freedom I give myself not to think in the water. No matter what else is going on in my life, I get to spend 35 or 40 minutes doing nothing more than swimming 27 strokes, hitting the wall, turning around, and doing it again. At 36 walls you reach a half mile. At 72 walls, it’s time for a warm shower.  The reset button has been pushed.

It might seem odd that an institution of higher learning is investing a lot of money to provide me with a place not to think. That’s silly, of course. It speaks to our commitment to educate the whole person: the mind, the soul and the fish parts.