What pool?

by Andrew Malinak

US Masters Swimming @mastersswimming just tweeted:

Seattle Seahawks quarterback @DangeRussWilson includes swimming in his training regimen. http://ow.ly/WCNaz  See you in the pool, Russel

What I find upsetting in that tweet is, after three years in Seattle, I’m still trying to figure out: What pool?

Another season is beginning and once again I’m looking for a pool. Two years ago, I looked around and came to the conclusion that no USMS team in Seattle was going to meet my training requirements. No two teams, for that matter. I tried BWAQ, the team in the really nice pool a half hour outside of town, but after two months of sitting in an added hour of rush hour traffic on my way from practice to work in Seattle, I gave up. I also tried HMST at the University of Washington, but I found there what I’d found at ORCA just a few months prior: a 90 minute swim in a crowded lane a few times a week doesn’t cut it. That isn’t serious training. There was no team for me.

And maybe that was the problem right there. In a city of 662,000, there is no Masters team. Let me clarify, there is one Masters “team,” Puget Sound Masters, but PSM is composed of 36 different workout groups, each with its own schedule, own pool, own payment system, and no connection to the other workout groups whatsoever. In 2015, the local LMSC had 1,686 registered swimmers, 1,348 (80%) of whom were part of PSM. With an enormous team like that, you’d think there’d be some leverage. But there is no PSM team.

Instead, what Seattle has is a disjointed hodge-podge of groups doing the best they can to each make it on their own. There are four viable workout groups at three locations (yes, two groups use the same pool) across the city each offering one workout per day with a total of 374 swimmers (the remainder of PSM swimmers are registered on teams outside of Seattle limits or unattached). Despite being on the same “team,” swimmers may not freely cross town to take advantage of a more convenient practice time with another workout group, and there are none of the benefits that come from having such a large membership. The workout groups don’t even share a website. In every way, they are individual teams.

To make it worse, the PSM landscape is set to change drastically in the next few years. The ageing UW pool (home of HMST, 85 swimmers) is rumored to be demolished in Spring or Summer of 2016 (though no official word is available), and the Juanita Aquatics Center (home of LWM, 83 swimmers) is slated for demolition in 2018 with no new pool in sight after 63% of voters rejected a ballot measure in 2015 that would have funded a replacement facility. The pools for 16% of the LMSC will disappear. Will the swimmers disappear with them?

Presently, Downtown Seattle has no pool that sustains a functional Masters program. Capitol Hill has two: one has two workout groups, the other has zero. Numerous athletic clubs and public pools in the area remain untapped by Masters, and unavailable to lap swimmers seeking some serious training. With no leverage, and no plan to band together, there will be no new training space.

Swimming in Seattle is in a crisis, or at best its in a stagnant state of neglect and disrepair with a further downturn coming soon.

So USMS,  it’s nice that Mr. Wilson has a place to swim in Seattle. I just wish I did, too.

Disclaimer: This past December, I applied for the open position as USMS CEO, but I don’t expect a call back.