Recently, the Opinion column in the Camas-Washougal Post Record suggested that a competition pool only satisfies the needs of a handful of local Camas/Washougal high school swimmers, and that it would be of little use to over 99% of the community. A similar argument could be made of many other community venues and facilities, but I think the more important point is that this view grossly underestimates the popularity of organized swimming.
There is a perception that swimming is a niche sport and that only a few participate in competitive swimming. In truth, it is precisely the opposite. Swimming on a team is the third fastest growing sport in the US (Sport & Fitness Industry Assoc 2017) and USA Swimming boasts 400,000 age-group members on more than 2,800 teams nationwide. US Masters Swimming represents 65,000 adult members, and USAT (triathlons) reports 4.04 million people participated in triathlons in 2017. In short, swimming is huge!
And it’s popular for all the right reasons. Swimming is an inexpensive lifelong sport that can be enjoyed from toddlerhood to the centennial years, and for most it is an exercise that is virtually pain and injury free. Indeed, the physical and mental benefits of lap swimming are well documented and indisputable. Moreover, swimming allows every person to pursue their own journey within it, in either a solo or group setting. Some might be training for headline events, but most pursue more personal goals.
The Opinion made the claim that only 80 Camas/Washougal high school swimmers (two-tenths of one percent of our county population) would ever need a competition pool, evidently concluding both that no other juveniles engage in organized swimming and that none of our adult and/or increasing senior population would ever have use of it either. Interestingly, that argument actually works better for sports other than swimming, and for sports venues already built.
With adults/seniors, even cursory research reveals that organized swimming is alive and well. There are regional and national masters meets, and multiple swim practices just for adults. It is not uncommon to attend a masters meet and see men and women in their 90s still competing! For those of us in masters swimming who have seen the packed 5:30 am practices, the swim meets with 65 heats of 100 free, and the 80-year-old who sets a state record, it boggles the mind to hear the assumption that adults are not interested in competitive or organized swimming. It simply isn’t true at all. In fact, the 2018 US Masters National Short Course Championship set a new attendance record, with over 2400 adults traveling to Indiana for a 4 day meet. Of those, over 400 were over the age of 65.
Even bigger is age group swimming. The Opinion assumes only high school swim team members need a competitive pool. Again, that just isn’t true. One only need visit an aquatic center in an afternoon to see hundreds of kids, of all ages and abilities, at swim practice. To suggest only the high school team needs a competitive pool is akin to suggesting that only the high school track team would use a track or only the high school tennis team would use tennis courts. These sports involve far more kids than the tiny percentage mentioned in the Opinion.
A competition pool offers benefits that a recreational pool simply cannot. Much like the football team needs a “real” stadium or bikers need a separate traffic lane, a swim team or fitness swimmer needs a competition pool for a proper workout. Those pools are designed for lap swimming, maintaining correct temperatures, dimensions, and atmosphere for a workout. They also provide practical, inexpensive, equipment-free, weatherproof use of virtually every single member of the community every single day of the year (yes, there is swim practice Thanksgiving morning!!). If you have a suit and goggles, you are ready to swim. High school swim teams, local swim teams, masters groups, home school swim groups, diving teams, teen fit classes (coached workouts w/o competition aspect), water polo, synchronized swimming, triathlete training, open lap swimming, pre-swim team (kids bridging lessons to workout level), regional and national meets, lap swimming for physically handicapped (chair lifts in/out pool) and others can all use the competition pool without ever once setting foot in the recreational pool, which would be fully booked with swim lessons, water aerobics, lifeguard classes, fun/family swim, and physical therapy patients.
I recently returned to North Carolina to see family and took the opportunity to research a few pools when I heard about the Opinion published. In Fort Mill, SC (popl 17k, 25 min from Charlotte) the city is building an Olympic sized pool (50 m x 25 y) on land from a defunct mill donated by Springs Industries. Fort Mill already has an 8 lane, 25 yd pool but demand exceeds space. In Huntersville, NC (popl 50k, 25 min from Charlotte) the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center was built, with both an Olympic and recreational pool. In Greensboro NC (popl 273k in 2011), it took years and multiple denied bond votes before an aquatic center was built in 2011. The city is now building its fourth pool on the same site to satisfy unprecedented demand. And in little Clover SC (popl 5900!!) the town enjoys a 25 yd competition pool, a 25 yd recreational pool, and an Olympic sized pool all on a single site.
Locally, Bend OR (popl 75k in 2007) built Juniper Aquatic Center in 2007 with both an Olympic and recreational pool. And Issaquah WA (popl 38k) enjoys an aquatic center with a competition and recreational pool. Mike Nelson, from the Facilities Development Department of USA Swimming, advised me that “every ‘new design’ aquatic facility we have been involved with in the past 14 years has had multiple pools.”
Camas/Washougal (popl 40k) and Vancouver (popl 173k) would greatly benefit from an aquatic center that includes a competition pool and recreational venues. I think this area could accommodate an Olympic pool and recreational pool, and that such an option should be considered. Such a facility would comply with US Swimming requirements, availing us to regional and national meets that generate revenue. The demand is there, and will only increase when the facility is built. Indeed, the Beaverton facility undoubtedly pulls in swimmers from areas far beyond what its founders likely ever envisioned. More importantly, two pools would do a better job of addressing water safety. Swimming lessons and water safety are paramount. They should be a robust aspect of any water facility and there should be plentiful and budget-friendly options.
Every pool in the area should be busy with swim lessons. Two pools gives us the flexibility and logistics to coordinate both lap swimming and swim lessons, which often have competing needs with temperatures, lane lines, and coaches/teachers needing deck space. A larger facility also eliminates buyer’s remorse, where we outgrow what we’ve built before it’s ever used. While interest and usage must certainly be researched in these planning stages, there is a well-known maxim that “if you build it, they will come.” A city doesn’t just build a high dollar race track, casino, or music hall, for example, because it has ascertained that an unusually large number of those participants happen to live in the local area. Rather, it sees a hole in the market and fills it and, if thorough research was done, the effort is community enriching and financially responsible.
I’m sure such effort was made before many other facilities in this area were built. The football stadium, the library, the Excelsior culinary program, Camas High ceramics studio, and the waterfront park are all different and varied examples of this community going the extra mile to build something special and that would meet the needs of its people not just now, but for years to come.
By Connie Roberts