When most people think of Stowe, Vermont, they think about skiing. Who would guess that this rural Vermont ski town is home to one VERY cool swimming pool?
Everything about this pool makes you smile. For starters, it’s called The Swimming Hole — a name that conjures up warm, lazy summer days spent playing on sunny ledges above a clear and cold natural plunge pool. Swimming holes are usually secret spots known only to you and your best buddies. These kinds of private spots are hard to find these days (although they still exist in beautiful Vermont), so you can get a sense of where the community was coming from when they named this place The Swimming Hole.
The story behind The Swimming Hole is also cool. According to the facility’s website, a group of people got together to create a non-profit, community pool that would be affordable and accessible to local families. In designing the structure, the community looked around, and looked to its roots. Farms and barns are plentiful in the north of Vermont, so they decided to house their pool (as well as cardio, weight-circuit, cycling, and exercise rooms) within the framework of a big red barn, complete with a faux silo near the front entrance. They located the building — where else — just outside town in the middle of what looked to be a cornfield. (To get a sense of what this place is like, you’ll need to go to their website and check the photos. I took photos, but lost them in a bungled photo download — sorry.)
OK. So the structure is unusual. But what about the pool? Would you believe an 8-lane, 25-meter competition pool with diving board? And right next to the main pool is a smaller, warm-water pool with zero-grade entry, looping waterslide, and several in-water play stations set up to amuse and instruct. The locker rooms were carpeted and plush, and the pool deck boasted radiant flooring that extended up the tiled walls to about chest level. Ahhhh. A swimmer’s dream.
The occasion for my visit to The Swimming Hole was a Masters mini meet held last weekend. It was billed as a two-hour meet, which seemed mighty appealing after the New England Masters SCY Championships I attended just three weeks ago. That meet — held at Harvard University — was billed as the second largest Masters meet in US history and required nearly 36 hours of pool time to complete. So, on a lark, a teammate and I drove up to Stowe to check out this swimming pool in a barn.
After being blown away by the facility, we got in for warmup at 5:30 pm. The water was 82 degrees F (not quite chilly enough for competition) and there were no electronic touchpads, but these things later turned out to be a blessing. Warmup was actually very pleasant. There were so few competitors (26 total) that we each got to split a lane with no one else in it. When it was time to practice a few starts, there was no referee telling us which lanes or how many lanes to use. The swimmers decided what to do, and it was all very polite and nice.
When we finished warmup, we went to look at the heat sheets. Ouch. My friend and I had each entered 5 events, the maximum, but there were only 18 total heats in the entire meet. My friend was in the first 3 events (50 free, 100 fly, 50 back), which turned out to be the first three heats. I had a better spread of events — only two of my swims were in back-to-back heats. So much for snaring some best times in a SCM pool! This meet would be all about survival — kind of like the infamous "Satan Set" in which you do 6 X 100 all out from the blocks on a six-minute sendoff aiming for all swims to be within 6 seconds of your best time.
My friend and I contemplated scratching a few events to ease the pain, but decided to just go for it.This meet would be what it would be. And when they announced that the winner of every heat would receive a small rubber toy, well — what more incentive could you ask for?
Long story short. The meet lasted 72 minutes. We swam faster than we thought we would, given the fact that we would literally finish one race, slide over a couple of lanes, climb out, and get up on the blocks for a new event. We had no time to think about ANYTHING except racing — and we were racing EVERYONE else (there were no age-group distinctions and we were racing men and women in each heat for those nifty rubber toys). The experience was totally refreshing, and so different from most meets where you have HOURS to think about the details of every race. It was fun to race spontaneously — to give all you had for as long as you could hold out. And it taught the valuable lesson that if it you don’t focus on and master something in practice, it ain’t gonna be in there when you step to the blocks to race. ("It" being technique, race strategy, starts, turns, you name it.)
When the gun goes off (at this meet, the gun was replaced by the starter saying "Go!") you’ve gotta be ready to let thought go, and simply Go Swim.