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Swimmers find friends, healing at Mary Wayte

Swimmers at Mary Wayte Pool, from left, Kristin Reeck, Alice Copp Smith, Sally Culverwell, Mary Linda Filley, Peggy Pomeroy, an unknown swimmer and Thomas Redey, are relieved when the school district found a local operator that will run the facility until 2012.  - Chad Coleman/Staff Photo
Swimmers at Mary Wayte Pool, from left, Kristin Reeck, Alice Copp Smith, Sally Culverwell, Mary Linda Filley, Peggy Pomeroy, an unknown swimmer and Thomas Redey, are relieved when the school district found a local operator that will run the facility until 2012.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Staff Photo

It is likely that most think of swimming as an activity for the young. Yet both here and across the nation, the number of older swimmers who work out regularly and even compete is growing.

Dozens of Islanders use Mary Wayte Pool religiously. For the most part, they are older, female and not shy about their age or needs. They have strong feelings for the pool and what it means to them and their health. They are very concerned about the future of the pool here.

The future of Mary Wayte Pool has been in question ever since the pool’s operator, Northwest Center, notified the city and school district late last year that they would no longer manage the pool. Citing costly repairs and the money needed to continue to subsidize the pool, officials considered options that ranged from closing the 40-year-old pool to finding a way for the public to use private pools on the Island. The school district finally hired a local group to operate the pool that took over as of Jan. 1, but just for two years. And the school district said it would close the pool if there was a catastrophic failure in any of the pool systems. As a result, the long-term status of the pool remains unresolved.

Whether they have been swimming for decades or just a few years, a group of mostly older Islanders who swim regularly say they could not do without it.

An informal written survey of regulars revealed that most grew up swimming. The average age of the two dozen respondents is 70, ranging in years from 42 to 93. Most are lap swimmers. They come early and often. Most of those who swim regularly have been doing so for decades.

They include Patricia Coluccio, 81, who has been swimming for 75 years, and Melinda Taintor, 72, who has also been swimming since she was a child. Islander Nadine Baker, a 50-year swimmer, is 83. Susie Haberland, 47, is a lifelong swimmer who is now bringing her daughter to the pool for lessons. Lorna Wilson, 89, comes to Mary Wayte three times a week. She began attending water aerobics classes 30 years ago.

They are knowledgeable. Most appreciate what running the pool is all about. They know what has happened to other Eastside Forward Thrust pools. Most have been to one or more of them. They know it is complex and expensive.

To help with the cost, nearly all agreed they would pay more to swim at the pool. They were less than enthusiastic about joining private pools. Many observed how the pool is important to families, young swimmers and the disabled.

The pool, adjacent to the high school along S.E. 40th Street, is convenient. Some walk to the pool.

Finally, many others noted the presence of friends and the camaraderie that has formed over the years.

They keep track of one another and know why someone is missing, when they will be back or whose grandchildren are in town. Even their lifeguard, Jon Michael Yasutake, the age of many of the regulars’ grandchildren, knows them all by name and they know him. “This is their pool,” he said with a smile. “I like the group — they are very engaging. They all know each other and they want to know me.”

There is a great deal of public support for the pool here. Manny Ocampo, who conducted a detailed study of the pool for the city, said there is an “aquatic ethic” here. “Support for aquatics remains high on Mercer Island compared to other pools in the region,” he said.

Complaints about maintenance were few. At least one sink in the women’s locker room has not worked for some time. More than one swimmer observed that the pool lining is worn. Milt Yanicks noted that the boiler needs work. Jim Barr, 62, a relatively new swimmer and Islander since 1964, is practical. “The pool itself needs work,” he wrote. “The locker rooms can wait.”

Swimmer Lillian Rudensey, 93, sums up the feeling of many. “I would be devastated if the pool closes. I look forward to being there every day and feel so much better when I am in the pool. It is helping me to live a longer life.”

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