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Unusual Swimming Pools: Background information when reading The Three-Year Swim Club

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The Three-Year Swim Club

The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory

by Julie Checkoway

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway X
The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 432 pages
    Jun 2016, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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About this Book

Unusual Swimming Pools

This article relates to The Three-Year Swim Club

Print Review

The members of the Three-Year Swim Club began their careers in rough and dangerous irrigation ditches. However, even after they moved their practices to a more traditional swimming pool, they had to compete in other challenging venues.

Some were simply an unconventional size — sometimes creating an advantage, other times hindering performance times. The overheated pool in Stockton, California was only twenty yards long which allowed for faster event times, due to more push-offs the walls. In contrast, the Detroit Athletic Boat Club Pool at fifty-five yards long by forty feet wide had such narrow lanes that "backwash from adjacent lanes would hit the swimmers and cause drag," leading to slower times than usual.

Other pools were radically different and both physically and mentally taxing for various reasons. Here's a look at some of the more unusual and demanding pools the members of the Three-Year Swim Club encountered.

Closest to home was the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Opened in 1927, the 100 x 40 meters pool was designed to attract swimmers from all over the world — adjustable pontoons allowed for changing the pool dimensions to accommodate both measurements in yards for American-style meets, as well the Olympic and European meets, which measured lengths in meters. The ambitious facility was dedicated to the 101 who died and the 10,000 others from Hawaii who served in World War I and, as per Checkoway's account, was the first public pool Hawaiians were allowed to use.

Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium Built directly along a shoreline, it was fed by the ocean. This led to many hazards such as rough water, making swimming a challenge. The changing of the tide and influence of waves made the lane markers unreliable. Other difficulties included seaweed in the filtration system, and sharp coral growing in the shallow end. Fish, eels, and even octopi were known to inhabit the pool. After thirty years of neglect, the pool was closed in 1979 but fights to save it are ongoing. The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places, was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered list in 1995, and designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust in 2014.

The Fleishhacker pool in San Francisco was built in 1925 by philanthopist Herbert Fleishhacker and at the time, was one of the largest heated outdoor swimming pools in the world. Fed with ocean water which was piped under the streets through a filtration system, the Fleishhacker measured 1000 feet by 150 feet, could hold six million gallons of water and allowed for 10,000 swimmers, watched over by lifeguards in rowboats. The pool remained open for more than four decades until its closure in 1971 and was eventually demolished in 2000. The San Francisco Chronicle has evocative historical photos of the pool, which are worth checking out.

Another unusual entry was the Lakeside Pool in Louisville, Kentucky, which was a converted limestone quarry swimming hole. The concrete lining was inconsistent and the pool ranged in depth from two feet to thirty. The competition section was "a jagged circle, at the bottom of which lay rusty tools…left behind…by the workers of the quarry." The water was green and murky. Its warm temperature and the slippery feeling of the push-off pads made for an uncomfortable swimming environment. The pool, opened in 1924, continues to operate as the private Lakeside Swim Club.

Picture of Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium from Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Sarah Tomp

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Three-Year Swim Club. It originally ran in January 2016 and has been updated for the June 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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