By Nancy Gilkey
Northeast Community Center volunteer
“Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is.”
– Demetri Martin
Daily Show comedian and contributor
Like Demetri Martin, many people are unsure about swimming. They may have a hard time shaking the notion that swimming is fraught with danger. Although there are basic principles and safety measures that must be followed in order to keep a swimmer safe, the Northeast Community Center wants to make sure people experience the joy of being in the water.
Since its initial days as the Northeast Family YMCA, the NECC is where many Northeast Portland adults learned to swim. Children and adults still learn to swim in the NECC pool today.
One current NECC member recalls when he was eight years old and swimming from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool. He lost stamina and began sinking. Fortunately, the lifeguard noticed what was happening. The next thing the near-drowning victim knew, he was on the side of the pool and the lifeguard was dressed in next to nothing. (Lifeguards at that time did not necessarily wear swimsuits, and this one yanked off his clothes in time to make the rescue.)
“We never talked about it,” the now-grown swimmer said about the incident. Even though he never spoke of it with the guard, this member, Don Waggoner, was so grateful to have been spared a drowning death that he later became one of the NECC executive directors and served on the NECC board. “I’ve grown to be a much better swimmer since then,” he said.
Today, photographs dot the walls of NECC from the time when men swam in knit tank shirts sewn to trunks. While today’s NECC swimming pool may look similar to the pool in those pictures, the Center’s swimming options offered today are decidedly 21st century. For example, in the Synchro Swim class, participants practice a hybrid form of swimming, dance and gymnastics accompanied by music. Swimmers with arthritis, Parkinson’s or lupus or recovering from a stroke can receive therapy in the Joints in Motion class. During the Flick ‘n’ Floats class, movies are shown on the wall while swimmers of all ages splash and watch from the water.
A good portion of each week, the NECC offers low student-to-teacher ratios in swim lessons for children and adults. In the summer, NECC offers Fast Track swim lessons Monday-Thursday, for two weeks straight. According to aquatics supervisor, Marlon Rodriguez-Horrego, the repetitiveness of the sessions and the consistency of the Fast Track lessons in the summer help many swimmers to rapidly improve their skills.
In addition, adult swim lessons are available twice a week to help adults who range in ability from those who never have felt comfortable in the water to those who are working to improve their stroke and speed for upcoming triathlon or adult-swim events. Rodriguez-Horrego believes that one is “never too old to learn. We have specially trained instructors who can help from Level 1 to flip turns.” With a maximum of three adults to one instructor during lessons, taking part is almost like having private lessons.
The NECC earned the distinction of becoming a Red Cross “Learn-To-Swim” facility, with all aquatics instructional programs following the Red Cross guidelines and curriculum. According to Rodriguez-Horrego, all NECC swim instructors are Red Cross Certified. “We offer great continuing education programs for our staff to make sure that they are up-to-date with all of the latest programs and techniques,” he said. “We’ve also renovated the pool area and updated much of our equipment during the past two years. We continue to offer scholarships to the community to make sure that everyone who wants to learn to swim, or participate in other aquatics activities, has the opportunity to do so.”
One NECC swimmer, a lifelong runner and exerciser, recently tore the meniscus in his knee and initially felt his options for exercise were severely limited. He’d always seen himself as a swimmer “who goes backward rather than forward when I kick,” but he has taken to the NECC pool with dedication for rehabilitation and cardiovascular exercise. His knee is hurting less, his swim stroke is becoming stronger and he thinks he’s working up a good sweat (although that can be difficult to tell).
For more information: Northeast Community Center, 1630 N.E. 38th Ave., necommunitycenter.org, (503) 284-3377