Saturday, March 4, 2017
20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool # 5: Dixon Aquatic Center, Oregon State University.
About once a year my neighbor Mike and I grab lunch at one of the multitude of new restaurants that keep popping up in Corvallis. My sister moved to Corvallis in 1993 so I've been visiting and eventually living here ever since. When I first arrived it was a sleepy, boring college town that more resembled a Division III New England Liberal Arts college than a major Pac-12 institution.
As Corvallis and Oregon State University have developed over the past 25 years, they seem to have kept their charm, as opposed to their neighbors to the South who have let things get completely out of hand. While Oregon has exploded onto the national spotlight, it has brought along a huge chunk of fans who neither went to school nor care about anything but the win-loss record of Duck football. In fact, the only Eugene fan base that resembles anything from the past century are the loyal track and field fans. The nouveau-riche football fans are rude, inconsiderate and, as we saw in 2016, will vacate their team at the first sign of a loss.
Corvallis however has a much more loyal fan base consisting of alumns and professors who are avid sports fans - not sports pop culture fans. They will fill up an arena for anything from gymnastics to softball to a very poor Division I men's basketball team. They keep coming win or lose. The reputation Eugene had for being a super-cool hipster school has been replaced by a jockocracy, while the old culture has migrated north to Corvallis.
The development of that culture has been manifest, not only on campus, but also in downtown Corvallis where there are now dozens of restaurants and bars. In 1992 there were just two landmarks, The Peacock and Squirrels. Now there are a handful of microbreweries, sports pubs, ethnic restaurants and a dozen music venues.
Mike and I decided to try out The Bellhop just a stone's throw from the Willamette River. Mike is a decorated history of science professor who's specialty is French medicine. He travels to France often so whenever we find ourselves in town at the same time we get together and trade war stories. We've lived in and visited many of the same places with the difference being that he did it as an academic and I did it as a circus clown. What seems an unlikely match is actually perfect since he likes sports and, because of my injury, I've been working on medical issues. We also both speak French and are horrible snobs if you happen to be sitting at a table next to us.
After having downed some big sandwiches and a pint of Ale Mike had to go back to work and I had to go to the pool. I checked my phone to see if there might be a scheduling conflict and oddly enough there was. Corvallis High School had a dual meet and the pool was closed. I rolled my eyes and Mike asked what the problem was. He told me to relax because he could get me into the Dixon Aquatic Center on the OSU campus.
It was a cold, rainy day, I had a beer in me and the perfect excuse to go home and just take a nap. But that nagging voice in my head kept persisting, "You know you'll feel much better if you swim..."
So we paid our tab and Mike took me over to Dixon. I'd been inside Dixon once before with my nephew, Tim, to watch "Vert Fest," the Northwest collegiate rock climbing championship. It's a fantastic student recreation facility with all the bells and whistles - weight room, climbing gym, indoor courts, even a great equipment rental facility with canoes and kayaks. But strangely enough, I'd never seen the pool before. (btw: Oregon doesn't have a swimming team!)
I changed in the locker room (which was as nice as any health club), then rolled onto the deck of the pool. Osborne Aquatic Center is an old, dingy facility that, although utilitarian, isn't really inviting. Dixon, on the other hand, has a warm, clean eight-lane 25 yard pool, a separate diving well, hot tubs.. the works. A student life guard approached me, asked the right questions and in seconds I was slithering through the water, in a completely new environment. You would think that water is just water, but it's not. This water felt faster, the lane lines on the bottom of the pool were tiled differently and the gutters had a flatter design, singing a completely different song than the OAC.
Before I could even think of being bored, my workout was over. This is when I discovered the way to make swimming, the most boring sport on the planet, interesting. I needed to change my environment. And thus the quest for pool variety - and the genesis of this series, had begun!
Which brings us to Pool # 6: Willamalane Park Swim Center, Eugene, Ore.