Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Friday, March 3, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #4: Albany Community Pool - Albany, Ore.

The difference between swimming in an outdoor pool in the summer and forcing yourself into a cold indoor pool in the winter is similar to cheering for a championship team vs. a horrible team. When I'm watching a Packer's game, I have a feeling that I'm doing something exciting, beneficial and I can't wait for it to start. When I'm watching a Milwaukee Brewer's game I do it out of some sense of obligation I've developed from them making me happy for a few years in college. I have a feeling that at sometime in the future it will payoff, but for the time being, it's just painful. 

And that is pretty much how my workouts at the Osborne Aquatic Center progressed as the temperature dropped and the Oregon rains set in. The pool is close enough to my house that the heater in my car doesn't kick in until I reach the parking lot. I have made some great friends at the pool, and although they are really nice people, their friendship comes from a selfish desire for me to procrastinate until my body is warm enough to think about jumping in the pool. 

As the weeks turned into months, some really amazing changes were happening. Elementary back stroke had dropped completely out of my regime and I became a full-time freestyler. My workouts went from 1000 yards all the way up to 1650 yards; a full mile. In the same way I infused a few laps of crawl into my back stoke routine, I now began infusing a few laps of breathing every other stroke instead of breathing every left arm pull. 

My conversion from a hand cyclist to a swimmer was well under way. I wasn't just surviving these workouts, I was actually improving. For the first time in nearly two years I felt like a training athlete again. On the bike it meant pushing faster and going on longer workouts. Unfortunately with this sport, I couldn't do that. I tried a few days of grinding the last 10 laps at full volume, but after those workouts, I could barely lift my arm up. Instead, I had to just be happy with the benefits of consistent training. 

Then one Saturday morning I drove to the pool and my old compulsive training attitude bizarrely returned. There was a swimming meet at the pool and it was closed to the public. It was a late fall Saturday with plenty of great football on TV. I'd already worked out five times that week. I should have just gone home, cracked a cold one and watched 25 college football games. 

But no - I was scheduled to swim that day! I had to find a pool and get in a workout! I pulled out my phone and Googled my zip code with "open free swim." I discovered a number of options, but the closest was the Albany Community Pool at South Albany High School, just ten miles away. I navigated the site to find the schedule and discovered they had an hour adult lap-swim window just 30 minutes away. 

I fired up my van, pulled into the street and sped out of town towards Albany (mind you, in Oregon "Sped" means 2-3 mph over the posted speed limit). I found the pool; approached the counter and slapped down my five dollars (used to be 25 cents when I was in grade school!). I looked around for a stack of towels, but this was a bring-your-own pool. I only had a few minutes to change if I was going to get my full workout in. I tossed my clothes in a locker slapped on my swimming shorts and rolled out onto the pool deck. 

The Albany Community Pool does cater to the disability community, but it's always in a group setting with several instructors and aides. They never see some guy wheel up to the pool and try to hop in. I asked the life guard if he could hold my chair while I flopped in. I've tried to do this without anyone holding, but my chair rolls backwards and I hit my arse on the side of the pool. It took some prodding before I could convince the high school kid he didn't need to call his supervisor - he could just hold onto the handles of my chair. I flopped into the pool with my customary whale splash then looked back to see the lifeguard ready to jump in after me. I waved him off, adjusted my goggles, then started counting laps. 

Compared to the OAC, the ACP is a dark dingy shallow basement. I actually scraped the skin off my toes making turns in the shallow end. The lights were low and they only had two lanes set up for lap swim. At first there were only two other swimmers, so I just picked a lane down the center of the pool and swam. About a half-hour in, the pool opened up for free swim and kids rushed in, splashing wildly and throwing toys around. I'm all for kids doing that, but it makes swimming laps difficult. Now there were six lap swimmers of varying abilities squished into three lanes which made consistent stroking next to impossible. To a competitive swimmer that means nothing. But even though I'd made great strides, I still sucked, so this environment was awful. 

I knocked out my 70 laps just in time for the lifeguards to yank out the lane lines. Luckily there was a disability lift, and although nobody knew how to use it, I was able to teach them how to get me out of the water. I dried off using the hand drier, then plopped back in my van and drove back to Corvallis. 

On the way home I realized my life had really changed. The paranoid reaction over missing my workout - my SWIMMING workout - meant that I had crossed a bridge. I was now officially a swimmer. 

And that compulsion brings us to  Pool # 5: Dixon Aquatic Center, Oregon State University. 


  1. Dang Tom. What are you trying to do - inspire me to get back in the pool or something? I even have a nice pool with a sauna to sweat in afterwards.

    1. Where! I'm coming. I need material for the second 20 pools!

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