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, April 21, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #17: Lincoln Park Pool, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Having spent several years in France, it pains me to leave after such a short stint. But with the bank account drained and my prospects of finding legal work null, it was time to return to Oregon. Normally I fly out of Geneva directly to an airport in the States, but I discovered a super-cheap flight on Polish air through Warsaw. I'd never flown out of Poland before, but this odd change of itinerary, proved to be serendipitous glory. In flying east out of Geneva, I had a front row seat to the Swiss and Austrian Alps. The flight out of Warsaw took me north past the Baltic and over the Norwegian fiords. Since it was the middle of July, the sun never set which gave me stunning views of Iceland, Greenland and Eastern Canada before we traced the shores of Lake Michigan into Chicago. Combined with the audacious parade of Himalayas I'd flown over just two weeks earlier, it was the most grandiose view of the globe I'd ever been privy to.

While I do not care to spend another winter day in my birth home of Milwaukee, I'll take as many summer days as I can muster. Brewtown is ripe with festivals in summer and even if you don't go to one, there is a constant supply of back yard BBQs and beer gardens to keep you fat and happy until Packer season sets in.

This ends up being problematic if you don't mix in a bit of exercise along the way. Sausage, cheese and beer are more addictive than heroin, and if you multiply the effect by hanging out with musicians, you're in for some coronary problems. In the past, I've wrecked months of exercise with just a week or two catching up with my relatives and oldest friends.

But this time I was equipped with my new swimming habit. It's odd to call it "new" seeing as I first picked up the habit in the same city more than 50 years earlier. The first time I actually swam a stroke was at a campground beach in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, 230 miles northwest of Milwaukee. I was swimming with a life jacket on and after a few strokes, I noticed it had slipped off me and I was actually swimming. I jumped for joy and swam over to my Dad who was also quite psyched by it all.

When we came back to Milwaukee, they enrolled me in swimming lessons at the Nicolet High School pool where I would eventually spend more time than my bedroom. Now while I gave up competitive swimming nearly as quickly as I learned how to swim (No, divers do not swim to keep in shape), I was, unlike Martin Short,  a "strong swimmer." Like my brothers and all my friends, I spent my summers life guarding at the local pools.

But there was a big difference: I worked in a country club pool, but my brothers and a few friends were members of the militaristic Milwaukee County Lifeguard Corps. While I spent most of my time babysitting rich kids, the County guards conducted life saving drills and surveilled their pools from guard chairs as if a battalion might attack their rear flank. Which, as it turns out was warranted because kids from the city pools actually took pot shots at the helmeted guards with BB guns. In two summers at the country club I had one rescue, while my brother Andy tried to keep his pool down to one rescue a day.

The more serene County jobs were at the fabulous Milwaukee beaches, but my brother Andy was a pool guard. If there were a Hall of Fame for the Milwaukee Country Guard Corps ,my brother Andy would be a first ballot inductee. The Guard Corps had two big competitions and Andy won them both. He tossed in a buzzer-beater goal in the city water-polo championships and also won the brutal Lake Michigan mile swim. Andy was a Lincoln Park Pool guard. He later made fame as head guard of the now-defunct Gordon Park, but he cut his teeth at Lincoln.

I, on the other hand, had never swam there before. When I got to Milwaukee I searched for outdoor pools that had open lap swim and Lincoln Park was the only one within miles of my parents' house. While Milwaukee is known for its festivals and the lakefront, it is also known as the most segregated city in America. Aside from the few black kids that went to my high school, I never had any interaction with a black person unless I went to a Bucks game. And that's not because my parents tolerated racism in any form. Both my mother and father, staunch Republicans, would have spanked us silly and grounded us if the "N" word ever came out of our mouth. But culture and geography kept us apart.

And that's why it was so cool to head over to Lincoln Pool in 2016 and swim in an integrated environment. The racial mix of the guards, the patrons and even the snack bar workers was 50-50. What it lacked in disability features (no lift, no shower chairs) it made up with black and white kids playing tag and standing in line together at the diving boards. I'm not for a minute going to make this a Pepsi commercial, but it was really cool sign of pragmatic hope in a city ripe with racial problems.

I got four great workouts in at Lincoln Park pool and thought I was in great shape until I got to Pool No. 18: Kangaroo Lake. 

No comments:

Post a Comment