accessibility · equality · fitness · swimming

A Tale of Two Water Parks

For decades, families in southwestern Ontario have cooled off in the summertime heat at the St. Marys Quarry, formerly a limestone quarry that was converted to a public swimming area in the 1940s.

Thank to a recent addition to the quarry—the Super Splash Waterpark—there are two different swimming experiences for quarry goers. I share about my one experience, which was shaped in part by the other that I did not have.

Basic and Super

Before the coming of the Super Splash Waterpark (SSW), with an admission ticket guests could swim around freely to about the middle of the quarry. The basic park now includes play features like a few rafts, a slide, and a trampoline.

The Super Splash Waterpark website explains that for this added option guests pay general admission and then 3x more to access to a giant inflatable on-the-water playground. Only a limited number of tickets are available for 2-hour time slots. Reservations are made through an online portal.

With one of the hundred spots reserved for SSW, at the quarry get a wristband, a fitted yellow life jacket, and a safety primer. SSW guests must access the inflatable playground by swimming through the “basic” swim area, now limited to the front quarter of the quarry.

The SSW park has a large set of access and safety rules. Few if any of the quarry’s water features are fully accessible, but the SSW definitely isn’t. Here’s a view of the quarry from land.

The St Mary’s Quarry, featuring the roped off Super Splash WaterPark behind the general admission section. Pic by me.

A Super Time at the Basic End

You might predict where my story of goes next. Some friends and I decide to go to the quarry, but due to the limited number of SSW tickets only half of us get access to the inflatable park. The rest of us—basic access only.

Let me tell you—there is nothing that makes an inflatable water park look like more fun than when your friends can go but you can’t (even if you are an otherwise mature, mid-life, child-free cis-woman). I sat on the grass in my suit, grumpily contemplating whether I would go in the water at all. Take that, quarry!

I asked a friend (who had walked away from her computer mid-reservation so was similarly relegated to the basic quarry area) how a 10 year-old kid might feel seeing but not being able to access the SSW. She recited some parenting wisdom about how making one’s own fun on the basic quarry side is better because it builds character. But I already had character, my 10 year-old self whined—what I wanted was the fun-looking waterpark!

My gaze could not even escape the inflatable obstacles that filled the quarry horizon, a constant reminder of where I could not go, the fun I could not have. Even my once-greater swimming freedom was reduced to a quarter of the quarry by that blow up monstrosity!

My friends eventually came back from the inflatable side—removing their special wrist bands and yellow life jackets—to spend time with the rest of us. And, as the oldest ladies on the trampoline on the “basic” side of the quarry, we did indeed make our own fun.

Next Time at the Quarry

Aside from my poutiness, it all seemed some sort of microcosm of the inequalities besetting some exercise activities in a capitalist society: only a percentage of people get access to what looks like a bigger and better time if they plan in advance, have the added money to spend, and are physically able to participate. Those with less info/tech savvy, disposable cash, and/or differences in ability are more likely to be excluded but must also watch from the sidelines.

My friends reported that the SSW part of the quarry was harder and more tiring than they had expected, and they probably wouldn’t pay for it again.

If I went back, would I choose to plan further ahead to reserve a limited SSW ticket, even if the park is less accessible, I have to pay 3 times as much, and I may not even have that much more fun?

Sadly, my answer is probably yes—because I know that the real privilege of privilege (in a capitalist society or a two-tiered Waterpark) is having the freedom to choose.

fitness · swimming

You win some, you lose some: the swimming lessons edition

(written by Bettina, posted by Catherine)

A while ago, I blogged about how the pandemic had affected not just my swimming habits, but also the great plans I had for my child’s early contact with water. More than two years of COVID-related disruptions mean that there are now huge waiting lists for swimming lessons at any age, and many baby swimming classes that took place at small school or hospital pools are still not taking place.

In July, I managed to snag a spot for the small human in a toddler swimming class on Sunday mornings. The class would start in mid-September. I was elated. I managed to get him in because I was actually awake during our holidays when the email came in early in the morning; five minutes later all spots had been filled. My son loves the water. It’s been a very hot summer and he’s been in the paddling pool a lot. He loves baths (most days). He loves going to the pool with mama. But I want him to learn proper water skills and I feel like it’s better for both of us if he’s taught by… not me. I was so, so excited for that spot and couldn’t wait to start. Big win!

A blue-laned pool, by Thomas Park for Unsplash.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Today, I heard the rumour that due to the energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the pools are going to be closed in the autumn and winter. AGAIN. I’m completely deflated. Not only will my lifesaving team not be able to train if they decide to also close the small school pool we use for practice, but again, countless kids including my own will be left without the chance to learn how to swim or learn valuable water skills. This is awful.

I get that this is very much a first-world problem. But I know how good swimming is for my mental health, and I love watching my child having fun in the water. I get the need to save energy, I really do. But does it really have to be the pools again, after two seasons of pandemic-related closures? I just can’t anymore.

fitness · swimming

Swimsuits: we’ve had some things to say

Yes, it’s August. School will be starting soon in lots of places in the Northern Hemisphere. But that doesn’t mean we’ve already hung up the swimsuits and stowed the beach towels. Oh, no– far from it. Especially with the extreme heat many of us have been experiencing in the US and Canada, we want to be in water as much as possible. But what to wear?

Well, we at Fit is a Feminist Issue have got you covered, so to speak. Here are some blog posts that address a variety of your swimwear concerns. Here are just a few of our posts, in case you are desiring some consultation. Read, enjoy, and make sure not to get your phone or computer wet…

Bettina: Swimsuit options, the ethical edition

Catherine: Beyond the one-piece/two-piece dilemma: swimsuit options we’re loving

Diane: Why is it so hard to find athletic swimsuits for larger swimmers?

Sam: Take your batwings and fly far far away

Tracy: What’s going on when even the Europeans are starting to cover up? Poor body image crosses the pond

Elan: Bodiless Swimsuit Ads Reinforce Body Norms Too

Tracy: Inclusive objectification, anyone?

holidays · swimming

Summer happy places

I’m currently on holiday. “Again?”, you say? “Didn’t you just come back from one?” Yes, our family calendar has decided to bunch our holidays up in June and July this year. Which is nice because lots of time off within a short period, but the downside is that as of now, I don’t know if there will be another “proper” holiday between the end of July and Christmas. We’re in Spain visiting family, and there’s a fabulous outdoor pool close by. Since the temperatures climb to the high 30s daily at the moment – which is not at all usual for the region we’re visiting, the Basque Country; oh hi, climate crisis – I’m making use of some mornings to go for a refreshing swim before things heat up too much and you can no longer move.

As I was doing my laps this morning, I realised that there’s a certain type of outdoor pool that is my happy place in summer. It’s a non-urban pool, i.e. located in a small town or on the outskirts rather than in a city centre, so it’s not overcrowded. It has trees that provide some shade enjoy after or in between swims. It has a large, olympic-size pool that has lots of lanes cordoned off for swimmers. It has a toddler pool and ideally a playground in case a visit with the whole family is on the cards. The water in the big pool is nice and fresh. Just like the picture below:

An Olympic-size outdoor pool with lanes cordoned off, a kids’ pool in the background, under a clear blue summer sky – one of Bettina’s happy places. Not pictured: the lovely grass area with trees and lots of shade for between-swim lounging.

As it happens, the pool close to my mother-in-law’s house ticks all the boxes. So does one not too far away from where we live. While I was splash-splashing along this morning, I was overcome with gratitude for these happy places. What are yours?

fitness · swimming

“Love that dirty water”: Catherine jumps into the Charles River in Boston

The Charles River in Boston: I’ve kayaked there many times– with Samantha, even! But I’ve never swum in the river. Why not? Because the river was too polluted. This is a sad truth about some of the great rivers in some of the great cities– the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, the Tiber in Rome, the Yongding in Beijing, and on. Centuries of no sanitation procedures followed by decades of neglect resulted in water water everywhere, and not a place to swim.

Happily, the situation is changing all over the world. Governments, spurred on by environmental advocacy groups, have been doing cleanup for the past decades. And it’s making a difference. Paris recently opened up a summer swimming area along the Canal de L’Ourcq, and it’s hugely popular.

Happy Parisians swimming and sunning in an enclosed area along the Canal de L’Ourcq (yes, I checked the spelling).

Boston has something similar in mind. But it takes a while. So they’ve started out with a one-day-a-year Charles River in a deep-water roped-off area, with timed entries and lifeguards. Here’s what the Charles River Conservancy says about it on their website:

The Charles River Conservancy’s first City Splash on July 13, 2013 marked one the first public community swims in the Charles River in more than fifty years. Swimming has been prohibited in the Charles since the 1950’s when a growing awareness of the health risks posed by pollution in the Charles caused the beaches and bathhouses lining the river to close. After years of environmental health progress, most notably the EPA’s Charles River Initiative, swimming is now allowed through state-sanctioned events such as the Charles River Conservancy’s City Splash events and the Charles River Swimming Club’s annual One-Mile Swim Race, which began in 2007.

I’d intended to do this swim for several years. But, with the added motivation of going with my friend Nina, I managed to score a ticket (they’re free and run out in a couple of hours). So off we went on Saturday June 18.

We waited in line, and then ambled to the dock, our identities checked twice– once on the way in, and once on the way out. They don’t want to lose anyone…

The water was warm– around 72 F/22 C. Nina and I swam and chatted and got out and dived back in, making satisfying splashes. Most folks got out after 5–10 minutes, but the die-hards (including Nina and me) swam for half an hour.

You can probably tell from these pictures that it was very big fun for everyone who went. Seeing (and being one of the) adults squealing and laughing loudly, using their outside voices– we need more of this.

The Charles River Conservancy has a vision to create a seasonal home for swimming in the Charles. Here’s what their vision might look like:

A vision of a future water park and swimming area on the Charles River in Boston, with a false bottom to protect swimmers from sediment and allow for different depths. I want to swim here ASAP.

Readers: have you done any urban swimming in rivers or lakes in cities? Was it sanctioned or wild swimming? How was the water? I’d love to hear any stories you’d like to share.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with the song my blog title was based on. Please to enjoy the Standells with “Dirty Water”, an ode to the Charles River in Boston.

death · fitness · kayak · meditation · paddling · swimming

The power of water

My favorite thing about summer is the knowledge that, at any time, I could run and jump in water. Ocean, lake, river, backyard wading pool– just about anything will do. All of them call my name throughout the season. My best real-estate fantasies include a backyard pool, with beautifully landscaped surroundings, all of which are magically maintained by unnamed third parties. Alas, I know (second-hand from my sister) how much work and expense a pool takes. So far, none of my friends have taken the plunge and kitted out their residences with a gorgeous aquatic oasis. But one can hope…

In fact, I’m lucky to live not far away from both ocean and freshwater places to swim and paddle. This summer, my plans include regular dips and laps and floats and strokes and landings and submergings, always surfacing for that big breath of air waiting for me.

Surfacing, taking big breaths of air. I think of those children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, with no more breaths of air awaiting them, and my own breathing becomes more ragged from anger and grief. I’m not alone. Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg led an online loving-kindness talk and group meditation on Friday night. One thing she said that resonates with me is that sometimes, the breath is not the thing that settles us. Sometimes it is sound, or a visual image, or a touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of the weight of our bodies in contact with a cushion, mat, chair or floor.

What always settles me and puts me in contact with the world and myself is the feeling of my body in (and even on) water. I feel feelings I rarely experience on land: I’m buoyant, weightless, sleek, smooth, strong, even patient. I know, right?

I don’t know what to do or say right now. I don’t even know how to settle my breath when I read about or focus on the horrors that are happening in the US. There’s a lot to be done, and I want to do my share, pull my weight. This requires strength and stamina and stability. I think that being in and on and around water– for me– will help me gather myself for the work to be done.

Readers, I hope one or more of the elements speaks to you and strengthens and sustains you. Thank you for reading.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running · swimming · training · triathalon

A Triathlon and a Half Marathon with Imperfect Training (Guest Post)

by Şerife Tekin

As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.

Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.

Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.

My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival.  Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.

The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.

Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.

Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.

Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.

The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.

My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!

How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?

Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)

Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.

fitness · swimming

First fall open water swim: Catherine gets her feet wet

I never realized that starting something new, whether tentatively or full-force, had so many aquatic metaphors or turns of phrase.

  • Getting your feet wet
  • Testing the waters
  • Dipping a toe in the water
  • Taking the plunge
  • Swan-diving in

This makes me very happy, as I get to be both literal and figurative at the same time. Yesterday I did my first solo pond swim during the fall. Ever. That’s right, I’ve never done any New England open water swimming after early-mid September. That’s not particularly shocking, of course: school is starting, temperatures are dropping (although they’ve been up and down and up again the past month), and our attention turns away from crisp blue water and toward crisp red apples. So it has been with me.

Until this year. Yes, I know: cold-water swimming is to pandemic outdoors as bread-baking is to pandemic indoors. But hey, whatever gets you in the water… We’ve blogged A LOT about swimming. If you’ve missed them, start out here, with some videos about wild swimming.

Some of our bloggers are bona fide all-season swimmers. Diane is our resident cold-water expert and the source of much wisdom on the subject, including her post with tips for avoiding a Darwin award while open-water swimming. Worth reading!

Back to me: Saturday was a lovely day, with air temperatures in the low 70sF/22-23C. Walden Pond, my swimming hole of choice, had water temps around 67F/19.5C. For me that’s a little on the brisk side, but easily manageable in just a swimsuit plus cap, goggles and trusty swim buoy.

It was around 4:15pm, and there were lots of open-water swimmers out there. A little more than half were in swimsuits, and the rest in wetsuits. It took me a few minutes to get used to the cold water, and I didn’t hurry (this is one of the tips I read most, even though this water isn’t cold… yet). Honestly, why hurry? I enjoy just hanging out, standing in the water, taking in the scene, getting used to my new aquatic environment.

Finally, I submerge myself up to the neck, squealing a little (I tried not to be too loud), and swimming to get warm. I swam along the shore for a bit, just checking things out. Once I felt comfortable and adjusted, I headed out to deeper water, enjoying the blue sky above me, the gently lapping waves (there was a bit of a breeze that day), and the distant sounds of people having a wonderful time on a Saturday afternoon.

This was my first wet run of the fall, and I discovered a few things:

  • Don’t forget ear plugs next time (to avoid swimmer’s ear and also for when the water gets colder);
  • Don’t try to adjust your goggles while in deep water; it can be done, but maybe on shore is better;
  • If you swim with the wind, your swim buoy will snuggle up to you and even try to pass you in the water
  • As a solo swimmer, I will need to come up with a plan to keep myself occupied; coming up with time goals or route plans seems like a good idea
  • I REALLY LIKE SWIMMING! I WANT TO KEEP SWIMMING THROUGH THE FALL!

I did manage to find a shortie wetsuit that fits (che miracolo!), which I will use at some point, along with neoprene booties. Maybe neoprene gloves will be purchased at some point, too. And I have my eye on this swim cap.

We shall see how things go, but I’m excited. I’ve broken the ice (even though it’s not that cold yet and I doubt I’ll be that hardcore, but you never know) and am going to try to swim every week for… a while…

Readers, how are your fall sports or activities transitions going? Have you said goodbye to some things, or are you shifting to fall-weather gear/clothing/etc.? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · season transitions · swimming

Last summer swim: a post in photos

It’s officially fall now, and usually that means my swim season is over. However, inspired by fellow bloggers, the Book Why We Swim, and the FB group Boston Open Water Swimming, I’m going to see how far into the fall/winter I can continue heading into the water. Maybe I can just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

Our friend Dory the fish, saying "just keep swimming".
Our friend Dory the fish, saying “just keep swimming”.

Last week, Norah and I went to Walden for our last official summer swim. It was a gorgeous day, low-mid 70s/22-23C and sunny. For those of you who haven’t been to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, it is a very beautiful place, well-designed and well-maintained. This is important, because it is hugely popular with locals and tourists. About 500,000 people visit each year, according to this article in Smithsonian. However, the capacity is strictly monitored, and the Pond closes to new visitors several times a day on busy days in the summer, reopening when the numbers drop.

Here you can see the well-maintained parking areas and walkways, accessible to lots of people.

With utility comes a definite New England aesthetic.

When Norah and I crossed the street (which has a huuuge set of pedestrian signs and lights), we walked down the wide concrete path to the main beach. In the summer there are lifeguards and ropes for the swimming areas.

Our favorite swim spot is on the other side of the pond. On the way there we pass other people in their favorite spots, and see lots of action on the water.

Here’s what our favorite swimming spot looks like.

After swimming, chatting, snacking and addressing the problems of the world, Norah and I return the way we came. The path goes all the way around the pond, in case you want to check out the other side. Lots of people swim from there, too.

I finally bought a wetsuit– a shorty one– and I’ve got neoprene booties when I need them (still have gloves to purchase). This fall will be my first foray into colder water swimming. But there’s nothing like heading into the water in summer, the cool water instantly changing your perspective on a hot (and possibly trying) day. This was my last one of those for while.

What about you, dear readers? What activities are you wrapping up or changing gear for this fall? We’d love to hear from you.

canoe · fitness · swimming

The great cover up of 2021

I’ve been worried about the sun and skin cancer for awhile now and I’ve written on the blog a fair bit about it. See here and here and here, for example. But I’ve also struggled with the push to have women dress more modestly, especially the idea that older women, and larger women, should just cover up our bodies and hide.

I’m a fan of bikinis and bike shorts and here on the blog I’ve worried about swim dresses and running skirts. But this year I hit a turning point. Another friend had a skin cancer scare. It’s also been a hotter than usual summer with blazing sun a lot of the time. There’s only so much sunscreen an active, outdoorsy person can wear.

I’ve decided I don’t care why people think I’m wearing them. I’m not ashamed of my body. I’m not trying to hide it from view. I just would like not die any earlier than I have to. Even aside from death, skin cancer isn’t much fun.

I broke down and bought two super, lightweight (very cool) outdoor active shirts and long pants for paddling. I’m wearing them in the pictures above on our recent family canoe trip. They also helped with the mosquito issue. Bonus!

I also bought a swim skirt and long sleeved rash guard shirt (spf 50) for hanging about in and around the outdoor swimming pool. They’re actually great for swimming in and for hanging around the pool having super soaker battles with a 7 year old.

I’m calling both purchases a success.

I’m also getting a mammogram on my birthday so I’m doing my bit for cancer prevention this month.

Sam and her new swimming duds