Swim team says it’s frustrated with limited access to St. Mary’s Rec Center
One by one, they file in, some in swim caps adorned by daisies, others zipped into sleek wet suits. Grasping a brightly-colored noodle or a pair of sturdy foam aquatic dumbbells, the two-time champions take to the water. This is their time. For the next two hours, the St. Mary’s Senior Marlins Swim Team will look at the tiled walls of the public recreation center but they will see the 2018 Championship ahead of them.
“We’re the winners, we’re claiming it. It’s our championship,” said 76-year-old Joetta Brown, the president of the Marlins team. That is, the swimmers say, if they can get more hours and days in the pool.
Ever since their defeat at the Senior Swim Olympics this past summer, the St. Mary’s Senior Marlins have dedicated themselves to reclaiming their 2016 Champion status. In order to regain their winning title, they are fighting for more space and time in their community pool. The St. Mary’s Recreation Center is only open for senior swim hours from 10 to 12 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which the team argues is not enough time to practice.
“If we had had more time to practice, we could’ve taken the championship,” said 70-year-old Marlins vice president, Arlene Day. In the pool, both the lap swimmers and aerobics team must share the space, along with other non-swim-team seniors.
Some team members have wondered whether the issue of earlier hours is contingent upon the lifeguard union. The main problem seems to be getting lifeguards, according to 63-year-old Efraim Ayala. When asked whether or not NYC Parks will coordinate with the lifeguards union to address the Marlins’ grievances, Press Officer Kelly Krause responded via email, “This is an ongoing process and further specifics are not available.”
“We’re getting a little discouraged. We shouldn’t have to do all of this,” the Marlins’ Sergeant-At-Arms Gordon Blake said. He and the rest of the team are frustrated. In mid-September, the Marlins sent a letter to NYC Parks requesting additional hours. In a statement, the Parks responded, “the St. Mary’s pool is a neighborhood gem and we want residents to have ample access. We are exploring different options to expand swim hours for the community.”
Beyond that the Marlins have not heard anything.
“We feel like stepchildren,” said Blake.
Before every practice, the 67-year-old former Marine leaves his Staten Island house at a quarter to six and drives across the Verrazano bridge to beat the rush hour traffic. Waiting for the recreation center to open at 8 a.m., Blake sits in his car with a tea and a roll, listening to the morning news. He moved from the Bronx six months ago but continues coming to the St. Mary’s pool to practice.
Along with Blake, many seniors continue to show up for practice but lament too few pool hours, insufficient equipment and a seeming lack of support from NYC Parks.
“We enjoy what we’re doing, we come here all year round, winter, spring, fall, cold, we’re here in the pool participating but we don’t get the backing that we need,” said Marlins team member, Charles Tatum, following an aerobics team practice one morning.
Brown, a former teacher for 30 years and a community activist for most of her life, is positive about the future. The Marlins may not have the banner with their 2016 Championship win or all of their medals but they are now a non-profit. Not only do they run boot camps, mental health workshops and drama workshops but they also won a $2,500 grant from the Building Healthy Communities initiative to purchase a stove, a microwave and a refrigerator for the center’s kitchen.
“We’re just a dedicated group of people and there’s room for more! That’s our mantra,” said Brown before heading back into her lane.
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