Tahlequah Daily Press

September 10, 2012

Want to be a hero? Help us find a swimming pool

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — “Didn’t this make you mad?” my fellow swimmers asked me, repeatedly, over the past week. “Are you going to do anything?” Truth is, I’m more depressed than anything. When I first got the word a week ago, I almost cried – and I’m not a crier.

The distressing news was about the imminent closure of the pool at the NSU Fitness Center. I’ve been swimming laps there since November 2003, shortly after I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Some of you golfers will be familiar with the disease, because Phil Mickelson has spoken of his battle with it, and he endorses a drug that  eases his suffering. I know about those drugs, and I’d rather not take them; many of them will damage your liver. Instead, my doctors prescribed swimming, and it’s the only thing that really works. When I’m in the pool, I’m never in pain.

I’m not the only one for whom swimming is a lifeline. I know at least three people with congestive heart failure who use it. I could name a dozen arthritics besides myself, and I’ve seen countless athletes using the pool as therapy as they recover from injuries. Tahlequah High School track star Jessica Hembree is among that group. Several triathletes work out in the NSU pool, such as world-class competitor Angela Stewart and her husband, Eddie. We have master swimmers, and senior citizens who feel so free doing laps or water aerobics. And, most importantly, there are the college students who swim for exercise, and the 45 members of the Boys & Girls Club Stingray swim team, who raised money to buy the lane ropes that benefit us all. Their coach, Bob Bradshaw, has worked tirelessly to build up this team, and even improve the facility – and he does it for free.

When I found out about the pool, I first scheduled Teddye Snell to do the story. Since I swim, I have a vested interest in complaining about the closure. On the other hand, I have a vested interest in not complaining: My husband has worked at NSU since 1995. That’s probably why a few fellow swimmers implied I might be “covering up” the story. But we’ve reported controversies at NSU before, and I’m not worried NSU will take it out on my husband. During the push for the Gable Field tax, an overly zealous community member involved in the campaign implied to then-Publisher Brad Sugg that negative coverage could threaten my husband’s job (Brad recorded the conversation). The “threat” was made without the knowledge of NSU officials, and when I told one of the vice presidents, he was outraged.

I did know NSU would be repairing the pool deck. Tim Foutch, vice president for operations, told me so early this summer when I called him after hearing rumors from other swimmers and Fitness Center employees. But I wasn’t in a hurry to report it, because Tim thought repairs would begin over Christmas break. That was before a complaint about water quality (which turned out to be without basis) was filed, changing the situation dramatically.

A lot of people are angry, and casting blame. I saw Ron Cox and John Hinton – director and assistant director of the Fitness Center, respectively – as they were leaving Friday afternoon for a tennis match, and they looked beaten down. People have been screaming at them, and it’s not their fault; they learned of the closure the same time the rest of us did.

It’s not Tim’s fault, either. We’ve worked with him on several stories over the years, and because it’s his job is to oversee campus operations and facilities, most of the controversial stuff – like the flap over Wilson Hall – lands in his lap. There’s no doubt in my mind that Tim has the best interests of NSU and its students in mind, and wants the best facilities he can get with the money available. That’s why he has worked up plans to remodel the Fitness Center, and that’s why (as my husband has repeatedly reminded me) that eventually, it will have to be closed for a longer period than we would like. Tim and I have something in common: I’ve noticed he’ll work around the clock, if that’s what it takes, to get the job done.

I also feel sorry for Todd Enlow, NSU’s new director of Auxiliary Service. Many of you know him from his stellar job at the Cherokee Nation, notably with the Removal rides. He doesn’t deserve the flack he’s probably taking.

Folks are frustrated, and they want to know why no one told them the pool was going to close at some point, so they could make other plans. (One gal told me she’d have spent her money on an endless pool instead of a Toyota.) There’s a chance administrators weren’t expecting the furor this decision would cause, because some folks doing the legwork didn’t provide them with that information. They may not have known themselves, because some are relatively new to the NSU community and don’t “hang out” at the pool. Possibly they should have asked questions. In any case, I believe Tim and President Steve Turner will be making calls to line up a place, or a way, for us to swim. State Sen. Jim Wilson and State Rep. Mike Brown are already on the case.

If I can’t swim, I might not be able to do my job – or I’ll have to use a walker to get there. I consider myself the least of these. This would be a good time for the community to work together on a contingency plan while NSU works to rebuild its facility. Perhaps Fort Gibson – where Mike Brown and I both went to school – will step up to the plate.

Anyone who helps will be a hero to the hundreds of us who desperately need a pool.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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