When Kelley Robertson learned of the impending NSU pool closure, she had to fight back the tears.
“I was mortified,” she said. “This could be the end of the swim team.”
Robertson’s son, Jordan, is a standout for the Stingrays, the swim team associated with Boys & Girls Club of Tahlequah, and sanctioned under the auspices of U.S. Swimming.
Jordan, 20, was born with microcephaly: His head is smaller than average, and his brain didn’t develop like that of most children. But there’s nothing average about his achievements in the swimming pool, or his collection of medals, ribbons and public accolades.
When coach Bob Bradshaw moved to town and developed the swim team, Jordan found his niche. In the special-needs arena, he’s one of the top-ranked young swimmers in the U.S., and has been invited to a number of prestigious venues. He recently met Olympic champion Ryan Lochte.
“The swim team has been the world for him,” Robertson said.
She and her husband, Mark, foster two other special-needs kids; they’re on the swim team, too. The Robertsons are afraid if the NSU pool closes for a lengthy period, the team will collapse.
NSU has the only indoor pool in Cherokee County. The Stingrays may use the Fort Gibson Public Schools facility during the pool deck remodel, which is slated to take four to eight weeks. But due to its distance from Tahlequah, that pool may not be viable for practices when the Fitness Center is closed for an extensive overhaul that could take up to a year.
“I can’t begin to tell you what that team has done for these kids,” Robertson said. “I’d do anything to keep it open.”
She’s not just concerned about her own children. Robertson considers the Stingrays an invaluable asset because it costs so little to be part of it.
She wonders why NSU didn’t let the public know about the deck project, even when it was slated for December, so patrons would have time to make contingency plans. And as far as the overall Fitness Center project, she thinks it could be done in stages.
She and her husband both have experience with extensive remodeling projects. Mark is the manager of the Tahlequah Walmart, and Kelley herself was for 20 years a district manager for the company in Florida.
“Walmart went through some tremendous remodels, and we never closed,” she said. “[NSU] can figure out how to do it in phases, so the pool isn’t closed the whole time.”
Bradshaw isn’t happy with the news, either. Since the United States’ successes in the Summer Olympics, the Stingrays team now boasts 45 members. Bradshaw thinks he can work out a deal with Fort Gibson for workouts two days a week, during the deck project. But the team might not survive the longer NSU pool closure.
Like Robertson, Bradshaw believes the Fitness Center could be remodeled in stages, and he doesn’t see the issue as urgent.
“There are some problems, sure, but they’re not that serious,” he said. “Look, the requirements for U.S. Swimming are very strict, and I have to follow their guidelines. Do you think we’d be able to swim there if there were that big of a problem?”
Janice Randall, chief professional officer for B&GC, would like to see another pool built in Cherokee County, by either the city or Cherokee Nation, so the swim team and others wouldn’t have to rely solely on NSU.
“I’d like a facility that would benefit the whole community,” she said.
That suggestion might also make sense to the hundreds of others affected by the closure. A number of women are signed up for a water aerobics course through Continuing Education. Dozens of people swim regularly under doctors’ orders, with conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and scoliosis. At least three congestive heart failure patients swim at NSU, along with several cancer survivors and people recovering from surgeries and injuries. About a dozen triathletes – including world-class competitor Angela Stewart and her husband, Eddie – and a number of master swimmers hone their skills at NSU.
Some of them may temporarily migrate to another facility. NSU Vice President for Operations Tim Foutch said he’s trying to work out arrangements with pools in other cities, and he’s even looking at the possibility of procuring a portable pool, though he’s not sure where he’d put it.
Susan Semrow, an English instructor at NSU, has been swimming for several years, for both her mental and physical health. She home-schools her daughter, and they – like a number of other local home-school families – use swimming as a P.E. credit.
Semrow said most of the people she knows have neither the time, nor the money, for commutes to Muskogee or even Fort Gibson.
“I know they’re looking at some options, but I want to know why they didn’t work those out before they decided to close the pool,” Semrow said. “I think it would have been nice if they’d taken into consideration all the people who depend on this pool, some of us literally for our sanity. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
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