Kilimanjaro or bust!

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73
This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73

Former Olympic swimmer Dan Thompson begins his trek in Tanzania Thursday, and I’m wondering why I didn’t think of that myself?
What’s best way to draw attention to a local cause? Would you climb Kilimanjaro to save the pool down the street?

How far do we need to go to save our pools?
How far do we need to go to save our pools?

There was brief period in the late 90’s when I competed in triathlons, and I was lucky to train in an indoor pool located at Royal Vale school just down the road from my home. It was  run by the city, entry was free, and there was always a lane available –that is until the day someone hung a sign on the door saying, “temporarily closed”. That was about ten years ago, and the pool never re-opened.

Turns out there’s a crack running through the foundation of the pool and no one wants to pay to fix it. The school board owns the property, but long ago gave up running the pool and leased it to the city. Meantime, municipal officials don’t want to invest any of their moula into fixing something that doesn’t belong to them. At one point, I was told the repair cost was estimated at between six hundred and eight hundred thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money. But what’s the cost of not fixing it?

Every time a facility like that is abandoned it’s one less reason to draw kids and adults away from the living room couch.

The confluence of crumbling infrastructure and feuding, cash-strapped municipal/education organizations isn’t unique to Montreal.

The Toronto Star reported this week on a wide variety of grass-roots groups taking different measures to save local pools. The eye-catcher is Dan Thompson’s trek.

Dan Thompson trades trunks for hiking boots
Dan Thompson trades trunks for hiking boots

Thompson is a former butterfly specialist who won medals for Canada in the late 70’s and early 80’s at the Commonwealth and Pan American Games. His one shot at Olympic glory was denied when Canada boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

Since retiring from competition, he’s had some interesting jobs in the front office of amateur sport, including heading up Swimming Canada  between 2004 and2008.

Thompson with Swimming Canada
Thompson with Swimming Canada

Now he’s turned his focus to promoting school swimming programs and saving local pools  – in particular the one at Jarvis Collegiate – one of several pools threatened with closure by the Toronto District School Board.

Thompson is aiming for $50-thousand to accomplish his initial goals. And the peak of his campaign is this week’s climb up Kilimanjaro.

On the surface, hiking and swimming don’t really have anything to do with each other. However, the climb and the attention it’s receiving is pretty seductive: use a healthy, physically demanding walking expedition to one of the planet’s jewels as a reminder of the importance of physical activity and healthy living. Big dreams start at your local pool!

Interesting that Thompson has chosen this point in his life to focus his attention at the grass-roots level. A quick read of his bio suggests that most of his energy until now was spent on working with elite level athletes and the issues that affect how they are trained. But I see that his two children are now approaching their early teens, and he can see first-hand the impact that pool access issues are having on “average” users.

Which brings me back to my story. I finally returned to regular swimming this summer, and am feeling much better for it. I wonder, though, if I ever would have left the training if the local pool hadn’t closed? How many other similar stories are out there in my neighbourhood?

And I wonder if I should have tried to rattle that locked door, and get the spotlight directed at my local pool?  If only I thought like Thompson, maybe I could have saved the pool (and made a trip to Kilimanjaro!).

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4 responses to “Kilimanjaro or bust!

  1. Bob makes a great point when he poses the question of what the cost could be if public pools are not maintained. If you consider the cost of obesity to the health care system alone certainly anyone could be convinced that an increase in public money spent to maintain public recreation facilities is almost priceless.

  2. Glad to see you are climbing mountains to save swimming pools Dan. All Canadians, especially our children, need way more physical activity to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Iam fighting a similar battle here on Nuns Island. Several years ago Verdun City Hall spent 1.8 million building two full size soccer fields. Today the fields are much like the dirt patch the 650 children played on before the fields were constructed because the City has neglected any upkeep, despite constant urging of the coaches, parents and many volunteers. As a result the fields are now unsuitable for play and not safe and all we get from our elected officials are endless excuses and no action. The biggest losers are the children who are limited to about 20 hours of play a week. Mayor Trudel and his team are not good 4 sports. They need a kick in the butt.

    George S. Athans Jr.,

  3. Wow, interesting. There used to be a pool just a block away from my house when I was a kid, and I’d go there practically everyday during the summer. One year, the city decided to close it for reasons I’m not quite sure of. People in my area were outraged, but nothing was ever resolved.

    Though I also competed, I hardly ever went for a dip after that. Pool closures are depriving local talent of the opportunity to train and it’s nice to see that somebody is making a point of it, even if it is in Toronto.

    Make that 2 for 2, Dan Thompson is good4sports.

  4. Good for Dan Thompson for lending his sports fame to a good cause. He IS good4sports!

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