Humanity and community at the pool

Written on Jan 18th, 2015 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog

Runners can zone out, becoming oblivious to all around them.


By Marlene Farrell

Editor’s note: Leavenworth’s Marlene Farrell is recovering from a broken ankle suffered while running. This is the second in a series of blogs she is writing, detailing her recovery.

When I go to the pool in East Wenatchee I am often the youngest there by a couple decades. The mid-morning time slot is the domain of those with less work commitments. I’m lucky, as my current work is writing and I can make my own schedule.

The swimmers draw me in like I’m one of them. They aren’t exclusive; they are too wise for that. They are at the pool to get exercise, to celebrate their vim and vigor, to encourage each other and me.

I won’t deny the camaraderie among runners. In fact, I’ve blogged about it several times. There’s the buzz of instant friendship and shared nervousness before a race and the gregarious elation after a race. We runners cherish our friends who suffer alongside us. Doing quarter repeats on the track or cranking out a tempo run. Or running up a steep trail, calves burning. With a partner, words aren’t necessary, but the shared view at the top is our reward.

The Y pool in East Wenatchee.

Camaraderie in the pool is different. Everyone is doing their own thing, water walking, laps, swimming with amphibious gloves or flippers on their feet, treading in the deep end. We are respectful, sharing the space, hugging our half of a lane, each following our own path through the water toward fitness.

The acceptance is humbling. I’m a bit of a spectacle with my big black walking boot, which makes loud ripping noises every time I undo the six Velcro straps. The other swimmers don’t look away, but rather, looking me in the eye, they ask about it. They’ll tell me their stories or those of friends who have overcome a non-weight bearing injury. In the women’s locker room, conversations flow even as swimmers strip off all their clothes to shower. No one stares, but it’s a reminder of our shared humanity, each in our own skin, like lovely variations on a theme.

Runners don’t achieve that kind of familiarity unless they are very good friends. The experience at the pool is an intimacy with strangers that is refreshing. Maybe it’s the closest we can get to the public baths that are popular in some European and Asian countries. For runners, we can strive for that sense of community by remembering to smile and greet the other runners, walkers and bikers we pass. I know I sometimes do, but it’s also easy to get lost in self-absorption.

The pool has been a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to gain anything beyond the thrill and work of swimming and water jogging. But I find I like sharing the pool, and even my lane, because it’s more fun to swim near others, acknowledging each other’s perseverance with smiles.

Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at

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