A swimmer doing the backstroke during lap swim at the South Portland Community Center pool, one of several indoor pools now open in greater Portland. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
advertisementSmiley face

Don’t banish your swimsuit to the summer clothes bin crammed under your bed just yet.

While it’s true our car windows are frosting over at night and snow has already fallen in parts of the state, it is still swimming season. 

I don’t mean those bold souls who splash into the Atlantic all winter long (I admire those people tremendously, even though I do not understand them at all). I’m talking about the sweet temperature-regulated and highly chlorinated splendor of an indoor swimming pool.

The 50-meter pool at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

The swimming lanes are open again at a few Portland-area pools, including the Riverton pool on Forest Avenue, the Davan pool in Westbrook, and the pool at South Portland’s Community Center.

These natatoriums rightfully closed to the public early on in the pandemic. Now with protocols in place – including limits on the number of swimmers in the water and disinfecting procedures between each session – the pools are welcoming us back for lap swimming and water aerobics. Swimmers of all levels can get their bodies moving in the water, whatever the weather. 

“We are very proud of the new procedures we have implemented and are so happy to have the public back using our pool,” said Lesley Hurley, aquatic supervisor at the South Portland Community Center. 

A lifelong swimmer, Hurley spent the summer swimming in Maine lakes and in the ocean when the local pools began shutting down earlier this year. But it wasn’t the same.

“I truly missed teaching and participating in aqua aerobics classes when the South Portland pool shut down,” she said. “Aerobics provides smiles, laughs, and conversations that remind us we are not alone in all of the craziness happening right now.” 

The Community Center reopened in September with daily water aerobics classes and several public lap/open swim times where, Hurley said, “people can enjoy a lane of space in the pool in any manner they want: swim, jog, walk, play, float, stretch.”

Lifeguards Caitlin Bryant, foreground, and Mike Blanchard keep an eye on things at the South Portland Community Center pool. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

The pool is a welcome resource for those looking to get or stay active indoors as winter approaches. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, “there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of recreational waters,” and area pools are implementing recommended safety measures for swimmers and staff.

“We have limited our patron numbers to only two per lane,” Hurley said, as well as smaller aerobics classes that now utilize the entire pool space. In addition, they have hourly sanitizing procedures in place, dedicated entrance and exit, and computerized temperature reading upon entry. 

Locker rooms are only available after swimming for changing into dry clothes. Swimmers arrive in their swimsuits five minutes before their pool time and wear masks until they’re ready to get into the water.

“Registration must be made online,” Hurley said, “which allows us to track those entering the pool area for contact tracing if needed.”

The pool calendar is released in one-month blocks, so the Community Center can follow state directives and make changes when needed. The whole process is as smooth and easy as possible, Hurley said, so swimmers of all levels can feel comfortable taking advantage of all the perks of the pool, whether in a class or on their own.

“There are so many benefits of aqua aerobics, from the dedicated stretching and great cardio workout to the isolated movements that foster joint flexibility,” she said. “The camaraderie is great as well.” 

Pandemic safety protocols at the South Portland pool include decals to help swimmers maintain social distancing around the pool. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)

Shallow and deep-water classes are open to all levels and are limited to 15 people per class. 

Some quality time swimming laps is likewise great for both body and brain. “Swimming provides a quiet mindspace to think and reflect,” Hurley said. “Which does not happen often for me, as a busy working mama.” 

Swim lessons are on hold for the time being; Hurley said they hope to resume those in the spring. For now, consider the pool a place for forward strokes, healthy breath-holding, and some time to do your body good. And if you have any questions, just ask. 

“If you are concerned about returning to, or starting, a fitness journey in the pool, please know that we are here to welcome you, from a safe and well-sanitized distance,” Hurley said.

To view the calendar and pool protocols at the South Portland Community Center, or to register for time in the water, go to www.sopoparksrec.com

Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.