Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #19: Amazon Pool, Eugene, OR

Eventually I returned to catch the last few weeks of the always glorious Oregon summer. I hopped back into Pool #2, The Osborne Aquatic Center's outdoor pool, and resumed my mile-a-day habit which I'd been able to keep going even though I'd just traveled half way around the world and back. Seeing as I had no job and just a lot of video to edit from the Nepal trip, I began to think of the OAC as my pseudo workplace and the lifeguards and pool managers as my co-workers. I had a fairly consistent schedule for someone who didn't work. I woke up, emptied out my emails, swam a mile, played piano for an hour in one of the classrooms, then came home and carved up video nuggets.

But one snafu from Nepal ended up being quite serendipitous and led me to Pool #19: The Amazon Pool on the south side of Eugene, OR. Just two days before leaving Asia, I'd lost my debit card while hopping cabs in Kathmandu. My friend, Sita, loaned me the equivalent of $400 in Japanese Yen so I wouldn't get stuck on my way home. Oddly enough, another debit card that was stolen from me the first week I was in Kathmandu FINALLY showed up the day before I left for Holland.

At this time, I was still the swim coach for the Nepalese Paralympic team and Sita was being considered to go to Rio as a team chaperone. Instead of leaving the money for her in Kathmandu, she told me to hold on to it and give it to her when we met in Rio. It was more a wish than a plan, but just for fun, I agreed and held on to the Yen.

But with Rio only a week away, and the Paralympic Committee still not coming up with my plane ticket or accommodations, I told Sita (who DID eventually go to Rio!) that it would be best to just wire her the money. But Sita had a better plan - one of her best friends from Pokhara, Anjana, KC was flying to Eugene for a disability leadership camp! If I could meet her before she left, I could just pass the cash over to her!

I contacted Anjana and she invited me to a BBQ celebrating the end of the leadership camp. It was just down the road an hour in Eugene, so I pulled out the old Google, found another pool, and made a day of it. By now it seems like I should be an old hand at swimming pools, but each new pool has its' own system and I have no idea if they have any accessibility options or if the life guards on duty know how to use the systems they have.

I got to the Amazon Pool on the south side of Eugene on a sweltering hot, windless day in early September. When I paid at the entrance the cashier asked me if I needed the lift to get into the pool. This was a great sign, because there are pools that have them and almost never use them. But the Amazon pool was a busy public pool and they had several disability groups using the facility throughout the week.

I changed in the locker room then rolled out to the second-most beautiful pool of the 20 Pools. Besides a 25-yard square play pool with a monster slide, there is a 50-meter by 10-lane outdoor spa that is the envy of any competitive club in the country. There are two one-meter and two three-meter springboards along with a 5-meter platform. The water was crystal clear and instead of setting the lane lines in lengthwise, they used the 25 meter widths for lanes - more than 20 of them!

Each lane was so wide, that even with multiple swimmers using one lane, you never got close to smashing wrists or crashing hands on the lane markers. One of the duty guards held my chair and I flopped into a glassy lane that seemed to suck me in, more than reject me. After I stretched, I started pulling laps and was so caught up in the new environment that I lost count three times before I had to refocus and pay attention.

After I pulled my mile, I had to swim to a specific spot in the diving well where they had to mount their handicap lift into the same hole where the back stroke flags normally sit (5 meters from the finish). The guards weren't too sure how it worked and had to call over one of the swim teachers from the morning shift who used it much more often. Eventually I was extracted from the pool, but instead of hurrying off, I let the sun dry me and coached a couple of kids who were bouncing on the boards.

I made it over to the BBQ where I found Anjana and listened to her stories of her first trip outside of Nepal. Her eyes were glowing as she recounted how clean America was and how friendly and accepting people are. I had to warn her that she was in Eugene and not New Jersey, but I wasn't going to squash her buzz. We ate dinner and swapped stories about the common friends we had back in Kathmandu before I jumped back in my van and headed back to Corvallis.

Unfortunately it wasn't the only new Oregon pool I would visit on the week. That was Pool # 20: The Wilson High School outdoor pool. The circumstances that brought me to Wilson were not quite so pleasant. 

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