CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Since the late 1950s, Meadowbrook Country Club has been one of the tightest golf communities south of the James River. Like all other clubs, they built a swimming pool for members, but it had a very limited purpose.
"Meadowbrook Country Club is really a golf community. We always said the pool was like the step-child," Cathy Witherspoon, Meadowbrook Country Club membership director, said. "It was even almost an eyesore. It was an amenity that was used for three months, but then after three months, it was vacant."
That went against a national trend that has seen the popularity of swimming explode, especially among school-age kids.
SwimRVA is one of the newest clubs in Central Virginia, but already boasting over 500 athletes.
In normal times, SwimRVA would struggle to find swimming space for meets and practices.
During a pandemic, when even in chlorinated water distancing is key, it can be a nightmare just to find pool space and time.
"It does present some challenges logistically to find a place to fit all these swimmers but that's a challenge that we want," SwimRVA coach Jonathan Kaplan, said. "We want to accept that because we're bringing kids into the sport year-round that wouldn't have been in the sport otherwise."
Last August, SwimRVA rented pool time at Meadowbrook for swim practice.
The average temperature in August was in the high 80s.
But swimming has become a year-round sport.
Even though the temperature went down, the need for swimming space did not.
SwimRVA spent over $80,000 installing a gas heater for Meadowbrook's pool and for other upgrades to a facility that had not seen much love in a half-century.
That was almost the easy part when compared to getting teenagers to swim outside in temperatures that rarely rise out of the low 40s.
"I swam summer league outside for forever but it's warm out in the summer," Monacan High School student Tim Higgins said."Some days are colder than others and you can definitely feel it but overall it's been great."
For Higgins, if the pool at Meadowbrook was not an option, he would still be swimming., just at a much earlier hour of the day.
"My parents asked, 'are you sure you don't want to just go in the mornings?' I can deal with being cold for five minutes rather than wake up at 4 a.m.," he said.
"This was the best option because it allows us a safe environment that the kids can get excited about and allows us to continue to grow as a program," Kaplan added.
The arrangement has given new life to an old club and might just have started a tradition that others may follow.
"To sit here on any afternoon and to see 20 to 40 cars come in every afternoon with people from all over the county, it's great to see that," Witherspoon said.
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