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Building a Community: A Glance at “5am’ers”

“What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good on this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” -JRR Tolkien

Waking up with the owls at 5 o’clock in the morning (the birds are still asleep) every day has its advantages. No traffic on the road, the constellations are visible on clear mornings, and the world hasn’t started its hustle.  The 5 am crowd (yes, crowd) at the Y hosts a cast of characters that make waking up before dawn worthwhile. Unlike most of us who groan and roll back over when our alarm clock goes off, these early bird swimmers are positively chipper and are among the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Dedicated to their routine, pre-dawn at the pool is a time when people socialize just as hard as they exercise, with the goal being to always leave the pool smiling. It’s practically impossible not to leave in a good mood. There a few who are absolute fixtures at the pool, and everyone notices when they’re not there. It really is a family, where everyone supports and encourages each other, and small, simple acts like saying “good morning” and “have a nice day,” are sincerely felt and appreciated.

Holiday Luncheon Group

The patriarch of the 5 am swim group is Lindsay, rightfully seated at the head of the table. A man in his 80s, you’ll never meet a truer gentleman. In a landslide victory, Lindsay was fondly dubbed “The Mayor of the Pool,” as he is one of the most dedicated swimmers of them all! Every day he walks around the Y until the pool opens, where he swims for precisely 1 hour and 50 minutes (to the minute, every time) before stretching and heading to work. He’s the fittest 80-something-year-old I know, and swimming keeps him, and a lot of other swimmers, going. Partly because if you dilly dally too long, he’s not afraid to give you a love splash and say, “Get in the pool! Let’s go!” And if you promise him to “see you tomorrow,” you’d better show, because he’s like your grandpa that you just can’t stand to disappoint. As a way to show his gratitude, every Christmas he hosts a holiday luncheon for all the early morning swimmers. This event reveals the tight fellowship that has developed amongst the 5am’ers, fostered from a combination of little sleep and a lot of love.

The group wouldn’t be complete without the class clown, and the award for that goes to Jeb, who always fills the room with his boisterous presence and laughter. Jeb, who sometimes talks more than he swims and likes to do flips underwater, quips that “everyone should be upside down at least once per day. It’s all about changing perspective!” He and his buddy Jamie are also known to break into duets of Broadway show tunes or SNL skits, which can be heard echoing throughout the men’s locker room. Jeb has recently returned following a motorcycle accident, and the outpouring of support for him was incredible to see. Every day people asked how he was doing or how they could get in touch to speak with him or send him a card. His pool friend Vinny even offered to drive him to his doctor’s appointments. After being away for 8 weeks to heal, Jeb is back and he said he has finally realized what the “family” part of Wyckoff Family YMCA meant. He said, “I always thought it meant that the Y was for your family…things to do for mom, dad, kids…but now, being away for so long, I see that it is family, my ‘Y family.’”

By: Tracy L. Nieradka