Oak Harbor pool closure would leave some swimmers helpless

With both legs amputated to her knees, Cindy Strickland, 74, relies on the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool as her only means of exercise. She uses a motorized chair to enter and exit the water.  - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
With both legs amputated to her knees, Cindy Strickland, 74, relies on the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool as her only means of exercise. She uses a motorized chair to enter and exit the water.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Four days a week, 74-year-old Cindy Strickland climbs from her wheelchair onto a motorized chair that lowers her into the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool. Legally blind, diabetic and with both legs amputated to the  knees, the water is the only place Strickland can move freely.

“It’s my exercise. I don’t walk. I don’t do much of anything but swim,” Strickland said.

Swimming helps her work on coordination, breathing and “just everything,” Strickland said.

Threats to close the pool due to funding loom over Strickland’s head but she said she’s trying to remain optimistic because she doesn’t know what she’ll do if the pool closes.

A renewal levy that funds more than half of the operations costs of the North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, which will be mailed out this month. If it doesn’t reach the required 60 percent supermajority, officials may close the pool, which is by far the district’s largest expense.

The renewal levy is just that: It would maintain the current rate taxpayers pay at 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Strickland said the community doesn’t realize the value of the pool. While many children and adults use it, Strickland said there should be more but she isn’t sure everyone knows the pool is available in Oak Harbor.

“They don’t see it as a plus; it’s just a thing that’s there that costs money,” Strickland said.

As she exited the pool, every lane was being used by swimmers, including community members exercising, Navy personnel training and people lounging in the hot tub.

Lifeguard Roberta Garrison has been swimming at the pool since 2004. After a hip replacement, she said she and the other elderly people at the pool need to swim to ease walking trouble.

If the pool closes, Garrison will have to go to the Anacortes pool.

“I can’t imagine kids living on the island without swimming lessons,” Garrison said. She learned how to swim in a lake but would have chosen a pool if possible.

Allowing children a place to learn to swim is number one on Patricia Hardin’s list of reasons to keep the pool open. She said she never wants to hear a report that a child drowned in local waterways because the child had no opportunity for swimming lessons.

“I don’t think there’s enough for kids to do in the area. Closing one of the big things is not a good idea,” Hardin said.

Hardin does aerobics at the pool four days a week to ease the pain of a herniated disc. She tried to exercise at Curves but the pain made her quit. Without the pool, Hardin said she may have to stop exercising.

Sgt. Wybert Ebanks used the pool to stay in shape after a severe back injury while serving in the Marines.

“The pool benefits my overall health and family. It helped me out a lot. It kept my weight down and kept me in shape. What more can you ask for?” Ebanks said.

He takes his children to the pool, which is especially important in Oak Harbor because there aren’t many activities for children to do.

“It keeps kids out of trouble and gives them something to do,” Ebanks said.

Ebanks said the pool is also vital to the elderly and disabled seeking low impact exercise, the school swim team and military families.

Erika Ash has been swimming laps for 36 years, 20 of them in Oak Harbor.

“Swimming is one of the most healing sports you can do,” Ash said.

Ash would be in favor of paying higher fees to help keep the pool open.

“I don’t mind paying 50 cents or even a dollar more,” she said.

She said the pool has already made it through one threat of closure.

“Last time we found a solution. Maybe this time too. Cross the fingers,” Ash said.

“Get out of your beds and get down early and vote,” Strickland urged.


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