I was about 8 the first time I walked into the Ahearn gym. It scared me a little, a concrete dungeon. I was there for practice at the Natatorium as a member of the Manhattan Marlins, during a short-lived competitive swimming phase.

It smelled of chlorine, the heavy air from the pool deck leaching out into the hallways. I remember the sound of coaching whistles and the beep of an automated timer. I was always in a hurry; the trick was to walk fast enough between the pool and the lockerroom that you didn’t freeze to death, but not so fast that you slipped. I’m not sure, thinking about it now, whether the chills were from the cold or the nerves, or both.

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