In April last year, a bad thing happened to my body. I developed an injury called ‘Plantar Fasciitis’, which I had never heard of. It occurred one weekend after a series of unfortunately timed events that strained my feet and ankles to the point of agony. Here’s how:
- Moved apartments and climbed 5 flights of stairs at least 100 times
- Went for a couple of rushed runs without warming up or cooling down
- Walked 6 hours across Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge in leather cut-out boots, which I thought were practical walking shoes because they were from trustworthy Clarks of England (apparently not)
Suffering kicked in on Sunday evening, after sitting through a 3 hour basketball match in Madison Square Gardens. I stood up, only to be confronted by stiffness and stabbing pain in my ankles and feet. I hobbled homewards, confused. My friend offered to piggy-back me, which I very seriously considered.
My medical contacts diagnosed me confidently over FaceTime: Plantar Fasciitis; apparently common, but a first for me. I took ibuprofen round the clock to tolerate simple tasks, like walking to the subway.
As an avid exerciser, my situation was not ideal. After a grumpy week, the soreness had eased slightly, so I risked a spin class with the reasoning that you don’t really move your feet in spinning. Massive error; all progress reversed, and I was back to day-one misery. Reluctantly, I froze my beloved ClassPass membership.
Another week of no working out, and I was frustrated. For me, exercise is as much about mental health as physical health; it’s my time to switch off, be alone, focus on breathing, and release magical endorphins.
I deduced that the only way to satisfy my exercise cravings was to swim. A water baby at heart, I’ve always been calmest and happiest when submerged in water – be it in a pool, river or bath. Back home in the UK I swam regularly at gyms or local leisure centres. In New York, I had no idea where to do this. I’d seen no sign of a pool in the city since I moved. Gyms simply didn’t have the space.
FINDING A POOL IN MANHATTAN
When I typed ‘swimming pools Manhattan’ into Google maps, about 10 showed up. Most were far away, ridiculously expensive, outdoors or ‘lesson only’.
There was one potential gem in the mix that was 4 blocks away: the 14th street Y; $20 for a day pass. The name reminded me of ‘YMCA’ facilities in the UK (I believe it’s the same kind of thing), which triggered a mental image of slightly run down, grubby facilities – a very snobby reaction. Desperate for my exercise hit, I apprehensively decided to give it a shot.
TESTING THE WATERS
The 14th Street Y was not modern, shiny, luxurious or cool. There were no free fluffy white towels, disposable razors, or bowls of apples. There was no complimentary dry shampoo, herbal tea, or gift shop. There wasn’t one skinny, Lululemon clad, 20-something year old with a perfect pony tail, multitasking on her cell phone, in a rush.
Instead, I found a friendly reception, a large, well-equipped gym, a charming, clean, old-school pool in a pastel tiled room, and a crowd aged somewhere between 40 and 70 years old.
I headed for the pool. The attentive life guard kindly offered to move swimmers around so I was able to use a lane that was at my speed. The water was the perfect temperature, and relaxing music streamed into the room. It wasn’t crowded; there were no more than 2 people sharing a lane at any one time, which was an unexpected indulgence in the land of no personal space.
I emerged from the pool straight into the ladies locker room for a steaming hot shower. After a suck of cool water from the drinking fountain, I took a solo, naked lie-down in the small, mellow sauna (one of my favorite things in life – see 30 Years Wiser for the full list).
In the changing room, everyone took their time, and actually talked to one other. I met a fascinating woman who’d lived in the East Village for 30 years. I kicked myself that I didn’t ask her for coffee to hear more of her stories; next time.
GETTING ALONG SWIMMINGLY
A few months later, my feet were healed back to normality, and I was still going to the Y on a weekly basis.
Stepping into the 14th Street Y is like entering a different world. It’s taking a peek into how I imagine Manhattan used to be: less manic, less congested, fewer cell phones, and much more friendly. The people there are present, and there’s a community vibe.
For me, it’s a pocket of peace; a space to take my foot off the accelerator, and step off the New York treadmill.
Plantar Fasciitis was a miserable nightmare, but I’ll be always grateful that it led me to the Y – the haven I didn’t know I needed.