One portly member glared at me suspiciously from the pool starting block. "You trying out, miss?" he inquired. "Watch out for those men in there. They might just beatcha." Though faint from the heat, I pulled my robe around me more tightly and waited for the coach to arrive.
Twenty minutes later, after a hearty handshake from the 64-year-old Ellis, I prepared for my swim. A few other team prospects, all male, loosened their limbs beside me. I was relieved to see some budding beer guts to complement my thickening thighs. It had been a while since I had competed. While Ellis fiddled with his stopwatch, I desperately tried to recall race strategies, breathing patterns and stroke techniques. As I mounted the slippery starting block, my immediate concern was whether I would remember how to dive. But with the "Go!" from Ellis, I plunged into the pool.
I plowed through 100 yards of freestyle, too fired up to worry about how out of shape I was. Upon finishing, I glanced at my watch to determine the damage. Though slow (about five seconds off my personal best of 49.67), my time was not too embarrassing. I peered over the high wall at Ellis and tried to gauge his reaction. "Well," he said, "you're going to have to lower that time a bit, but warm down and we'll talk about the upcoming meets."
Was that a yes? I wondered as I floated through a few more laps to get my heart rate back to normal. Later, as I was toweling myself dry, my portly needier approached with an invitation to swim in his lane. I politely declined.
After exchanging my bathing suit for a business suit, I toured the club's Hall of Fame, on the second floor, with Ellis and the other swimmers and saw all the awards bestowed upon club athletes over the years, including a number of Olympic medals. I marveled at vintage photos of track stars, wrestlers and fencers. At the far end of the hall was a display featuring the club's 1996 Olympians. I wondered how long it would take before female athletes' names were included among the distinguished.
After assuring the coach that I would commence training immediately, I sneaked a look at the recently renovated gym on the sixth floor of the club. I was startled by the youth of the men weaving across the basketball court, dribbling and hooting. This was the next generation, the young Turks who would replace the older ones downstairs at the pool. Among the men was a lone woman who took a shot that arced gracefully through the net. One of the men patted her on the shoulder, and she smiled.
With this vision in my head and with my new NYAC team privilege card in hand, I walked out the club doors, into the New York City night. As I strode over the club emblem, the regal winged foot planted in stone, I recalled the NYAC motto: To promote manly sports, exercises and amateur athletics of every kind.... Well, some traditions are meant to be changed.