SOUTHWEST ORANGE It is the largest indoor aquatic facility in the state — with one-and-one-half million gallons of water spanning three pools.
It is home to the only 10-meter platform for diving in Central Florida and the only underwater hockey facility with pop-up walls in the eastern United States.
It is a facility that hosts national and international swim meets, as well as Zumba classes in its shallow pool.
“If Michael Phelps is in town, where’s he going? He’s coming here. But, also, the 6-month-old that just learned to swim — they’re coming here, too. The pools here aren’t just for Olympic swimmers. This is for everybody.”
— John "Lucky" Meisenheimer
It’s the YMCA Aquatic Center, located off International Drive just on the outer edge of Southwest Orange County, and people such as Dr. John “Lucky” Meisenheimer — a longtime champion of the center and member of its board — want residents to know it’s here for them.
“If Michael Phelps is in town, where’s he going? He’s coming here. But, also, the 6-month-old that just learned to swim — they’re coming here, too,” Meisenheimer said. “The pools here aren’t just for Olympic swimmers. This is for everybody.”
Formerly the Justus Aquatic Center, the YMCA Aquatic Center hosts competitive and recreational swimming, water polo, diving and synchronized swimming programs, as well as underwater hockey.
There are swim lessons, fitness classes and programs such as “splashball” — an introduction to water polo — offered on any given day. Blue Wave Tae Kwan Do operates out of the facility, and it also serves as the home of the swim and water polo programs for Dr. Phillips and Olympia high schools.
“If you come here at four o’clock in the afternoon Monday through Friday, there will be 300 or 400 kids in the water — at the same time,” said Rowdy Gaines, the YMCA’s vice president of aquatics and a former Olympic swimmer. “It’s pretty cool, as far as the dynamic behind what this facility can offer.”
Despite all of that, and despite what would seem to be prime real estate near International Drive, the “hidden gem” (as Meisenheimer calls it) still is unknown to some residents. Advocates of the center are working to change that, though, as well as the perception that the facility is only for those who are already familiar with aquatics.
“If you’re an adult that doesn’t know how to swim, we have a class for you,” Gaines said.
“The great thing about aquatics — and swimming, in general — is it’s a lifelong skill. You can do it forever."
— Rowdy Gaines, YMCA of Central Florida Vice President of Aquatics
Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the recipient of the 2015 USA Swimming Award honoring contributions to the sport, has spent a lifetime advocating for swimming on a national scale. Now, he is imploring residents of Central Florida to incorporate it into their wellness approach.
“The great thing about aquatics — and swimming, in general — is it’s a lifelong skill. You can do it forever,” Gaines said. “You can really swim from cradle to grave. … I used to play pickup basketball a lot, and I had to stop about 10 years ago; it was just too much on my body. But I can swim six days a week.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].