It was October 2008. The stock market was crashing and the economy was in a free fall—people were hurting. Not exactly the ideal circumstances for trying to raise the $750,000 still needed to build an indoor pool at the Waldo County YMCA. But Dale Cross, executive director, never lost faith.
“There’s just something about the people of Waldo County,” Cross says. “I knew it would be difficult, but I never doubted that we would achieve our goal. It’s a cause that a lot of people feel strongly about around here.”
Indeed, Cross’ faith was rewarded. In just two months, the YMCA raised more than half of the remaining funds needed. The YMCA Board of Directors was so confident that in December of 2008, after four years of gathering close to $4 million, ground was finally broken on the Tom and Sally Savage Pool Complex. And the construction money was kept local—all but one of the contractors was a Maine-based company.
“The entire staff, the board, the contributors, the Y members—they were all so excited to see the last phase begin,” Cross added. “We were ‘keeping the promise.’”
Those three words were the sacred pledge that the YMCA made to the community back in 1998, when the ambitious plan to build a YMCA in Belfast was first hatched. It was a plan that would serve not just Belfast, but all of Waldo County.
At the time, the goal was to build a full facility—including a pool. However, that plan proved too ambitious and was scaled back to just building the core facility. The pool would be built later, once the original debt was paid off.
That facility opened in February 2001 to an eager community. So eager, in fact, that the YMCA was shocked by the response. The entire debt of nearly $1 million was paid off by 2004 thanks to generous community donations.
As promised, the pool was next. The capital campaign began in 2005 to raise the money to build the three main features of the pool complex—a six-lane pool for lap and competition swimming, a warm-water physical therapy pool, and a spa pool, which, at 102°, has become very popular for general relaxation, socializing, and for exercisers who want to warm up and cool down after their workouts.
“After four years of blood, sweat, and tears, we finally opened it in June of 2009,” Cross says. “What a glorious day. We were all bursting with pride. Nobody here will ever forget it.”
Area seniors, especially, have been taking full advantage of the physical therapy pool. At a constant temperature of 90°, swimmers can exercise in a pool that therapeutically allows their muscles and joints to become relaxed and more flexible in a non-weight- bearing environment.
Eighty-year-old David Frye of Belfast is one of them. Frye was experiencing severe pain in his right leg back in 2008 and was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare and serious disease that destroys the body’s fat, muscle, and fascia, (the tissue surrounding the muscle). It was so serious that he was expected to lose his right leg or, at the very worst, his life. He underwent 13 operations and procedures over a three-month period. Miraculously, the doctors were able to save his life and his leg.
Frye then began an exhaustive rehabilitation program that included physical exercises in the YMCA therapy pool.
“When I came home from the hospital in a wheelchair, I never thought I’d walk again,” Frye says. “The YMCA pool has truly been the savior for me. Working with a physical therapist like Tammy [Sanderson] gave me all the confidence I needed. It really does feel like a miracle.”
In less than a year, Frye went from a wheelchair to crutches to a cane. Now he walks on his own without any assistance. On nice days he even gets out to mow his lawn.
In the larger pool, members of all ages swim laps at all hours of the day, as part of an overall physical fitness program. Longtime YMCA member Dan Ottman is one of them. Ottman, 45, was a highly competitive swimmer through his college years at the University of Maine in Orono. But for the last 20 years he’s done very little swimming, competitive or otherwise.
“The YMCA pool changed all that,” Ottman says. “The juices just started flowing again. Once I hit that water, it was like I never left. I’m actually competing again in national events for men my age. I’ve lost 20 pounds and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for years now.”
It’s also a family affair for Ottman as his wife, Krista, and two children, Taylor, 15, and Kaylen, 11, are also hooked. “Both of my children now swim competitively,” he says.
The YMCA has already started to develop a reputation as a hotbed for competitive swimming. Kids between the ages of 5 and 18 make up the Bluefish swim team, which competes against other swim teams from around the state. The team used to practice at the Belfast Area High School pool, but they had shorter practice times and often-inconvenient hours as the high school swim team took priority. Thanks to the fact that the YMCA pool is open 100-plus hours a week, the Bluefish swim team has a home pool for both practice and hosting meets.
This past spring, the YMCA celebrated another milestone. They held their first ever triathlon—with the swimming portion held at the indoor pool. There were 128 adults and 45 kids who took part in the event.
“It seemed like the whole town of Belfast came out to support this event,” Dale Cross says. “We had 156 volunteers on that day, plus the fire department, local police officers, and the highway department. Even the National Guard was on hand.”