Greystone YMCA swimmers strive for ‘Polar Bear’ T-shirts

HOOVER – Each year, swimmers at Greystone YMCA log hundreds of miles of laps in a quest for the famed “Polar Bear Club” T-shirt.

The Polar Bear Club is reserved for the top 10 finishers in the annual competition to swim the most laps at the YMCA branch.

Adam West, aquatics director at the Y, said the top three staff members also receive shirts.

Swim team members are not allowed to count their practice laps toward the competition, but many swim extra Polar Bear laps after practice.

The desired Polar Bear Club T-shirt is the primary motivation for most.

A different color is chosen for the shirts each year. This year’s version is military green.

“They love it,” West said. “A lot of them use it as a workout shirt.”

The competitors number about 30 swimmers ranging in age from pre-teen to 70s.

Tom Harkins started swimming for exercise and began competing in the Polar Bear Club several years ago.

Harkins has earned a few Polar Bear Club T-shirts and hopes to do so this year along with his son, Adam.

The two swim laps for about 45 minutes every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, swimming the equivalent of a mile each time.

“It’s a great way for us to spend time together and get some exercise—and have that goal of being in the top 10,” Harkins said.

Harkins said that when he and Adam began the program, they talked about the importance of meeting their goal of a top-10 finish and the commitment it would take.

“It’s really a challenge because there are a lot of great and dedicated swimmers,” Harkins said.

After about nine weeks and with about three weeks remaining, Tom and Adam Harkins sit in sixth and eighth place, respectively.

Updated standings are posted every couple of weeks.

The competition began Jan. 9 and ends March 12.

The leader as of Feb. 19 was Jeff Zanotti with 1,035 laps.

Each lap equals 50 yards, so Zanotti’s total equates to 29.4 miles.

West said other branches hold similar competitions and that they are a way of reaching out to members.

“It’s just something we do to love on our members,” West said.

Polar Bear Club is consistent with the YMCA’s healthy living principle and helps establish good habits, West said.

“If you start that process, doing something every day, it’s going to stick,” he said.