- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

Winter conjures images of sledding and snowball fights. Treks through the woods, children bundled against the chill. A trip to the ice-skating rink. Curling up by the fire at home at night.

But one by one, as any parent knows, those long weekend days can turn into video marathons, endless indoor fort-building and vicious squabbles. Perfect children turn peevish and thoughts turn to escape.

Think of indoor swimming.

We tried it a few weeks ago on a day better made for sipping hot chocolate. We packed the children up on a Saturday morning and promised them something "really fun." No one was disappointed.

The Rockville Municipal Swim Center has an outdoor pool, a 15-person poolside whirlpool and two indoor pools, including a play pool with a graduated entry, like a beach without the sand.

At the North Pool, a dozen adults languidly swam laps in the lap area. In the uncrowded play area, a pair of elderly lovebirds held each other like teen-agers. A few children fooled around with their parents. A man with a Mickey Mouse tattoo swam with his young son hanging on his back like a monkey. Several preschoolers repeatedly jumped off the side into the 3-foot-deep water.

The water was a "chilly" 81 degrees that day (it usually is around 84 degrees, an employee said), but no one really seemed to mind. My husband played monster with the children while I took a moment to chat with a mother reading a novel poolside.

"Is this a strange winter activity? Yes, that's why I can't bring myself to swim in the winter," said Brenda Poole, an office manager from Potomac. She was visiting that day with her two daughters, ages 7 and 4. "It would be like ice skating in the summer."

Her girls whooped, dove and splashed.

"We came for a private lesson but the teacher didn't show up," she said. "So we don't ordinarily do this but we may have to start, because they're enjoying it so much. And this is a great way to keep them interested in swimming and keep their skills up."

Surrounding counties abound with indoor swimming pools, from the no-frills high-school pools to the fancy Montgomery County Aquatic Center, an indoor amusement park with its water mushrooms and slide.

When it was time to go, Ms. Poole nearly had to drag her children from the water. Mine, chilled to the bone by that time, were ready. But everyone agreed that indoor swimming is a great winter sport.

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