Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's fun to work at the YMCA

Chandra's story shows why it's the coolest place in the city

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Jordan Power says his workplace, the YMCA-YWCA, is his favourite spot in Winnipeg because it makes everyone feel welcome.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Jordan Power says his workplace, the YMCA-YWCA, is his favourite spot in Winnipeg because it makes everyone feel welcome. Photo Store

It's difficult to choose a favourite place in Winnipeg. I thought of parks and theatres and restaurants. I thought of community centres and museums and schools. I even considered writing about my own house.

After days of indecision, I decided I'd mull it over at work. Not long after I began mulling, I realized something strange, something unimaginable. Work might be my favourite place. Weird.

No, I'm not trying to win over the favour of my bosses. In fact, my last day is coming up soon. I'm also not trying to come off as some kind of golden-boy employee. I'm serious.

I've taught swimming lessons at the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg for a few years. For a while, I taught the adult swim classes. Most of the swimmers I taught were new to Canada and spoke little English. Almost all were afraid of water.

The first time I met Chandra, she didn't swim. Also, her name wasn't actually Chandra. I spent the 45-minute class trying to convince her to stand in four feet of water, or to at least sit on the edge. She would walk close, look down and jump backward clutching her chest. Chandra had never been in a pool.

The following week, she arrived early. She stood with her hands on her hips and told me she would make it into the water that day. She told me she needed to swim. She wanted to take her daughters to the beach.

Chandra grabbed the ladder and began climbing into the pool. She froze as her feet, ankles and knees lowered beneath the water. She told me she could do it and placed one foot on the bottom of the pool. She closed her eyes and lowered the other leg. Standing, with the water lapping up against her chest, she let go of the ladder. She stood still, watching me. Although her fists were clenched, her eyes were wet with pride.

Every week, she would push a little further past her fear. She put her mouth underwater, then her eyes. She held onto the wall, then me, then a flutterboard. These triumphs seemed small to me, but Chandra celebrated every victory with applause, a song or a laugh.

On the last week, her daughters came to see how much their mother had learned. They watched, wide-eyed, as she swam across the length of the pool holding a flutterboard in front of her. They cheered as she reached the end. Chandra smiled and tears mixed with the chlorinated water on her cheeks.

The YMCA is not my favourite place because it drops a paycheque in my bank account every two weeks. It's not my favourite place because the equipment is clean and the gym is big. In fact, the gym is overwhelmingly average in size.

The YMCA is my favourite place in the city because it makes everyone feel welcome. It encourages everyone to do their best, to be their best. It's my favourite place because it's where I get to meet some really cool people. People like Chandra, who isn't actually named Chandra.

Her story, as special as it is, is not unique.

The YMCA has really turned me on to how incredible people can be, how powerful their stories can be.

I've been lucky, I've been really lucky.

I've gotten to work at my favourite place in Winnipeg, and there are a lot of cool places in Winnipeg. They're just, you know, covered in snow.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2014 A1

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