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The Last Laps: Downtown YMCA pool ceases operation

July 8, 2019
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In this Sunday, June 30, 2019, photo, Richard Purath, foreground, and Will Moser swim the last laps at the YMCA in downtown Racine, Wis. The 59-year-old YMCA has closed to make way for a future lakefront redevelopment project. (Andrew Rosenthal/The Journal Times via AP)

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — After 50 yards, Richard Purath and Will Moser swam what were meant to be the final laps at the Downtown YMCA pool.

But that wasn’t enough.

Over the past 40 years, Purath, 86, and Moser, 85, have swam the equivalent of traveling more than halfway around the world. But Purath had one more request after Moser beat him to the finish line.

“Well, should we go another lap?” Purath asked as the clock turned to noon, the time the pool was meant to cease operation.

“OK,” Moser replied.

“I’ll give you a head start!” Purath said to Moser.

Fifty yards later, Moser took off his goggles and climbed out of the pool, followed by Purath. As they made their way to the lobby, the ripples in the water died down for the last time.

The Downtown Racine YMCA officially closed last week.

YMCA CEO Jeff Collen sent a letter to readers in late April, announcing that the Y had agreed in principle to sell the lakefront building, 725 Lake Ave., “with the goal that we can be built back into the new building.”

Purath began swimming at the YMCA in third grade.

At first, he wasn’t a member, but he had two good friends who were. Purath’s dad purchased a membership for Richard, and he started to take the bus with his friends to the YMCA after school.

“One time I went with him, and I was hooked,” Purath told The Journal Times . “I loved it. The swimming. All of the things you did at the Y.”

In a time when universities and high schools did not have swimming pools, Purath never swam competitively, but he did coach.

“I swam every day,” Purath said. “I’d go to the quarries there, I’d go to the lake, I’d swim. I just loved it.”

Purath plans to continue swimming in Lake Michigan and around Green Bay.

“Any place I can find some water,” he says.

After swimming two laps in the time it took Purath to swim one, Moser ducked under the rope to take a photo with him.

“You’re a good man,” Purarth said as he looked at Moser.

“Two good men,” added Purath’s daughter, Anne Ryan.

“They are all just a group of really fine people,” Purath said of the people with whom he swims at the Y, and of the people who work there. “They’re all good friends. I really appreciate it because they’d do anything for you, and I’d do anything for them. Just nice, nice, people.”

It wasn’t just an emotional moment for the two men in the pool.

Bill Fritsch, a maintenance technician at the Y, asked if he could leave his second job at McDonald’s early to watch the last laps for some of the friends he was able to make through the Y.

Fritsch, a Manitowoc native and a cancer survivor, said that the Y supported him through trials and tribulations. When he came back, he said, “it was a victory.”

“These guys are not like members to me, they’re like friends,” Fritsch said.

His voice broke as tears welled in his eyes: “Or family.”

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Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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