MoreThanAFamiliarPlace | West Suburban YMCA

The Y: More Than A Familiar Place

Dec 28, 2020

As we near the end of 2020, longtime Y member Bob Bouchal shared what the Y has meant to him over the years, and how he continues to return "home" to the Y during this tumultuous time.


"I’ve been a member of the Y almost 18 years now. The fact is, the only place I really feel at home is when I’m in the pool. It’s very much one of the cornerstones of how I’ve lived my life over that time. I taught in the school system. On the way home, I’d stop here, swim, unwind a little bit, and think about what I was going to teach the next day. I’d reconnect with the sport that was at the center of my life when I was a youngster. 


These 17 years have meant the world to me. I’ve met a lot of people here and some have become close friends. As someone who leads a fairly solitary life, this is my social world. And there are a lot of people here named Bob. In my 25 years teaching at Newton South I had not a single student named Bob. So when the Bobs meet here in the locker room, it’s, “Hi Bob,” “Hi Bob,” “Hey Bob.” That’s fun and uplifting. It’s better than sitting in a room, hunched over a computer, worried about whether you can go outside or not. 


The four and a half months that the Y was shut down were extremely difficult for me for a number of reasons. One of the main ones was that I had physical therapy a couple of years ago, and there was inadvertent damage to the nerve that controls breathing on my right side. I went from being able to swim a couple of miles in under an hour to barely being able to swim down and back two lengths of the pool. That’s from 144 lengths down to two. And when I swam those two, I was gasping for air, whereas before it was effortless. The pool has become a therapeutic center for me. This is where I’ve tried to recover my respiratory capacity. After four and a half months of not being able to come to the Y to swim, when I came back it was like starting all over again. I have been coming three or four times a week, and I still can’t swim anything like I used to. If I weren’t doing this, I would probably go down hill really fast. The Y is more than peace of mind and a familiar place, this is essential to my health.  


I would not be here if I didn’t think it were a safe environment. I see people all the time spraying and wiping down surfaces; they’re meticulous. Sometimes I wonder, “are they overdoing it?” And then I think I’d rather they overdo it than otherwise. I can’t think of another place I’ve been in this city where there’s that much attention to detail.  


The Y is an extraordinary resource. It has great personal meaning for me, back to when I was a kid swimming on different Y swim teams. So coming here is like being home. I would be mortified if for some reason they had to shut down again. Because the thought of sitting back at that computer and wishing I could be here in the pool is not something I look forward to."