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It's Big, It's New, and It's Fun

By Emily Yaghmour
If you're driving west along Patriot Circle, past the pond on the left and the Patriot Center on the right, you'll see a new building in the bend where the road turns north. On the outside, it's an unassuming structure. But step inside the round, glass-enclosed foyer and take a look around. Ah! The smell of chlorine! You have just entered George Mason's $11-million, 68,000-square-foot Aquatic and Fitness Center.

Behind the information desk stands an army of top-of-the-line fitness equipment, from stationary bicycles with both upright and recumbent seating to treadmills, stair climbers, cross trainers, Cybex strength-training equipment, free weights, you name it. Hop on a bicycle or any of the other cardiovascular machines and monitor your heart rate while you work out. You can even watch a heart-shaped icon pulse with every beat of your heart. And don't dismay if you are baffled about a piece of equipment (do you lie down on it, straddle it, face this way, or that way?), at least one fitness instructor will always be on hand to help you figure it out. From the treadmill, you can look through the glass wall, down past the silver bleachers of the observation area into the turquoise water of the 50-meter Olympic-sized swimming pool. If you're lucky, there'll be a good lap swimmer directly below, and you can pass your time on the treadmill in a hypnotic trance, watching the swimmer go back and forth across the width of the pool.

Or if you have a mind to, go downstairs to the locker room, change into your swimsuit, and try out that pool for yourself. You can dive into 13.5 feet of water from one of four diving boards¬two 3-meter boards flanked by two 1-meter boards. Two moveable bulkheads (which look like piers that stretch across the width of the pool) section off the water to accommodate different activities simultaneously, so swimmers can swim, divers can dive, and the scuba club can do its thing--without getting in each other's way.

Or let's say you want something a little less hard-core. Go to the opposite side of the fitness gallery and look down through another glass wall. Complete with volleyball net and basketball goal is a 25-yard pool designed for recreational swimming, lessons, and special classes. At a comfortable 85 degrees, it has an entry ramp for the very young, the disabled, or for those who like to enter a swimming pool one toe at a time. On the far side of the recreational pool is a steamy whirlpool¬just what you need after an invigorating workout. With a capacity of 14 persons, it's big enough for a party.

The Aquatic and Fitness Center officially opened on October 27, 1998, when two George Mason students plunged into the 50-meter pool to the applause of President Alan Merten and Mason students, faculty, and staff. Mickey McDade, associate athletic director for aquatics and recreational sports, calls the center "an exceptional facility that enables George Mason to host world-class swimming events, as well as a state-of-the-art recreational facility for the entire university community." He says the facility will provide "an evenly balanced program of recreation, instruction, and competitive activities."

Use of the facility is free to full-time students, but George Mason alumni are encouraged to take advantage of it as well. Alumni who graduated within the past year may purchase an annual membership for $200. Those who graduated more than a year ago may purchase an annual membership for $400. A portion of the cost of the membership constitutes a donation to the GMU Foundation or the Patriot Club and is, therefore, tax-deductible. Alumni may also purchase memberships at a reduced cost for family members. Daily passes for sponsored guests are $5. The center's hours of operation are as follows: Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Aquatic and Fitness Center's main information line is (703) 993-3939.

If you live in the Washington area, come check it out and consider a membership. It's a cheerful place to work out--big, bright, and open. And, perhaps best of all, the locker room contains a little device that spins the water out of your swimsuit, so you don't have to take home sopping spandex. Now that's some useful technology.

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