It was in a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan that I met two of the key leaders of Team New York Aquatics (TYNA) - officially the world’s largest LGBT aquatics club.
Elisabeth Turnbull-Brown (TNYA co-chair) and Scott Jordan (TNYA head coach) make a dynamic duo. Both young, articulate and engaging - Jordan, the quintessential gay American; Turnbull-Brown a straight-talking (and straight) Australian.
TNYA are on a high - fresh from their success at the recent IGLA (International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics) championships in Iceland where they won the swimming, diving and water polo titles.
Founded in 1990, with a current membership of over 500 TNYA has quickly grown to become the world’s largest LGBT aquatics club and are also the biggest masters aquatics club in New York City.
With a professional coaching staff of 14, the club provides its members with 17 swimming workouts per week across four pools (three of which are in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn). In addition, TNYA also delivers diving training and water polo training.
The club’s membership is predominantly based in Manhattan, with approximately 15-20% of members residing in Brooklyn.
According to Turnbull-Brown, one of the strengths of the club is its diversity:
‘Diversity not only in age and gender, but also in ability, sexual orientation and culture.’
While clearly enjoying great success in LGBT-specific competitions, TNYA are also committed to regularly competing in masters competitions.
‘LGBT specific events are a lot of fun and also highly competitive’ says head coach Jordan, ‘but it’s important that we also attend regular masters meets from both a competitive and visibility perspective - I proudly wear my “Go Homos!” swimming cap in straight competitions’.
Turnbull-Brown is quick to point out that the benefits of being a member of TNYA go well beyond a competitive focus: ‘Our members not only get access to top quality coaches, but the diversity of ability of our swimmers - from Olympic level through to beginners - means that there is always someone in the pool to help push you to train harder.
‘Plus membership of a club like TNYA means that you immediately access a healthy social network - I certainly found it difficult to meet people when I first moved to New York City and becoming a member of TNYA really helped me to connect with like-minded people.’
The key challenge for the club is getting enough pool time - Jordan, who became TNYA’s head coach in May 2012 (and is clearly loving the role), confirms that capacity is becoming a real issue: ‘There are surprisingly few pools in New York City that are suitable for competitive swimming training so getting access is difficult.
‘Plus when you add in the specific requirements of diving or water polo - which need deep pools with diving boards or goals - then it is even harder. At the moment our divers are even contemplating pools on Long Island and New Jersey to try and increase their training time.’
From a community outreach perspective, Turnbull-Brown is proud of the club’s annual fund-raising for New York City’s Aids Service Center.
‘Our team has lost a lot of members to AIDS, especially in the early years, and we have a lot of swimmers that are HIV positive. Over the years we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and that’s an important contribution for us to continue to make.’
One of Turnbull-Brown’s current priorities is to attract and retain more lesbians to the club.
‘At the moment our gender balance is about 80% male. Of our female members, quite a high proportion of these are straight women, so we’re organizing a number of initiatives to try and build on our core group of lesbian members.’
Head coach Jordan is determined to continue to support the team’s competitive edge: ‘I’d like us to be a dominant swimming force - not just in the LGBT aquatics world but in the masters swimming world in general.’
With leaders like Turnbull-Brown and Jordan at the forefront, TNYA appear to have a bright future ahead of them.
TNYA welcomes visitors from other LGBT aquatics clubs from around the world to come and train with them while visiting the city.