The Summer’s Lap Swim Contest and Cheating

I’m trying to decide whether or not to enter this year’s lap swim contest.

Backstory: Every summer the NYC Parks & Recreation Department sponsors a summer lap swim contest. Anyone who swims 25 miles by September 2nd gets a tshirt and is invited to a celebration and dinner at the end of the summer! There’s also a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophy for the man and the woman who swim the most miles in their division at their pool between July 5th and August 5th. The divisions are Early Bird or Night Owl and only the laps you swim during the times for your division count.

Here’s the thing. It’s all based on the honor system, mostly. You count your laps as you swim and report them at the end. But some people cheat. I really don’t get it, the prizes aren’t worth cheating for and the real pleasure, in my opinion, is actually swimming the miles and winning. I don’t see how it would feel good if you cheated. Last year they had employees randomly count you. (When I was counted what I reported either matched or I was off by no more than two, which is plausible. I could miscount.)

This year I noticed a procedure section. Maybe they always had this and I never noticed or maybe they got more complaints than usual about cheating. Someone told me that they issued lap count watches before and they didn’t work well.


1. Sign in and choose a slow, intermediate, or fast lane according to your ability.

2. If you would like to keep track of the distance you swim a lap count watch will be issued to you. If a lap count watch is not available, laps may be counted by a staff member or each swimmer.

3. When leaving the pool, you should inform the on-site aquatic specialist of the number of lengths logged for the day as well as your Administration Number.

4. To ensure fairness in the competition for trophies and t-shirts, we will sometimes count Swimmers’ laps throughout the summer.

I always swim in the Night Owl division because I can’t consistently get up and out every morning. You have to swim every day (laps on the weekend aren’t counted) and for the whole time, an hour and a half, in order to win. You miss a night or leave early and someone else racks up miles that you have now lost.

It’s a lot of work and every year I say I’m not going to do it, and then I end up doing it. If I do it, this year will be my fourth year. Here are my trophies from the previous years. I went from 19 miles, to 39, to 32.8 (that’s just for the one month, I swim more over the whole period). As usual, I really don’t feel like doing it. Maybe I should switch to the Early Bird division.


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

6 thoughts on “The Summer’s Lap Swim Contest and Cheating

  1. Stacy, stay with what works for you. think of the great cardio workout you are getting. maybe you’ll get first this year.

  2. Hmm… Either you SHOULD do it this year to mark your 60th birthday, or you SHOULDN’T do it this year in honour of your 60th birthday and give yourself the gift of some time “off.”
    I’m no help, I know.

  3. Go with your intuition. Flip a coin. Heads you swim, tails you don’t. Whichever way the coin comes up, you will know by your reaction, which way you really want to go. If you don’t want to swim but feel weird about it, try to figure out why. Maybe it is just the time commitment? Maybe you want to try something different? What else would you do, if you didn’t do the swimming?

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