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Originally published Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 8:03 PM

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Parks chief apologizes to cancer survivor who wants to swim topless

The man in charge of Seattle's parks department, who himself is fighting cancer, phoned breast-cancer survivor Jodi Jaecks on Thursday and apologized. She had been asking since February to be permitted to swim topless in Seattle public pools because she no longer has breasts. Conditional permission was granted on Wednesday, but the conversation about appropriate pool attire will continue.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Hey, I don't think an apology was in order. Apologize for what? the fact that we have... MORE
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Jodi Jaecks spent most of Thursday talking to media outlets across the country about what it means to bare her mastectomy scars in public.

"I never would have fathomed that I would see such a huge reception to this issue," said Jaecks, who is still fighting for every woman with a double mastectomy — not just herself — to swim topless in Seattle's public pools. "But I'm excited about it because what started as a personal thing has become a bigger, political issue about awareness."

On Wednesday, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department gave Jaecks permission to swim topless — something she'd been asking for since February — but she's restricted to adult lap swimming, and she is the only woman who can swim topless.

The most important call she took Thursday, Jaecks said, was from Christopher Williams, Seattle parks superintendent. He's fighting lung cancer and undergoing chemo treatments himself right now.

Williams apologized and told her he first learned of her request Wednesday. Until then, park administrators beneath him handled the matter.

"I'm very sensitive to what this woman is going through," Williams said. "On one hand our staff was just fulfilling their duties; but at some point, you have to back away from the policy and use common sense."

Jaecks, 47, is going to meet with Williams next week to discuss the dress-code policy, she said. The existing policy is women must wear tops in city pools.

She won't take advantage of her personal permission to swim topless until then, she said.

On Thursday, Seattle Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Dewey Potter said the department's "response to this issue is evolving." The office plans to convene a group of cancer survivors, representatives of public health and the American Cancer Society, among other organizations, to talk more about the dress code, she said.

For now, Potter said, she's trying to return a torrent of media calls. Because the department's summer calendar is so jammed, the dress-code meeting may not happen until fall.

Not all the feedback Jaecks received Thursday was positive. Many of the online comments about her story made fun of the way she looks. Some asked whether men who have prostate-cancer scars should be able to swim bottomless.

But such comments won't deter Jaecks from trying to change the public-pool dress code — even if they're eventually delivered face to face at the pool, she says.

"I would like to think we could have a rational conversation about it," Jaecks said. "I can deal with the comments: I came out [as a lesbian] when I was 17. I've lived my life against the grain since I was young."

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com

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