After spending the weekend in Riverside, Calif. and going to a wedding at a winery in Temecula, we noticed a few cacti in our yard in full bloom. We had rain the night before we left Arizona and apparently the rain continued through the weekend. I think that’s why we were treated to gorgeous blooms
We drove past our old stomping grounds of Palm Springs on the freeway. I thought I’d feel nostalgic or sadness after living there for 28 years. But no, I was thinking “Thank goodness we got out of here!” That was a surprise. I was even happier to get back to Arizona and home.
The wedding venue was beautiful with gorgeous views of vineyards, rolling hills and mountains. We enjoyed the surprise of being seated with our children’s former teammate, family and swim coach. It’s fun to get together with people we spent so much time with years ago when swimming was a major focus in our lives.
It was a fun, busy weekend with most of the time spent driving. But I was happy to get back home to Arizona and my cat Olive.
How do you feel when you return home from a trip? Are you relieved to be back to your own home, or do you long for more vacation?
We had a seven-hour drive to get our friend’s children’s wedding in Temecula, Calif. We left Friday afternoon and drove to Riverside to sleep for the night. Saturday morning we took a walk while the temps were in the 60s. It felt wonderful. We stayed downtown in a hotel we often stayed at for CIF (California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for California high school sports) for our son and daughter’s championship high school swim meets. It felt nostalgic. Memories surfaced about the hours spent in the hotel between prelims and finals. Our daughter would take ice baths after her morning swims and put her legs up against the wall while laying on her back. This was her way to recover and prepare for finals.
We were craving a breakfast burrito — probably because that was the staple breakfast at swim meets throughout Southern California — prepared by the hosting swim team.
We found one spot during our walk that was packed! So it had to be good. It’s called the Taco Station.
What are some of the fun, off-the-wall diners or restaurants have you discovered? Where were they and what type of food did they serve?
“We saw people’s heads blown off, were shot at, and saw bombs planted on bridges.” Part of a group of young swimmers representing the United States, Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno travelled to Chile in September 1973. Of her travel trip, Kirkpatrick-Reno said, “We all came home with PTSD.”
The swimmers were led by a young coach from Lakewood Aquatics in Southern California named Jim Montrella. They found themselves in the thick of the coup led by Augusto Pinochet that ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende.
“The trip to Peru and then Chile during a coup was a stand-alone event 47 years ago,” Montrella said. “The team was selected from the National Swimming Championships held in Louisville, Ky. Three teams were selected to travel to South America while the first and second-place finishers went on to the World Championships in Belgrade.”
Montrella’s group included eight swimmers, plus chaperone and assistant coach Jill Griese from Ohio. The swimmers were Nancy Kirkpatrick, Michelle Mercer, Anne Brodell, Sandi Johnson, Tom Szuba, Tim McDonnell, Steve Tallman and future Olympic gold medalist Mike Bruner.
Kirkpatrick-Reno was a promising 16-year-old swimmer from the Santa Clara Swim Club who trained with George Haines. “It was a post-Olympic year and a lot of us were hopefuls for the 1976 Olympic Team,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said. “We were coming in third and fourth places and moving up to the top of the ladder. It was before Title IX and we were a lot younger then.”
“The trip was sponsored by the United States Information Services; it went through the State Department,” Montrella said. “It was a People to People-type program to expose U.S. swimmers and athletes to different areas in Latin America.” Other sponsors were the Amateur Athletic Union and Phillips 66.
The trip began without incident in Lima, Peru. Over the first few days, the coaches and swimmers were treated like royalty. Prelims were held in the morning with the Peruvian swimmers. Then Montrella gave coaches’ clinics with his swimmers demonstrating. In the evenings they held finals.
“During the time in Lima, we had someone from the State Department taking us from the hotel to the pool. There was a female TV reporter who was with us and acted as an interpreter,” explained Montrella. “When we told the people in Lima we were headed to Santiago, they encouraged us not to go to because in their own words, they knew there was going to be a coup d’etat and we’d be at risk.”
Montrella said he talked to the ambassador or an assistant to the ambassador in Lima. He was told that it would be fine and that it was under control.
“From Lima we went to Santiago. There was a gentleman there from Washington D.C. who was in the Peace Corps and was coaching the Chilean National Team, Mark Lautman. We were supposed to do the same thing we did in Peru, competition and clinics.”
Kirkpatrick-Reno recalled her first days in Santiago:
“When we first arrived, we had a formal dinner with the Ambassador to Chile. We were told, ‘We’ve been having strikes, unrest and protests. We don’t want you to stay in the Presidential Hotel in downtown Santiago [which was next to La Moneda, the presidential palace.] We’re going to put you with families instead. Don’t wear USA sweats or uniforms because you would make good political prisoners.’”
Kirkpatrick-Reno stayed with the president of the Chilean Swimming Federation. She said the family was welcoming but poor. The mother had to wait in line for hours for food. Kirkpatrick-Reno needed to get to the pool and the family didn’t have a car. Since the kids in the family were swimmers, she rode on the public bus with them and arrived late at the pool. “Jim was upset I was on the bus,” she said.
“My family didn’t have food and I felt really bad for them. They gave me a small loaf of bread, a couple cold cuts and a hard boiled egg. They had nothing to eat. They took me to my room and there was a portable heater. They didn’t have heat in the rest of the house. I tried to dry my wet towel with it. September in Chile is freezing cold.”
Kirkpatrick-Reno said that another swimmer on the trip, Tom Szuba, lived with a family whose parents worked as dentists. Unlike the family she stayed with, they had plenty of money and food. Szuba told her that he and the swimmer he was staying with would be able to use an extra family car to drive her to and from the pool. “They gave me a bag of food without letting my family know,” she said.
She explained that after a couple days of competition, the team was supposed to leave their host families and gather together and travel to a seaside resort town.
“The Chilean coach Lautman picked up me and I think Tom, Tim, Michelle and Jim. We were heading to meet the rest of the team, but on the way there, military trucks were coming toward us. We watched as people opened their car doors and ran for cover. The coach told us to get down. I fell on the floor in the second seat. Tom fell on top of me to protect me. We heard bullets and saw charges being planted on a bridge. Lautman was driving like crazy against the traffic. Swimmers were all lying on the floor of the car. Lautman was trying to get us out of the area. He didn’t know where to go so he took us back to his apartment.
“On our way to meet up with everyone, the revolution had begun. Lautman had packed to go on the trip with us so he had almost no food in his apartment. He filled up bathtubs and sinks in his apartment with water so at least we’d have that. He had a bowl of fruit that we shared. We were stuck in his apartment for around three days.”
Montrella remembers that time, “We were staying in an apartment building on the 6th or 7th floor and we heard tanks in the street. Next door was the headquarters of a political faction. It was a two or three-story structure. I heard shooting.They absolutely shot up the political headquarters right next to us. It didn’t look like the same building after the tank got through with it.
“People in our building were shooting down at the tank. Right away I moved the kids into the interior of the apartment. We had a bullet come through one of our windows. It ricocheted off the ceiling and down into the interior. Then I got them out of the interior walls and I moved them closer to the windows and made sure all the blinds were closed. That way they didn’t get shot at through the walls or ricocheted off the stone ceilings to the interior.”
Kirkpatrick-Reno remembers them staying on the floor for most of the time and putting mattresses against the walls to protect from stray bullets. According to Montrella, she saved Mercer’s life by pulling her off a bunk bed where bullets came through moments later.
“We were in a 21-story apartment building. We watched them bomb the presidential palace. There were two bomber planes that swooped between the towers and dropped bombs on it. We saw 10 passes,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.
“The building shook every time a bomb was dropped. There was a a 24-hour curfew and we couldn’t go outside. Jim kept us in shape by having us run up and down the flights of stairs. But that made us hungry and we had hardly any food. It did get our mind off what was going on, though.”
She said that she and Mercer had candy bars hidden in their swim bags and they’d sneak bites once in a while. Then the boys found out and ate them all. “All we talked about was eating steak,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.
After three days, the government lifted the curfew during the day to allow people to buy food and other essentials. At that time the State Department had the swimmers moved further out of town to stay with embassy employees.
“It was kind of shocking once we moved outside of Santiago,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said. “It was a tale of two economies. The local people living there, like the family I stayed with, were poor and had nothing. They moved us to stay with an American woman in a big estate, who worked in the embassy. She had any kind of food you wanted in her freezers. It was sad to see the differences between the locals and Americans working for the State Department.”
“We were told that Kissinger got us a flight out of Santiago,” Montrella said. “We thought the U.S. was going to supply a plane. What happened was we went to location A at the airport, dressed in our uniforms, and sat and sat and sat. Then we went to location B and we sat some more. Finally, we were walked out to a turbo prop plane.”
Montrella said he and Jill tried to stay positive for the swimmers, but when he saw the other passengers, he felt concerned. The plane was filled with passengers who were not Americans–perhaps Eastern Europeans or Soviets. Then the plane took off in the wrong direction.
“I didn’t know if it was by plan or chance, but we were literally flying through the Andes down deep mountain ravines and canyons. We weren’t flying over the Andes. Mountains were on either side of us,” Montrella said. “We landed in Buenos Aires. They offloaded everybody and we were in the furthest concourse away from everyone. All the Eastern Europeans walked away and they kept us at the end of the concourse.”
When the team was at the airport, Montrella spotted men in uniform 30 yards away. He told Jill to stay with the swimmers and he’d try to find out what was happening. The uniformed men told him, “You know why you were going through the Andes? Fighter pilots out of Argentina wanted to kill the Russians.” To this day, Montrella doesn’t know if this was fact or rumor.
“Theoretically we could have been shot out of the sky. So we were hiding in the mountains rather than going over them,” Montrella said.
Montrella, Jill and the swimmers were eventually flown to Miami where everyone went their separate ways. Montrella said he remembers being debriefed before heading to an ASCA clinic in Chicago. It wasn’t until the team landed in the U.S. that the kids were able to call their parents.
Kirkpatrick-Reno said her parents had gone to the San Francisco airport on the day she was supposed to return. That was the first time they learned something was wrong. They were told by the airline employees that no planes were leaving Chile, that the airport had been bombed along with the communication towers.
Her dad called the State Department, congressmen, assemblymen as well as the press. When she arrived home after 50 hours of travel, she was met by a crowd of press. She said she was surprised that nobody from the government or AAU ever reached out to them with a letter or phone call.
“I don’t remember who told us to stay with families, rather than the hotel by the Presidential Palace, and not to wear our uniforms. But they must have known something was going on. In hindsight they must have thought it would look funny if we didn’t come,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said.
Montrella wasn’t sure if the U.S. government thought they’d be okay, or if they were considered expendable. He was very upset and angry at having been put in the middle of a coup if the government was aware. “My total concern was for the kids’ safety. I felt responsible for the kids and also I knew their coaches personally and professionally,” he added.
In a lighter tone Montrella said, “We had t-shirts made up later and mailed them to the swimmers that said Chilean Coup Crew 1973. I still have my shirt.”
A version of this story first appeared in SwimSwam Magazine’s Spring 2021 Issue. To subscribe to SwimSwam, order back issues or access them digitally, click HERE.
Jim Montrella’s legendary coaching career includes becoming an NCAA-winning Ohio State Women’s Swimming and US Olympic coach. Montrella also produced the first commercially sold hand paddles.
Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno was one of the first female swimmers to be awarded a college scholarship under Title IX. She is the head coach of Conejo Valley Multisport Masters and was USMS Coach of the Year in 2009.
Photos courtesy of Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno.
I wrote this story about the Chilean Coup Crew of 1973 for the Spring 2021 Issue of SwimSwam Magazine. I had never heard of this event until a swim coach mentioned it to me and said I should talk to legendary swim coach Jim Montrella. I had interviewed Montrella several times before, so that was an easy call. He’s the type of person who is approachable and happy to help in spite of his iconic reputation. You can read another story I wrote about him HERE. After hearing the word coup daily in the news the past few weeks, I felt this story was worth another look.
After speaking to Montrella, he referred me to one of the teen swimmers at the time, Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno, who is now a swim coach.
As a swim parent, I saw my share of obnoxious swim parents. And I had my own moments of not being able to contain myself — although not to the point of punching a ref out — or yelling at a coach.
I saw so many parents taking over their kids’ sports, coaching from the stands, and yelling at their children when they had a less than awesome swim, that I wrote weekly articles with sports parenting tips. You can read them on SwimSwam Parent Tips on my blog or on SwimSwam HERE.
We hear about “those” parents in the news. Their videos of violence on the field or gym go viral.
I saw an article today that had the perfect solution. Duct tape.
Last July, a woman on a flight from Dallas to Charlotte bit a flight attendant, then tried to open a door to the plane while screaming. Crisis was averted when she was duct-taped to her seat.
An excellent start! Now let’s get out the duct tape for sports parents, who need to sit down, shut up and remember that Pee Wee football is not the Super Bowl. In Mississippi this month, an umpire presiding over a ballgame played by 12-year-olds was punched in the face and given a black eye by a woman wearing a Mother of the Year shirt who had been thrown out of the stands for cursing. “It gets harder and harder to staff these tournaments because no one wants to listen to the verbal abuse and run the risk of what happened to me happening to them,” the umpire, Kristie More, told WLBT.
Like other forms of bad behavior (deaths in car crashes are way up), hyper-reactive-sports-parenting seems to have spiked during the pandemic, when tempers have been running as hot as Bidenflation. Even before that, anyone who was thinking about helping out the kids by signing up to be an umpire or a referee would have been smart to buy a Kevlar jacket and make sure his insurance was paid up. “There has been a huge drop off in the number of available referees and officials in youth sports due to the obnoxious behavior of parents,” Rick Wolff host of WFAN radio’s “The Sports Edge” told The Washington Post in 2020.
You’ve all heard about the controversy swirling around transgender Lia Thomas winning events at the Ivy League and NCAA championships.
First, as Kaitlyn Jenner said, Thomas isn’t breaking any rules — she followed NCAA stated rules. Jenner also said it’s not fair for someone who went through male puberty to compete against women. They are taller and stronger. They have bigger hearts, lungs, feet and hands. Those things don’t change with hormone suppression.
The swimmer who got bumped out of finals by one place (she was 17th and there are only 16 spots) wrote a letter to the NCAA. She’s supportive of Thomas but thinks the NCAA rules are not fair. I read she was banned from Twitter for expressing her opinion.
I know several women swimmers who competed against Thomas at the Ivy League champs and NCAAs. I watched them when they were young race against my daughter. The woman who got second place at the Ivy Leagues Champs to Lia Thomas in the 1,650 (the mile) used to race my daughter in So Cal. She was younger and would be in the lane next to my daughter, drafting at her hip. My daughter couldn’t shake her but would touch her out in the end and say “Who is that?!”
I feel for this young woman who lost the title of Ivy League Champion. I wonder how her parents feel?
Prior to 1972 and Title IX, there were few opportunities for women in college sports. Since then, we’ve taken women’s athletics for granted. Yet 50 years ago, most colleges didn’t have women’s sports.
Her freshman year of college was pre-Title IX, and there were limited opportunities and college programs for women. She was training with Jim Montrella for the ’72 Olympic Trials and didn’t want to change up her training regime, so her freshman year she was a commuter at UC Irvine and lived at home with her parents. She said during those days she swam 11 practices a week and lifted weights.
Looking back, she said it was unfair that the women stayed at home and didn’t get to experience college life.
“All of a sudden when school began, there would be all girls in our training group. The fast guys went off to swim at UCLA and USC. We were freshmen and sophomores in college, and we stayed with our club team to train. We lost that experience of being a freshman away at college.”
Prior to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, women weren’t allowed to compete in the marathon.
When I was in high school, one of my friends and I joined the Boys Golf Team because there wasn’t a girls team. We went to practice every day, but we never once got to compete in a match. We were not the worst players, either.
My daughter and her friends who swam, put in years of hard work and sacrifice beginning at age five. They benefitted so much from swimming and being part of a team. I’m glad my daughter had that experience. I hope that other women get the same experience, too.
What are your thoughts on women’s sports? Did you know how limited the opportunities were 50 years ago?What are your experiences with women’s sports as a mom or competitor?
Not to get too morbid, but the past two weeks have been hellish. I feel my last week’s posts have focused on death. But it’s what is happening in our lives. I feel raw from the sadness of losing our friend Mark, and then I got a phone call late Friday night from a fellow swim mom. It’s not like her to call me. We haven’t talked much since our daughters graduated college with our swim parenting days behind us.
She started the call by saying, “I have something awful to tell you, but it’s not about Kat or Megan.” Kat and Megan are our daughters who swam together at the University of Utah. It was about one of their former teammates. He committed suicide.
I was getting texts and calls. Everyone was worried about my daughter and how she’d take the news. She was at work, and I asked everyone to talk to her once she got off work. In the end, her coach from Utah made the call and they cried together. Then my daughter went to her brother’s house and sat with his girlfriend. I’m so thankful and grateful to have them so close.
I am devastated for the loss of this young man of 24. He was the type of person everybody wanted to be around. He was tall, good looking, smart, funny. He had a hearty laugh that was contagious. He was so polite and well-mannered that when we went out to dinner with him, he’d stand when I got up to use the bathroom.
I’ve heard from swim moms that his teammates are devastated. Nobody had a clue that life was less than perfect for him. Nobody knew that he was suffering. There weren’t any signs.
I cannot imagine how his family is doing. I enjoyed his parents so much and often sat with them at swim meets beginning in high school through college. His older sister is one of my daughter’s best friends and the three of them spent tons of time together.
I asked my husband, “How much pain are we able to take?”
This makes me worry about the mental health of our youth more than ever. I want to know if social media has made depression and anxiety worse? There’s a difference of three years between my son and daughter. Social media was only MySpace when my son was in middle school and early high school. By the time my daughter was that age, social media was so much more prevalent and popular. Is this a result of growing up on screens?
I had this conversation with my daughter before this tragedy occurred. We were talking about anxiety and depression. She thinks that people her age and younger are much more open to getting treatment. And that they are more open to talking about mental illness. She doesn’t think social media is causing more young people to have depression or anxiety. She thinks the numbers are going up because more kids are getting treatment.
I tend to think it may be a combination of many factors, social media included, and her generation being more open to talk about mental health. I think I’m searching for a reason. Something to blame for the loss of this young man’s life.
What is your opinion? Do you think mental illness in teens and early 20-year-olds is increasing? Or are they more open to discussing it? What do you see as the causes?
While I’m in the heady first week of NaNoWriMo, where I attempt to write a novel in November, I looked back at my last attempt at a novel. It’s a mid-grade manuscript based on my kids’ swim team life. It explores the struggles with friendships amid jealousy and competitive spirits. Sections of it were published in the Los Angeles Times when they had the Kids’ Reading Room and published children’s fiction in their Sunday comic pages. I hired an editor for a big picture and line- by-line edit. I edited and rewrote it. I created a storyboard based on the book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. At some point, I gave up. I think it’s when I took a zoom class which included a critique by the editor giving the lecture. The critique landed in my email box and the editor said he couldn’t imagine reading any more of my manuscript because he couldn’t stand my protagonist — who by the way was based on my daughter when she was nine years old. I was out.
I ran across this blog post I wrote several years ago while I was actively working on that project. I wrote this before the above critique that hurt:
I got an unfortunate email yesterday. It was from an agent, who was reviewing my mid-grade novel I’ve been working on for years. Long story short, it was a no.
This is a big goal of mine, to get this book published. Finding an agent is one step along the way, and I had glimmers of hope when a couple agents were truly interested and one in particular, wanted eight weeks to take a deep dive.
When my husband consoled me I said, “I have two choices. I can quit or keep going.”
Four times since that email, I ran into messages like someone was placing a big neon sign in front of me with specific directions.
Dad shared that he spent almost three hours fishing yesterday. He was ready to give up, but decided to cast one more time in the last few minutes before he was due to return the boat. Yes, he caught a fish!
I was looking at FB and a writer friend posted how lucky she was to find several four-leaf clovers yesterday after hours of looking. She said to never give up. Never!
On Twitter, I saw from bestselling author Brad Thor a book recommendation for #Grit, a book about passion and perseverance. Yes, I’ll order it from Amazon today.
Here was part of his advice to get in touch with your feelings when you started on the journey:
“What are the reasons that I want to achieve this goal? List 2-3 reasons for why this goal is important to you. This is the simplest way to get in touch with your original set of motivations.
How will you feel when you push past the resistance you are feeling now? Think back to the last time you kicked down the wall of resistance that was in front of you. Yeah, that time. How did you feel afterwards? Proud? Like a certified O.G.?
Will you regret giving up a year from now? Imagine yourself a year from now. A year smarter, a year older, and hopefully a year further along. Is “Future You” going to be pumped about you having quit today?”
I got the message loud and clear. I’m not giving up on my goals or dreams. This is all part of the process, and yes there will be some ups and downs. It’s so cliched, but it’s also true.
In masters swimming we have a new slogan and shirts. After a hard set that I was convinced I couldn’t finish, I blurted, “Hey, it’s not that bad!”
Yes, getting a rejection letter is not great, but how much better is it than quitting on a dream? Honestly, it’s not that bad.
How do you handle disappointment? Do you believe there are more choices than giving up or to keep trying and what are they? I gave up on that manuscript, but I’m off and running on a new one.