It’s going swimmingly

bungee swimming in pool
My daughter using a bungee in our old backyard pool when the city pool was closed due to COVID.

Yesterday while I was fighting anxiety — I had a reservation for lap swimming. I looked forward to going to the pool and swimming a few laps. I knew it would help.

The day was gorgeous with blue skies and white fluffy clouds. Everything looked washed clean after two days of rain.

I got to the pool 15 minutes early and lo and behold! There was only one person swimming instead of the usual five. The coveted middle lane was empty!

I quickly put my gear — fins, pool buoy, kickboard and Hyrdoflask — on the deck in front of the center lane. The reason why the center lane is best is it’s a single lane. They allow two swimmers in the other lanes. I tend to run into the wall or hit the lane line while sharing.

Since starting over with swimming, I’m at a measly 1,000 yards. That used to be my warm-up when I swam with a coach and a team. It’s harder swimming without a coach and people to push you. But I’m working on consistency with showing up. If it’s only 1,000, at least it’s a place where I can build from.

A man entered the one empty lane. I kept my head down and swam, thankful that nobody had to share that day.

“You’re slowing down,” he said to me later.

“I’m almost done!” I said. I was at 950 yards.

“No getting out. Don’t be a slacker,” the man said.

I kept swimming, embarrassed to get out. Finally, I was getting tired at 1,400 yards. The man was at the opposite end of the pool so I quickly got out before he guilted me into more yardage.

When he was back at the wall I explained that I normally swam 1,000 yards but had swam 1,400. He replied with fist raised in the air “YES!”

I came home tired, free from anxiety and had an amazing night’s sleep.

In what areas do you find it helpful to be pushed by other people?

Or do you push yourself all on your own?

Brouhaha

View of Cactus pool lanes
The city pool in Scottsdale — where I no longer swim because it’s a 40-minute drive.
I go to the YMCA that is five miles from home.

When I went lap swimming yesterday at the YMCA, a brouhaha broke out at the pool.

Definition of brouhaha

HUBBUBUPROAR

In order to swim, you have to make a reservation for a one-hour block.

The Y has three lanes — a very small pool. Two of the lanes can accommodate two swimmers. So there are five swimmers per hour. The center lane only has one swimmer so it’s the coveted lane. You don’t have to share if you’re there.

Yesterday there were seven swimmers. Then it became eight.

The lifeguards don’t like confrontations so they list the five reservations for each hour on a white board. I double checked to make sure I showed up at the correct time. I did.

Two of the swimmers, an old man and woman, were really upset. The old guy was standing in the center lane waiting for a woman swimming laps to stop and get out. I got in one of the shared lanes and began my laps.

There was a loud discussion about the woman swimming in the center lane. Apparently she came 30 minutes early and she had a reservation at the same time as me and the old man. There’s no rule against getting in an empty lane if it’s available. But the old man was furious.

“I wasted 10 minutes waiting for the center lane,” he yelled at the lifeguards. Another woman joined him and they stood in the pool arguing with lifeguards for a good 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I swam back and forth, head down minding my own business.

Finally a lifeguard came out with the names of reservations on a clipboard and asked me what my name was.

One person got out. The upset older man and woman wasted most of their lap swimming time pondering over if it was legal to get in the pool in an empty lane before your allotted time.

If the lifeguards were more proactive the brouhaha could have been avoided. Check people in and mark them off on the white board.

Life is too short — and an hour is a short time to swim. Why waste it?

What are your thoughts about the man and woman who were upset and arguing with the lifeguards?

Consistently inconsistent

The gorgeous pool in Palm Springs.

Have you heard the phrase “consistency is key?”

It’s the practice of doing something regularly to develop a habit.

I am consistently inconsistent with my swimming. It’s because swimming isn’t easy. I also don’t like getting my hair wet.

Seriously, I have a lot of hair and it’s a pain to wash, comb and dry. I’d like to wash my hair only a few times a week — but when you’re swimming in chlorine you have to wash your hair after every swim.

I’ve been swimming off and on for seven years. I had some good excuses why I skipped swimming. A torn ACL, knee and cataract surgery and then COVID shutdowns. All together, that took me out of the pool for a few years.

This time back in the pool, I’ve decided the secret is consistency. I’m starting slowly, two days a week, swimming 1,000 yards — which was my warm-up in Masters. I began with kicking five days a week in my backyard pool to get the hang of getting back in the water.

Then I headed to the YMCA to lap swim. I could push myself and do more yards or more days, but I’m gradually going to build. I went from walking each day to adding swimming and barre classes and ended up with a pulled muscle. At my age, I’ve learned my lesson.

Start off easy, develop a habit and build. Be consistent.

I wrote about consistency and parenting that was published on SwimSwam. You can read it HERE.

I wrote about my first day of swimming US Masters HERE.

What are your secrets to developing good habits whether it’s working out or other aspects of your life?

Adding to my routine

City of Palm Springs Aquatic Center
I miss our beautiful Palm Springs city pool.

For one week, I’ve gotten in the pool each day to kick. Tuesday I went back to the Y for the first time in months and lap swam.

Why did I stop with the lap swimming? Mostly it was the weather. Summer in the Arizona desert is cloudy with daily thunderstorms and lightening. Not ideal outdoor swimming weather.

If it’s not storming it’s brilliant intense sunshine which I tend to avoid. Before I knew it, I was out of the lap swimming habit.

I’ve been following “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron for years. At least most of her routine of morning pages, prayer and daily walks. The thing I’ve been missing is the “artist’s date.”

My excuse before was COVID shutdowns.

Now I have no excuse. The artist date is to go out — alone — and experience something to feed your muse. Cameron’s suggestions are looking in antique and fabric stores, go anywhere that will fill your senses and spark your creativity.

I’m going to try a once-a-week date with myself. I’ve added two days of lap swimming, and three days of kicking — now an artist’s date. I think that’s quite enough for now!

What is your morning or daily routine? What would you like to add to it?

Things are going swimmingly

Main Street Park City.

Things are going swimmingly except for a heat wave. It’s cooler than back home in our Arizona desert, but it’s too hot to hike in the afternoon.

We visited the same week of July in the summer of 2020. In the afternoons, when my husband was done working, we would hike on trails that wind through the ski slopes.

This year, we’re doing a morning walk to Main Street along a tree-lined path with a bubbling creek. We did the same walk in the 2020 mornings, too. This year, the morning walk is the highlight of my day, because the afternoons are too hot for the mountain hikes.

Poison Creek along the walk to Main Street.

Instead of sitting inside reading or watching TV, we’re hitting the pool to cool off.

Yesterday afternoon, the pool was filled with several groups of families and kids. I found a spot along one wall where I could swim. I watched two sisters in the deep end throwing a ring and diving after it. The older sister, a teen, got out when she saw me attempting to swim laps.

“Who am I going to play with?” little sister complained.

“That woman is swimming,” the teen explained.

I thought, “I’m swimming on one edge of the pool. They have most of the deep end to continue tossing the ring and diving.”

My husband decided to sit on the steps. I plowed on determined to get my exercise.

“Little sister” would do a backward somersault right in front of me every time I reached the deep end to turn. I had to swim around her. Next, a nine-year-old boy named Oscar would cut in front of me across the pool swimming as fast as he could. It seemed to be a game for him to push off across the pool and barely miss me.

“Why won’t you join me and swim?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t have the patience you have,” he explained. “I’d end up saying something and look like an asshole to the kids.”

I finally gave up after about 20 laps of dodging little sister and Oscar. We headed to the jacuzzi. Strangely, as soon as we got out of the pool, the kids did too. I guess I was their entertainment. They weren’t having much fun without harassing the middle-aged woman who was trying to swim laps.

I think if I was “little sister’s” mom, I would have asked her to swim and play away from the lap swimmer. The mom and dad were on chaise lounges relaxing. They didn’t say a word.

What would you have done if you were the parent? If you were trying to swim laps, would you have continued like me or not try like my husband and let the kids play?

Sights at sunrise

Sun behind the clouds at sunrise
It’s so hot I’m taking my walks at dawn to beat the heat. The clouds are blocking the sunrise.

We’ve had a hot week and I’ve been swimming rather than walking each day. Our pool in the backyard is a nice temperature so I jump in and kick or swim. I swim laps at the Y a couple times a week too.

It’s weird not to walk every morning after not missing a day since I recovered from knee surgery.

The other morning I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and got out the door for a walk at 5:15 a.m. It was beautiful with birds singing, but I felt a little unnerved with coyotes howling nearby. It sounded like a large pack. I almost turned back to the house, but courageously kept moving on. I actually turned back momentarily only to discover the coyotes howling sounded near my home. Onward and forward seemed like the prudent choice.

Here are the photos I took during my early morning walk.

purple mountains and desert plans.
I love the colors of the mountains and desert in the early morning.

bird on saguaro
A saguaro topped by a bird.
Century plant fallen over
I had been watching this century plant waiting for it to bloom. This was a sad sight.
Century plant standing
This was the century plant two weeks ago.
The oldest quail babies hanging out with their mom and dad in our pool bar. We have three families from wee babies to these teenagers.

If I wake up early enough to beat the heat, I go for my walks at sunrise. If I wake up later and it’s too hot — I jump into the water. Thankfully our pool gets a lot of shade during the day, so the water temperature is still cool.

What is your favorite way to start the day? How are you getting exercise?

Talk about a Coup!

US Swimmers with Ambassador from Chile 1973
The US Ambassador to Chile (center) with Jim Montrella and Jill Griese (seated) and swimmers (standing.)

“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.

birthday party for a swimmer
A birthday celebration for one of the swimmers prior to the Chilean coup d’état .

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.

swimmers relaxing in Peru
Swimmers relaxing in Peru. The fun part of the trip.

“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.’”

swimmers arriving at the airport
Arriving at the airport in Santiago. Jim Montrella, far left, and and Nancy Kirkpatrick, third from left.

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.

Kirkpatrick's host family
The Chilean swimmers and hosts. The swimmer Tom Szuba stayed with is on the far left.

“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.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick and Tom Szubaa
Kirkpatrick and Szuba hanging with other swimmers out during the trip of a lifetime.

“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.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick with newspapers
Nancy Kirkpatrick back home with newspapers she smuggled out of Chile.
Time Magazine cover of Coup in Chile
1973 Time Magazine cover of the Coup
Newsweek cover from 1973 coup
A Newsweek cover from 1973.

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.

Abbey Weitzeil cover of Spring 2021 SwimSwam magazine.
The cover of the Spring 2021 issue.
layout from SwimSwam magazine.
Layout of article in SwimSwam Magazine.

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.