When it’s not safe to travel abroad…

With reports of children from California trapped in Afghanistan during the fall of the government, it reminded me of 1973. The United States sent a group of teen swimmers to Santiago, Chile where they found themselves trapped during the Pinochet Coup.

Here’s an article I wrote for the Spring 2021 Issue of SwimSwam Magazine about the Chilean Coup Crew of 1973. 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. 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.

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.

Will Caeleb Dressel be a household name?

My son and swim team friend winning the high school Physics cardboard boat race in the city pool. She competed in Beijing and London Olympics in distance freestyle races.

I wrote a an article called Why Isn’t Caeleb Dressel a Household Name? for SwimSwam in 2018. Dressel had competed in NCAA championships and had broken barriers like the 40-second mark in the 100-yard freestyle. But at the time, only swim nerds knew his name.

After this past week, I’m sure he will be better known, but after the Olympic’s fades away will his name fade, too?

Swimming like gymnastics are collegiate sports and there’s not much attention to them until Olympic years. It all comes down to money in my opinion. Football and basketball are money makers for schools. Swimming loses revenue. No fans are buying tickets, the meets are free and sparsely attended. The pool costs money to maintain.

During my years as a swim parent, I wondered how to get swimming to be more popular. In 2019 the International Swimming League began holding competitions. Have you heard about it? There are teams in the US and abroad filled with the world’s swimming stars. The teams compete against each other and it gives swimmers a chance to earn money, race and hopefully get more fans to appreciate swimming. But it isn’t televised, at least I haven’t seen it. I think it’s livestreamed.

Here’s the article I wrote that mentions Caeleb Dressel and wonders how to get more people into swimming:

Why isn’t caeleb dressel a household name?

BY SWIMSWAM 

March 27th, 2018 Lifestyle

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

We witnessed amazing things this past weekend watching the 2018 Men’s D1 NCAA meet. Who can believe that a human being broke 40 seconds in the 100 free, or 18 seconds in the 50 free—not to mention 43 seconds in the 100 fly? Caeleb Dressel should be a household name this week after breaking through these barriers at his final meet as a senior swimming for the University of Florida.

We watched from home on the computer, something that wasn’t possible years ago. The livestream was clear, the narration entertaining and professional. I remember trying to watch one of our friend’s kids at Trials in 2008 and the production quality wasn’t great and the livestream paused repeatedly. Swim coverage has improved significantly through the years, but I wonder if the audience has increased?

Of course, Olympic sports don’t get the attention at the collegiate level as the big money sports, like football and basketball. In addition, we hear heartbreaking news of universities canceling swim programs regardless of high GPAs or how many times the teams win conference meets, like the recent news of Eastern Michigan University. We have to wait every four years for the Olympics to come around to show the nation how great our swimmers are. Is there anything we can do as swim enthusiasts to change this? In all reality, probably not much. I personally don’t have the power to change TV schedules or viewing habits, but I can work on several little things.

Here are a few ideas about how we can help the popularity of swimming:

ONE

Scorekeeping. We’ve had friends come to meets and they don’t know what’s going on because there’s never a score posted. In other sports, you know which team is winning. Is it possible to post scores often and prominently at meets where they are keeping team scores?

TWO

Bring a friend to the pool. Whether your team has a “bring a friend day” or you ask one of your child’s friends to visit practice, we can reach out to more kids and introduce them to swimming.

THREE

Keep swimming fun. One reason why kids quit swimming is it’s “not fun anymore.” By allowing our kids time to goof off with their friends around the pool deck, either before or after practice, and keeping our attitudes light, we may keep our kids in the pool for more years.

FOUR

Invite friends and family to a meet. We can share our excitement and enthusiasm with our friends and family. Maybe not ask them to sit on the deck with us for two or three days, but have them stop by for an hour or two. Explain what’s going on so they can follow along and maybe they’ll catch the swimming bug.

FIVE

Be an ambassador. Talk about swimming with your non-swimming friends and share how much the sport has helped your kids. Encourage friends at any age to get into the pool and enjoy the great feeling of floating in the water. It’s never too late to join a Masters team.

My daughter has her foot still on the blocks as they dive in for the 200 free. The swimmer in the lead is Olympic medalist Abbey Weitzeil. This was the summer of 2013, while they were still in high school.

Are you watching the Olympics? What are your favorite sports to watch? Do you keep track of those sports on off Olympic years? Also, what do you think of this year’s Olympics with all the ups, downs, and drama?

The Excitement of Trials

Four boy swimmers hanging on the lane line.
My son with swim friends during Piranha practice.

The excitement comes from all the personal stories. As a swim mom for more than 15 years, I get swimming. I understand all the sacrifice, hard work and life choices these swimmers and families have gone through.

I’m caught up watching the US Olympic Trials for swimming — Wave 2. Because of COVID they broke Trials into Wave 1 and Wave 2 to have less swimmers in the stadium as well as spectators. Wave 2 — the faster wave — is going on now.

In addition to the famous Olympic swimmers in the meet trying to punch their ticket to Tokyo, I still know a few of the swimmers personally. That makes it incredible to watch.

Here’s one of the personal stories that has touched me. We’re watching a Cal swimmer who grew up in Southern California named Trenton Julian. He had a 200 fly swim last night that was the gutsiest swim I’d ever witnessed. The 200 fly is grueling and swimmers pace and control themselves so they can make it all the way through and finish strong. Trenton let it rip. He went all out as hard as he could the entire time. He had a huge lead until his body started to slow down during the final lap. He got touched out by a few tenths of a second and he ended up third overall — which was were he was seeded at the start. Tonight is finals for the 200 fly. The top eight swimmers will compete for the top two spots and a ticket to Tokyo.

What gets my heart about his story is his family. His dad Jeff Julian is a well-liked and respected coach in Southern California of the Rose Bowl Aquatics. I interviewed him for a story HERE. Jeff is best friend’s with my daughter’s club coach — who later became my Masters coach. We’ve known Jeff Julian as an acquaintance on the pool deck for years. Trenton’s mother is Olympic medalist, Kristine Quance-Julian.

Jeff, who was also a 200 flyer himself, has been battling stage four cancer and has a WordPress blog of his story HERE. He’s currently cancer free but it’s been a road of ups and downs. I can only imagine how it’s affected Trenton during his college and high school years. I’ll tell you what. It’s given him grit and courage. He’s faced a lot harder things than a race at Olympic Trials. He swims like he’s not afraid of anything. Just like his father.

Best of luck to Trenton tonight! Along with our other friends swimming for their spot on the Olympic team — or just going after their lifelong dreams and enjoying the big stage.

My daughter racing when she was in her teens.
My daughter at a swim meet.

Here’s a recap of this morning’s swims. This is a link to the livestream for Olympic Trials. Prelims are every morning, with semis and finals at night through the end of the week. Finals are broadcast on NBC.

I’m curious, how much to you follow the Olympics? What’s your favorite sport to watch? Do you know the swimmers? Or athletes?

What makes you happy?

Woods cove in Laguna Beach

Wood’s Cove in Laguna Beach

This morning I was writing my daily morning pages and I wrote a long list of things that make me happy. I woke up feeling a little down, so my brilliant idea was to focus on what brings me joy and incorporate the things on my list in my daily life — or at least weekly. I had quite a list. A few of the items were :

A trip to the ocean

A good night’s sleep

Working on a project I’m proud of

Spending time with family and friends

Swimming in the nearby lake

Swimming laps at the city pool

Reading a good book

Catching up with friends via the phone

Hiking

I need to take time to do things I enjoy — as well as take care of the things I have to do.

I read a blog this morning by one of my favorite bloggers that I follow. Her post today included the following quote:

“There’s only one rule. Follow the line of your own desires.” — MALCOLM BRADBERRY

“While I think that this has merit, I have problems with some of the intent. Should you always follow your path? What if a parent really wants to leave their family and join the circus. Do they really just wake up in the middle of the night, fill their bandana with worldly possessions, toss it on a stick, flip it on their back and just jump on the next freight train to the town with the tightrope and three rings?”

Click the link below to read the rest. The comments are interesting.

https://wakinguponthewrongsideof50.com/

Her blog post made me realize the flip side of following desires can be selfishness. We all know people who put their own desires over their loved ones or responsibilities. The end result can be damaged relationships and pain.

sleeping kitty
Olive asleep on our bed when there were no strangers around.

What are some of the things that make you happy? Do you make time for them in your day to day life?

I’m off to swim laps in the city pool! Time to get the endorphins moving!

Is it genetics or performance pressure ?

swimmer with JO medal
My daughter with a Junior Olympic medal as a young teen.

Yesterday I wrote about Amy Osaka and her withdrawal from the French Open due to her taking care of her mental health. You can read that post here.

Immediately after I posted that story, I ran across a SwimSwam article about a swimmer retiring because of her mental health. I remember this swimmer because she was at the big meets in Southern California as one of the youngest, if not the youngest swimmer entered — and she was from Virginia! She was very fast, too. She held the national age group record for 11-12 years olds in the mile.

“Isabella Rongione announced the end of her competitive swimming career, opening up about her personal struggles and the need to put her mental health first.”

PAC-12 STANDOUT ISABELLA RONGIONE RETIRES, OPENS UP ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
by Jared Anderson SWIMSWAM

Rongione shared the news in an Instagram post this week. Her last swim came in December of 2018, the month before Rongione says he was admitted to treatment following a suicide attempt.

“My mental health had to be the priority over the past couple years and I never was able to fully commit to getting back into the pool,” Rongione writes.

“To all those athletes dealing with mental health issues — make sure to take the time you need in order to heal yourself properly.”

There are many famous athletes who suffer from depression including Michael Phelps, Amy Osaka, Allison Schmitt (Olympic swimmer) and Serena Williams. You can read about 10 of these athletes here. I wonder if it’s genetics or the pressure with being an athlete at such a young age?

My daughter who was a swimmer at a high level (college scholarship athlete and high school All American) suffered from anxiety and then depression while swimming in college. She swam competitively from age five through 22 — when her shoulder gave up on her.

Looking back, we were such enthusiastic parents cheerleading her swim career along the way. It was exciting and took over a lot of our family’s life. Did we create an unsustainable path for her? What happens when the swim career, the center of her world and identity ends? Or in the case of someone like Amy Osaka or Isabella Rongione, is the pressure to perform too much?

Here’s a study published online from Cambridge University by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey called Setting the bar: athletes and vulnerability to mental illness.

Risk factors for athletes

“Although moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is important in the prevention of and recovery from mental and physical health problems, when performed more intensely at ‘professional/elite’ levels, physical activity can compromise health. 1,5 Beyond the national prestige, fame and glory of Olympic success lies the darker side of overexposure to elite sport such as overtraining, injury, burnout, increased risk for sudden cardiac death and other non-cardiovascular conditions such as respiratory symptoms, iron deficiency, increased incidence of allergies, immunological suppression and infection, gastrointestinal symptoms, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders. 6

“Athletes may also be vulnerable to mental illness for several reasons. First, the social world of many organised elite sports is one that requires investments of time and energy, often resulting in a loss of personal autonomy and disempowerment for athletes. 7 The elite-sport environment can result in ‘identity-foreclosure’ leaving athletes few other avenues through which to shape and reflect personality. 7 High athletic identity has been linked to psychological distress when this function of identity is removed, and to overtraining and athlete burnout. 7 The latter conditions strongly correlate with affective disorders such as major depressive disorder.”

I also read that 30% of NCAA athletes report having depression. It could have only gotten worse this past year.

young swimmer getting medals from coach.
My daughter, age 5, receiving medals, ribbons and applause from her coach after a swim meet.

What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?

10 and unders relay team with medals at JOs
My daughter’s relay team after winning third place at Junior Olympics in Southern California.

Looking back at May 2020

Last year in May our daughter was staying with us. We had taken up tennis, sort of, and we were swimming in our backyard pool with a bungee cord tied around our waists anchored to a weighted umbrella stand. My big concern at the time was wanting the city pool to open and being able to swim with our team.

This morning we woke up to a flood in our courtyard and we had to turn the water off to the house while we wait for someone to fix it. I decided to drive to the city pool in my new town, because I can shower and wash my hair after my swim. I got about halfway there and realized I forgot a towel. So, I turned around and came home, driving 30 minutes for nothing. Now I’m not motivated to return. It’s one of those days…But better than last year, for sure.

Here’s a look back to my thoughts from last May:

Ruth Hardy Park with Mt. San Jacinto
The park.

First the good news. Things are opening up a little bit in our county and my daughter and I played tennis two mornings in a row. Prior to this week, the tennis courts were padlocked. I found that almost as annoying as the pool being closed. It looks so wrong to see padlocks and yellow tape wrapping around our park, parking lots, playground equipment, etc.

Ruth Hardy park with playground roped off for COVID
COVID playground at our park.

Before we became a full-on swim family, my kids took tennis lessons. My daughter was at preschool at the time and two of her good friends were taking lessons with her. My son had his buddies in his group as well. The instructor was a big goofy tennis pro who the kids called “Charlie Farlie.”

I took lessons in high school with my mom at the University of Washington, some sort of fun extension class. It was in the Hutchinson gym and there were huge windows up several stories in height. My mom and I both managed to hit the ball out those windows — several times — and we weren’t even trying! I’m mentioning this because my daughter and I do have some sort of background in tennis, although we’re hardly proficient at it.

Brick north face of Hutchinson Hall on Stevens Way East. The building hosts the School of Drama, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA. The 1926 building (architects Bebb & Gould) was named for long-time faculty member Mary Gross Hutchinson,
Hutchinson Hall where my mom and me took tennis.

Fast forward to when we decided to homeschool my daughter for middle school. We had several homeschool families on the swim team and I envied their schedules. There were no late nights after practice completing pages of math problems or filling out worksheets for them. These homeschooled kids were really smart, well behaved and looked so happy. So we gave it a whirl. We went through a phase where we started our day with a bike ride around the park, played tennis together and then returned home to hit the books.

This week brought me back to those days. We had fun reminiscing about them and laughed at our bad shots while enjoying the cool mornings. I got a better workout than I do walking around the park. I got my heart rate up because my tennis is mostly running to corners of the court to pick up balls.

Now for the bad news. The city may not open up the pool. It’s been closed since shelter in place began 55 days ago. I was going to write a letter to the city to complain when our team was no longer allowed to use the pool, but individuals could lap swim. By the time I was composing my scathing letter, the pool had closed altogether.IMG_9355

Our town’s main industry is tourism. The hotels have been shuttered along with vacation rentals for two months. There’s no way to enjoy our beautiful weather, golf courses, tennis courts and hiking trials unless you are a resident. That means the city budget is devastated. Along with the pool, the city is talking about closing the library, animal shelter and cutting salaries, too.

We have one of the most gorgeous pools in state. Our Piranha Swim Team has a history of more than 50 years — one of the longest running teams in California. The kids who go through the program can swim in college if they choose. I think our success rate of kids going on to the next level is close to 90 percent. It was the single best thing we did for our kids in terms of activities. They were Piranhas from age five until they went to college. My daughter represented Piranhas in the summer after she went to college. I can go on and on about how great the team was for my kids, and now for me as a swimmer, too. It helped develop their healthy lifestyles, competitive spirits, and their character.

I’ll be devastated is the pool doesn’t reopen.

Palm Springs city pool
My Palm Springs pool with the mountain view.

What was your May 2020 like compared to this year?

What animal begins with N?

Cactua pool in Scottsdale
Cactus pool in North Scottsdale

Last week I finally jumped back into the pool. It’s been a year of mostly not swimming due to COVID closures. I swam in the backyard pool on a bungee cord velcroed around my waist at my old house. Then when the city pool finally reopened, I rarely made it to practice because of the busyness of moving. Once in Arizona, it took me months to get settled and the weather was too cold! We had snow, rain, wind, and I just didn’t want to go.

Today, I managed to make the 30-minute drive, got my own lane and swim laps. No, I’m not swimming Masters yet. I want to get stronger. Plus the Sun Devil’s Masters that practice in this pool look so fast and fit that it’s intimidating.

My third day back in the pool felt so much better than the first two attempts. I swam my normal Palm Springs warm up of 4 -3- 3 (400 yards freestyle, 300 yards kick, 300 yards pull). That’s all I intended to do but I felt good so I swam some more.

My fellow swim mom, school mom, Masters swimmer and dear friend Linda said she keeps track of her laps by the alphabet. I’ve tried that and it works. So, today I played the animal alphabet game. Each 50 yards was an animal. I started with ape, bear, cat and dog. You get the idea. However, when I got to “N” I was stumped. Does anyone know an animal that begins with the letter N? Another tricky one was Q. I decided Queen Bee was good enough — not quite an animal but it’s a living being. The last 50 yards was X….

Entrance to Cactus Pool and Recreation center.
The entrance to my new home pool.

Can you help me with N, Q and X animals?