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?

We’re having a heat wave!

Showing off my new boogie board.

It’s hot. Hotter than at my home in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and we are at the beach. It topped 104 degrees in Santa Barbara yesterday. The only cool place to be is in the ocean.

Taking the advice of fellow blogger of Living in the Gap, Cheryl Oreglia, I bought a boogie board. She didn’t say “buy a boogie board.” She asked if we’d done anything spontaneous lately. If you don’t follow her or read her blog, you’re missing out. She has her first book under contract that will be released in 2023. You can find out more from her latest posts.

I haven’t been in the ocean for several years. First it was my knee surgery from a ski accident. That was 2018 and I was sporting the heavy ACL brace you see on NFL players. Not a good thing for the ocean. Then I worried about waves and babied my knee the next year. The following year there were the Great White Sharks.

I watched my son’s girlfriend surf for hours every day while they visited. She inspired me. I remembered the days when I’d ask the lifeguards to watch my kids while I swam out to a buoy or did a bit of boogie boarding. Then I boogie boarded with my kids as they got older.

The other day, I was hot and I wandered into the ocean knee deep to cool off. It dawned on me — my knee is okay. Also, I had cataract surgery. I don’t have to worry about losing my hard contact lenses that I wore from seventh grade to age 59! Woohoo! One drop of water on my eyes and I’d lose my contacts. It really restricted my ocean adventuring.

I decided to rent a boogie board where my son’s girlfriend rented her surfboard — at the surf shop a quarter mile down the beach from where we hang out. $15 for one to three hours. But I was at the grocery store when I saw a boogie board on sale for $15 because it’s the last weekend of summer. Tough choice.

So I did it. I got back into the ocean after four or five years and I feel like a kid again. The perfect end to our beach vacation. Even with the heat wave. Or especially BECAUSE of the heat wave.

I caught a wave! A little one, but I’m back!

Heatwave, Ella Fitzgerald.

Are you having a heat wave? How do you survive the heat?

Have you done anything spontaneous lately? What was 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?

The things we believed — at first

masking with fabric
When we first were wearing masks, I used quilting fabric, which we now know isn’t that helpful. Here I am at the park in Palm Springs by my old home.

We spent Father’s Day at our friends who moved unbeknownst to us from Palm Springs to a mile from our new Arizona home. We played bocce ball, cooled off in their pool and ate a delicious dinner of bbq’d pork ribs.

At some point in the conversation I mentioned that we took Vitamin D3 every day because it’s supposed to help protect us from COVID.

My girlfriend’s husband who is a newly retired doctor said, “Where did you hear that? That makes zero sense. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. How do strong bones help with COVID?”

I humbly replied that I had read it everywhere. I couldn’t point to a specific source, but it was a common theme I heard repeatedly from people I knew and news sources.

When I got home, I googled it. Early on during the pandemic, researchers believed that Vitamin D helped. Now there are extensive studies that show there’s no evidence or correlation that Vitamin D protects people from the SARS virus.

I thought about other things that have changed through the last two years as scientists learned more about the dreaded disease.

First, we were told that it could last on objects for hours or even days. This resulted in our city pool being shut down, playground equipment and the tennis courts closed to the public. A few skate parks in Southern California were filled with sand to encourage social distancing.

playground equipment with yellow tape
This was the playground equipment at our park during the shut down.

Now we know that the virus doesn’t sit for hours on inanimate objects and it would have been healthier for kids to play on the playground — rather than being isolated in their homes.

A friend of mine would unpack her groceries from the cart and wipe them all down with bleach or alcohol before she loaded them into her car.

I know a lot of people who told me they’d strip off their clothes inside their front door when they returned, jumped into the shower and washed their clothes. That was especially true for people who were “essential workers” and had to work with the public.

I wore cloth masks such as the quilting fabric in the photo above — and my husband wore a bandana.

What are some of the things you did when the pandemic first hit that you later found out weren’t effective?

bungee swimming in pool
My daughter using the bungee in our backyard pool since the city pool was closed.

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.

It’s time to kick

Two mornings in a row it’s been too hot to walk. I convinced my husband to kick with me in the pool. He set his timer for 30 minutes and off we went. I didn’t want to swim freestyle because I had just washed my hair. I know that sounds prissy, but I can’t stand washing my hair every day. So I put my hair up and kicked until my lower back hurt and my legs got sore.

A really cool coincidence is friends from Palm Springs moved one mile from us in Arizona three months after we moved. This was without knowledge of each other moving. The friend and I were school moms at the Catholic school our kids attended. They lived only a few blocks from us in Palm Springs and I golfed weekly with this friend.

We lost touch with each other when we both got hyper involved with our kids’ sports. My kids were swimmers — their kids were hockey players.

Hockey led them out of town to Anaheim where there was a competitive team. We lacked hockey in Palm Springs.

This past weekend they invited us over for a birthday party. We spent a couple hours sitting and standing in the pool while wasps swarmed around us. My friend’s husband stood in the pool with a can of Raid trying to keep the wasps at bay. It was a fun afternoon, but today I have sunburned hands.

My husband said everyone but me kept their hands in the water. I apparently talk with my hands. We were laughing and talking and I was gesturing all over the place. I’ve never had sunburned hands before.

The weekend before we had them over and I cooked sea bass, grilled corn on the cob, asparagus and a brown and wild rice dish. It was another fun night of friendship and laughter.

I feel a connection to this couple unlike the new friends I’ve made in our neighborhood through book club, the newsletter and coffee. It’s because we go back for decades, raised our kids together and have shared memories. It’s also amazing that we ended up in homes so close together because we are out in the sticks a good 30-minute drive north of Scottsdale.

What friends do you feel the most connection with and why?

Is it ok not to go?

swimming pool in Palm Springs
The 50-meter pool in Palm Springs that was one mile from our old house.

I have a reservation to swim in an hour. I don’t feel like going. I swam two days ago and I felt wonderful during and after my swim.

But today I’m weighing the idea that I don’t HAVE to go. If I decide to stay home and read a book in my back yard, I’m not any less of a person. But I’m torn. I feel guilty for not going. I know I should go. I remember I wrote about something similar years ago in a post “I don’t have to, I get to.” It was about appreciating what we have and that we are able to do things.

Every morning I walk, then I either play ping pong or pickleball a few times a week as well as swim. At my age is it okay to slow down and say no thanks, not today? Or should I say “I get to swim today” and just go?

What are your thoughts? What would you do?