Monthly Archives: February 2016

Swimming Around the World: World Cup Circuit

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With so many competitions under my belt this season, it seems funny to be writing about my first ones. In a normal year, the first competition is lackluster and just a chance to see where you are in your training cycle. However, as I have said time and time again, this is no ordinary year.

As a member of the National Team, I was invited to compete in one World Cup Circuit ( click here to learn more about the circuits ). The one that best fit in with my training schedule was the trip to Tokyo, Japan and Doha, Qatar in late October, early November. All of the events are swum in a two-day trials and finals session at one site. Then athletes are given one day to travel and one day to adjust before the second meet begins. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners of individual events, as well as the top performer, for the cluster of meets. The best part about the meet is twofold. First, the athletes tend to be professional swimmers and so the meets are incredibly fast (those that are not pros who join the circuit are also very talented swimmers). During the Short Course meets, it is not uncommon to have a world record or two broken in a session. Second, everyone travels together. For the most part all athletes stay together in the same hotel, travel on the same flights to the next location, which allows for camaraderie between athletes of different countries.

Given that our first stop was Tokyo, we were given an extra day on the front half of the meet to acclimate to the time difference. At other international meets, which fall at the end of a season, it is frowned upon to go site seeing in order to conserve energy. However, at these meets almost everyone at the meet tries to get out of the hotel to see a little of their surroundings. Our first outing was to a temple, Sensō Ji, which is the oldest temple in Tokyo. There are many small stands before the entrance to the temple where people can buy offerings, such as incense and candles, or goods to eat. We were unable to withdraw cash before our adventure, which supposedly is a common problem for tourists, and were unable to buy any of the items, which were all cash only.

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The following day we also did not have to race and went to the Tsukiji Shijo fish market for a fresh sushi lunch. This is a wholesale market that is famous for its tuna auctions, but in order to see the action you have to arrive before 5am. We agreed that, while it would be a fun experience, waking up that early might not be in our best interest. Below are all of the images from the market as well as my fresh made sushi platter. The market is currently moving to a new site, and apparently according to Food and Wine the old market will be used for the 2020 Olympic Games.

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Of course, site-seeing is all fine and dandy, but we were there mainly to compete. The meet was so well organized that during the first morning session we actually ran ahead of schedule. I surprised myself with a personal best time in my first swim of the meet. I was able to final in a both of my butterfly races and swim a very decent 400 IM. It was a very promising start to my long course season.

At the end of the meet there were two general options for travel to Doha. The first option left right after the end of the meet to head to Frankfurt and then onto Doha, whereas the second option left the following evening and was a direct flight to Doha. The major catch with the second flight is that you arrived at 4:40 in the morning, with only one day and a half before the meet started. That being said, I thought that one long flight would be easier on my body than two long ones and opted to stay in Tokyo one last night.

After the meet, those of us who stayed took the famous Toyko metro, which really is not as complicated as it appears, to Shibuya. Shibuya is the largest pedestrian crossing in the world and has been featured in many movies, such as Lost in Translation and The Fast and the Furious. Since it was Halloween eve I took a photo with the Disney Princesses and after walking through the district took a cab back to our hotel. I was absolutely exhausted after the day’s competition!

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Even though we went on excursions the first two days in Tokyo, I still didn’t feel like I understand the city and with one full day left in Tokyo I decided after my loosen swim to make the most of it. In order to get a better comprehension on the cultural tendencies that produced such an amazing city, I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum on my last day in Tokyo. The museum traces the history of the city Edo from its founding (16th century), transformation into the capital city (1603), and then into the transformation into the Tokyo that it is today. Normally I would write a brief summary of each photo included below. However, instead I am going to summarize a few of the features that I found particularly interesting and leave the link to the museum website where there is an interactive feature of each part of the exhibit for those that are interested.

The Portuguese first arrived in Japan in 1543. Through this initial contact, trade with the far east expanded. For example, Biombos, which are Japanese screens, or room dividers, were soon found in all parts of the Lusitanian empire. There are even examples of Japanese artists making Biombos in and of Mexico City that were later sent to Madrid, Spain, after the ban of Christian traders on the islands. Other examples of Namban art (that of Japanese influence) finds its way into inventories throughout Spain, including that of Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Therefore, I found this entire period fascinating for explaining different cultural aspects that I had not previously examined.

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The next porcino of the museum that caught my attention was the various representations of firemen, the earliest dating from the 16th century. Today Tokyo is bursting with inhabitants, many of whom live in what Americans would call tight quarters. I, erroneously, believed that this was a modern invention, something that occurred only in the last quarter century. However, as the models of homes in Edo prove, there has always been a propensity for living in small quarters. These tightly packed wooden homes also lead to higher probabilities of firmes, which plagued the city, and therefore, led to their depiction in cultural objects.

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I was also struck by the religious status and representations of processions, given my interest in Spanish religious rituals and demonstrations of belief. Although there are many many diferences in their religious beliefs, there is at their core, a common thread in the manifestation of ritualistic sites found in Japan and pilgrimage shrines found in Spain. Not to mention, this monumental sculpture likens to a carro that would have been carried through a Holy Week Procession.

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Finally, the last portion of the museum dealt with the 20th and 21st century changes that have occurred. It was a sobering tribute to the people who fought in the Second World War. Wandering through the display, I felt as if my previous history courses had not done justice in explaining all sides of the war. We focused on Hitler and Nazism and the destruction and loss in Europe, but grazed over the effects in Japan. To be quite honest, the only reference given was the destruction at Pearl Harbor. I am glad that I was able to see this exhibit and reflect upon my own cultural biases that have led to gaps in my historical knowledge. To its credit, Tokyo rose from the ashes of the many bombs and fires, to host the 1964 Olympic Games, (it almost feels like I’m trying to make it the theme of the year).

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After my tour of the museum, I had a chance to unwind in their traditional tea garden with a cup of green tea and mochi, which was far superior to the Trader’s Joe’s version that I loved as a small child. I am so thankful that I was able to spend one extra day in Tokyo and visit this museum because I feel like I have somewhat of a grasp on the culture and environment that produced this spectacular city. I cannot wait to go back and visit again in the near future.

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After a fruitful day, I headed back to our hotel where we gathered our things and boarded a flight to Doha. We landed over an hour early (3:45 am) and were accidentally taken to the wrong hotel. Thankfully, I was not in charge of any of the logistics and therefore did not have to worry about getting to the right hotel. Once we arrived, it was closer to 6 am and I decided to stay up and adjust properly to the new time zone. Therefore, when the afternoon hit I was utterly exhausted and missed the trip with the junior team on the boat. From all the stories and photos it appears that everyone had a fabulous time, but I must admit I really enjoyed that nap.

Since I traveled last year to Doha for the Short Course World Championships, I did not feel the same need to site-see as I did in Tokyo. The only thing that I had not previously visited was the Souq Waqif Market. After an afternoon practice, I decided to venture forth and see the market. Women cooking various dishes filled the main square. I did not dare eat the food because I am allergic to gluten and was afraid of cross-contamination before a meet, but it smelled incredible. The stalls were filled with various colorful goods according to the section. There was a section for woven goods, spices, birds, falcons, ect. After perusing the stalls, I settled upon “authentic” curry mixtures for everyone in my family and then headed back to the hotel to rest and relax before the meet (I have no idea how authentic they are, but they looked pretty and smelled good and thus far have made delicious dishes.)

This meet was much more chaotic than the meet in Tokyo, however, I was able to improve most of my times. Having both meets so close together allowed me to honre in on what mental and physical skills needed to be addressed in order to reach my personal goals. I left feeling exhilarated that I could compete with the best in the world and that feeling has yet to disappear. Moreover, I was exposed yet again to new cultures and beliefs, which regardless of the circumstances, helps us to grow as human beings. I am so grateful for this experience and know that I will always cherish my first world cup.

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The Politics of Swimming

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In many ways the panic of moving was amplified, not only by my desire to stay with my friends, but also due to logistical problems. The last weekend of September I traveled to the Kansas City Missouri, for a conference (more about this below) and towards the end of October and November I attended the Swimming World Cup in Tokyo and Doha (more about this in a future post), which meant that I would have to get my move done before the meet, long before the end of the month. Fortunately, the day before I left for Kansas City I met my current landlord and finalized the details, allowing me to travel with at least the peace of mind that I had a place to go.

During Summer Nationals I was invited to serve as a National Team Delegate at the United States Aquatic Sports (USAS) Annual Conference. This conference invites all of the aquatic sports to convene, with delegates of all levels (young age group swimmers, college athletes, coaches and officials), in order to provide the best governance possible to their respective sports. The first three days were filled with many meetings and other events that covered every aspect of our sport, with the last day reserved for a final vote on new measures at the House of Delegates. It was fascinating to see all of the different layers to our sport, especially since I have only really focused on my part by swimming. I am extraordinarily thankful for all of the time and dedication that so many people devote to our sport to ensure that I have the best conditions possible to swim fast. As my career is coming to an end, I look forward to my involvement in such organizations to help give back to the sport that has given me so much and also to having excuses to see all of the new and old friends I connected with over the weekend.

 

A New Abode

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In late September our landlord called and said that since her daughter’s family was expanding in February she would not renew our contract. As it was presented to us, we had two options: the first would be stay in the flat until February, or the second would be move out in the fall. Given that my time in Spain is now limited, I knew I would have more problems finding a decent flat in February than in October because landlords want tenants for at least six month stays. My other roommates, each for their own reasons, felt that an earlier move was also in their best interest. And thus began, my last apartment search in Madrid. I found many flats, but like Goldilocks this one was too small, that one too expensive, ect. After visiting close to 20 I couldn’t find the perfect one.

In desperation, I called a good friend who was from my neighborhood, hoping that maybe he knew another way to search. To my good fortune, he knew the perfect solution and helped me find my current flat. At the time, I couldn’t imagine life without my closest friends who have become my family. I was most afraid that the move would mean that our easy familiarity would be lost and we would lose contact with one another. Now looking back, in some ways I was right, the low keys conversations in the kitchen waiting for our dinners to heat up no longer occur. However, now that we must plan and organize our time to be together, we take better advantage of it. I might not see them every day, as I would like to, but I am now convinced that we will always stay close. Just another remember of the pertinence of Jobs; “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Racing in Gijón

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In late November we headed back to Gijón, Asturias for the Campeonato Nacional de Piscina Corta (National Short Course Meet). I have grown to love this pool, which has now been the site of multiple national meets over the course of my career in Spain. As I have mentioned before, this is not a trials and finals meet, but rather a timed final meet. You only get one shot at swimming each event, which sometimes can be added pressure. However, since my season revolves around long course meters, we used this as an opportunity to work on turns and other crucial aspects of racing. I was proud that I was able to race well, and come close to if not beat my lifetime bests from last year’s rested meet.

I think my favorite memory from the meet comes from the 200 medley relay. Three of my teammates, Blanca, Nadia and I were waiting in the ready room. Our fourth leg had just swum the 400 IM and was, so we believed coming, right back to the ready room. As the minutes passed, she was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, I was able to get one of the boys on the team to look for her. And a manhunt began. By the time they paraded our heat out onto deck, there was still no sign of her, and by all accounts it appeared as if we would not swim the race. Just as they blew the first whistles for the event, in she comes running, without her cap or goggles on, and without the straps of her suit in place. She jumped in the water, and much to our display had everything in place, and was the fastest swimmer in the heat (This is quite a feat, since most suits are so tight it is impossible to put the straps on without a teammates help). I have no idea in what place overall we finished, but we did win our heat. I was so impressed that we as a team were able to not let the circumstances bother us and swim lights out. Besides, these experiences make for the best stories!

 

I am(sterdam) Swimming

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Given that it is an Olympic year, we competed in many different high-level competitions this past fall to prepare for the Games. One of the last meets of the season was the Amsterdam Swim Cup, which was the first chance for Dutch swimmers (and in many cases Europeans) to qualify for Rio. Therefore, there was much revelry as the organizers tried to make it as spectacular as possible. For example, every night before finals began four men would start banging on drums as two women scantily clad in sequins and other bright objects danced around pool deck. These same women gave the winners of each heat their flowers and Danish cookies.

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All in all it was a great event and a fabulous learning opportunity. The schedule of the meet was unlike any other that I have been to before with finals starting at 3:30 pm (a whole two hours earlier than most finals), but by the end of the meet I had acclimated and figures out how to finish strong. This will be particularly necessary for the Olympic Games which in order to be live televised will run on a very different schedule than normal meets.In my last race of the meet the 200 backstroke I won the B Final and therefore received some Danish cookies and flowers. (Somewhere online there is a photo of me with the dancers, but I am having a hard time locating it). It was a spectacular night for my club, as my teammate Javi won the B heat of the 200 Butterfly in a season best time and another teammate Carlos made his Olympic Cut in the same event. This meet gave me the confidence that all of our hard work is paying off and the passion to get back into the pool and train hard!!

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Home for the Holidays

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There is nothing like going home for the Holidays!! Due to the crazy lives we all live, it’s hard to spend as much quality time together as we would all like. Therefore, 10 days together is an extra special treat.

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Every year our family does a form of secret (not so secret) Santa, where we draw names out of hat and then get one stellar gift for that family member. In the past we have been known to collaborate to make sure that we get a good gift for our secret person and this year was no different. After speaking with my brother, who had my mother, we decided collectively that we did not want to give our parents (I had my father) things, but rather experiences that allowed us to spend more one on one time with them. My brother organized a fabulous day trip with waking tours and fun restaurants for my mother in San Francisco. Whereas, I chose to give my dad special night out in Sacramento. Although my father has always appreciated art, he has actually never painted. In most cities you can find a painting class that couples wine with an introductive course, which I thought would be perfect for us. We had a wonderful time at The Painted Cork class. As you can see from the photos below, a sketch of the city is placed on the canvas before you start painting. Then as you snack on the treats you brought and sip on wine, the instructor gives general instructions for how to complete the painting. For example, the first one is mix the yellow and white together and fill in all of the stars. Although we all follow the exact same instructions, our interpretations of them can result in very different images. Can you figure our which painting of the Sacramento Starry Night below is mine and which is my father’s?

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The days spent cooking delicious meals, puzzling, talking and playing games quickly flew by and suddenly it was time for all of us to head back to our “normal” worlds. I am so thankful for those days we had together and look forward to the next time we can play Epidemic!

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Ps. In case you were curious, my painting is the one on the right.

NT Training Camp: Colorado Springs

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A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to go on a training trip to the US Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. Walking down the path linee with all of the countries flags still holds the same ase and wonder as when I was a 14-year-old water polo player on my first trip to the OTC.

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The trip lasted 12 days in total, just enough time to adjust to the altitude and then get in some great work. We were a very small group, probably 12 people in total all chosen from the National Team. There were three coaches on deck at all times, helping us push beyond our limits. I loved changing up the normal routines, trying different workouts, and most of all making new friends. Below are a few photos of the weight room and pool to give an idea of the incredible training facilities found at the OTC.

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I am also thankful for all of the amazing opportunities presented to us, such as a cooking class with Alicia. The recipe for our delicious chicken adobo is included below. Although it has a high salt content, as we discussed, most athletes actually are lacking salt and need more after a tough workout. More importantly, it is absolutely delicious!

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We were also able to make a few trips out of the Center and see more of Colorado Springs. The first was to train in an outdoor pool at a private club. I grew up training in the rain, but the snow adds a whole new level to training outdoors. Fortunately, the pool was nice and warm!! Here are some of the photos from the trip out to the pool, I do not have any of us actually swimming in the snow.

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This was an incredible training trip and I know it got the ball rolling for 2016 on the right foot! Let’s go TEAM USA!!

My Last Copa de Clubes

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My first big meet with Real Canoe was the Copa de Clubes in 2013. Two weekends ago I competed in what will be my last Copa de Clubes. The meet is comprised of 8 teams going head to head. There are two heats of each event, with one swimmer from each team present. Anyone from any heat can win an event; however, typically the event winners come from the second heat. All of the 16 swimmers are ranked and points are given in descending order and the team who has the most points overall wins the meet.

I absolutely love this meet. Everyone gets really excited and will come in with drums, costumes and other noisemakers. We made capes this year and marched in like super heroes, chanting CANOE CANOE.

After four sessions the final scores came in and despite a tough fight we did not come out on top. For the boys, the numerous (questionable) disqualifications most certainly did not aid in their quest for the title. However, they rallied and moved from sixth into third place. As for us girls, I was incredibly proud of the way that every girl stepped up to the plate and competed. We had a lot of young swimmers who were competing against veterans from other clubs, and they did not let the pressure affect their swims. In the end we placed second overall! With so much young talent, I am sure that they will continue to be one of the top clubs for years to come!!

Click here to read more about the meet.

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Swimming in the Clouds

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I’ll admit it’s been quite some time since my last post. I promise it is not for a lack of desire, but rather that through the process of traveling the globe, both for swimming and personal occasions, I ran out of time to properly sit down and record what has been going on in my life. That being said, I am currently at the CAR (Centro del Alto Rendimiento) in Granada Spain for next 21 days. Our coach, Taja, chose five members of our team, including myself, to train here at the center. There are many reasons for training at the CAR, the first and foremost, would be the benefits of high altitude training for endurance sports. We are currently at 2,320 meters above sea level. Others include the ability to break away from the traditional grind and focus purely on training.

In many respects our schedule in the water mirrors our practices at home. We have two practices (doubles) on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And a single water session on each of the other days of the week (We do normally get Sundays off, but one extra practice is nothing to complain about). Here is an example of our schedule from Monday:

7:05 Wake-up

7:15 Give morning data to our coach (Data includes your morning weight and heart rate*)

7:30 – 8:15 AM Cardio (30 minutes on a stationary bike plus 10 minutes rowing)

8:15-8:45 Breakfast

8:45-9:00 Stretching/warm-up

9:00-11:00 Swim Practice

11:00-11:30 Stretching

11:30-1:00 Free time

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2:00-3:00 Mandatory nap/ rest

3:00-4:00 Free time

4:00-4:30 Core Circuit

4:30-6:30 Swim Practice

6:45-7:45 Weights session

8:00-9:00 Dinner

9:00 – till you fall asleep

Looking at the schedule I, too, am slightly overwhelmed, but I must say that thus far I have not had trouble adjusting to the schedule. In many ways, it is much easier to accomplish all of the various athletic tasks when they are the only things that you are responsible for. By that, I mean I do not have to shop, cook, clean or worry about any other part of my life. As you can see there is a great deal of variety in the types of training, which keeps things fresh and exciting. For instance, Tuesday might also be a double day but it does not look the same as Monday – the short core circuit is substituted for the morning cardio and another longer circuit is substituted for weights.

Here are a couple of photos of the Center to give an idea of the great training facility:

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The days with just one practice are quite special and we have honored those that we have had thus far with outings and excursions. For instance on Saturday, after morning practice four of us decided to go down into town. We took the scenic route riding the chair lift down to the town below. As you can see, locals would love a snowstorm like the one that just raged across the east coast. Yet, there were still many people out on the slope. (I don’t think more than one is running).

The following are photos from our journey into the town square:

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On Sunday our single session was in the afternoon, which allowed us to climb to the Virgin of the Snows (ironic since there is hardly any snow this year) in the morning. Taja our coach led the excursion up another couple hundred meters to her triangular shrine. As the pictures attest, it was a beautiful hike.

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Most importantly, we made it just in time as the clouds started to roll in (as seen in the photo below). Most days they arrive around lunchtime and then will stay the rest of the day, covering everything in sight.

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Thus far, we have had an amazing training trip and I am sure there is plenty more fun to be had. I am most looking forward to training hard and devoting some of my spare time to bringing the blog back up to date. Happy Tuesday!!