Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Carmen de Patagones, Viedma, a niece and an International Swim Meet
Located about 1,000 Km (600 mile) from Capital Federal, on the north bank of the Rio Negro (Black River), Carmen de Patagones is the southernmost town in the province of Buenos Aires. There is a beautiful, neo-gothic cathedral whose spires dominate the skyline of the colonial town. On the southern side is the more modern town of Viedma in the province of Rio Negro. Separated by the river, they are both pretty with beautiful river walks, plenty of grassy areas to picnic and play and some very good restaurants, offering outdoor seating to watch the river meander passed. This is where Haley and the other international swimmers will race. We have not seen her since Christmas 2009. Since then, she has branched out and not only competes in pool events for both University of Southern California (USC), where she is a junior and the US Swim Team but also swims “open water” competitions in either seas or rivers representing the United States. When we were home in August she was swimming in China and had told us that the river there was pretty “yucky”! We checked out the river here. The Rio Negro appears fairly clean and providing the wind doesn’t blow too strong the current looks manageable. It also isn’t black but a brownish-green color with attractive willow trees lining its banks on both sides. On Wednesday she showed up at the RV at around 11AM. Although arriving late last night, she has already had a practice and team meeting. She’s tired. After confirming her schedule: a one mile race on Thursday at 3PM, a 10K race Saturday at 10AM with twice daily practices, we decide to play it day to day and arrange to meet her for dinner that evening at 7. After going to drop off some laundry and stopping by the tourist office, we decide to go to a beach community about 30 kilometers (20 mile) away. El Condor is very nice and we find a couple of campsites that we can stay for some of the nights which have electricity. We also found an internet and let family know that we had met up with Haley and she would be joining us for dinner. The evening was fun and we caught up on all of her news: college, swimming and family. We recanted some of our travel stories. After dinner we went back to the RV and Haley was able to check in with her dad via Skype. We set up a call for 11 o’clock the following morning (6 in the US) so she could Skype both of her parents and sister. Thursday was a bright, sunny day. The race will be held on the Carmen de Patagones side of the river. We went to the hotel, hoping to follow the van taking the swimmers but had missed it. Instead we met Luigi and Sylvia who have helped in organizing the event. Luigi rode with us and we followed Sylvia to the Nautical Club where the race was held. They got us into the VIP section and we were introduced to everyone around us. We were surprised at the number of people and spectators. Besides the 3 member US Swim Team, there were swimmers from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Canada, Germany, Spain, Israel and Russia (and maybe some I missed). This is a fast race only about 20 minutes. The men go first and after a 5 min interval, the ladies follow. On the home stretch we are cheering, wildly. The men. Canada first, the US took second. Then the ladies. A Brazilian in first, a German second and Haley in third place. She is so happy. This is a short race for her (she swims 10K), the water feels great, not too cold or too warm and the current is manageable. She feels confident and is ecstatic. The trophies are very nice too! The newspaper La Costa interviews her and then us. She is one of only a few of the swimmers with family here and from so far away! After we celebrate, we arrange to see her in the morning and we go back to El Condor for the night. Visiting the next day, she is exhausted. Between jet lag/time difference, practice, meetings and a press conference, and racing as well, she wants to do nothing. We visit in her room for a while, shelve lunch plans and tell her we’ll see her before the race tomorrow. Instead of driving back to El Condor, we find a great area past the tourist center which is quiet, yet close to the river. We spend the afternoon reading and taking long riverside walks with Winston, occasionally allowing him off leash to run and cool off in the water. Saturday morning we moved the RV closer to where the swim meet was. We already knew many of the organizers thanks to Luigi and Sylvia and so had no problems getting past security. It was truly the definition of organized chaos. Swimmers, coaches, FINA officials, TV, radio and newspaper reporters and all the staff that make up an event like this where milling around. All swimmers are marked on the back of their hands, both biceps and both shoulder blades with a number so they can be identified and kept track of. They are also greased with Vaseline and sunscreens for protection and to keep their limbs slippery to prevent other swimmers from grabbing them. In addition, they need a variety of liquids and power items to keep them hydrated and provide energy. There are 25 women and 31 men swimming and all are preparing for the race in different ways. We found Haley. She hugged and kissed us. She seems well-rested, relaxed and confident. The weather is near perfect for the race, a gentle breeze and the current is slow. We met her teammate, Eva and her coach with US swim, Bryce. This is a 10K (6.2 mile). They will make what is in effect 4 laps around a buoyed area. Across river, down, across and back up again. Every time they pass “home” there will be people with long poles stretched into the water offering water, power drinks and power gels packets. The race will last a little more than 2 hours. The men go first, the ladies after 5 minutes or so. We hug Haley a final time, wish her luck and watch her go to the starting point. A floating deck stretched into the river. They swim to it and hoist themselves up. She sees us; smiles, waves and the countdown began. They’re off. I say a silent prayer for her safety. The first time they pass, she is in the middle of the first group with Eva. On the second pass there is now a group of about 6 and she and Eva are hanging in. Third time around, we are thrilled. Haley and Eva are in front and looking good. But there is still a fourth lap. We could hear the announcer and I was trying to keep up in Spanish over the speaking system. The ladies who do “doping control” testing were preparing for the end of the race. “Your niece is doing good” one of them told me in English. “We think the Americans will take first and second” Carolina from the La Costa newspaper added. At the finish we were jumping with joy. Eva came in first and Haley second. They were both beaming with joy as they came past the finish line. There were high fives, hugs and kisses all round. It had been a great meet for the US team and Haley had medaled in both her races. We hugged, took photographs, got photographed and hugged more. As we waited for the medal ceremony and then lunch, she and her teammate went back to the river, to swim and loosen up. It was great fun to watch she and Eva get their awards and then it was time for lunch, they were starving. Afterwards it was more hugs and kisses as we said good-bye. She has to check out and have a post-meet dinner before leaving at midnight for the 10 to 12 hour van ride back to Buenos Aires and then home. And we were equally as thrilled. To be in Viedma to watch our niece participate in the races and to have performed so well. It couldn’t have been better.