Part 2 continued from here.
“The day of the race I went swimming with Pilar Geijo for a short warm-up at the pool after breakfast. Then we rested in the room a bit. It was nice having the race in the afternoon because we had the morning to rest and relax. We ate lunch and then we went to the race site two hours before the 3 pm start.
When we got there, there was already a huge crowd. It was very hot so they brought us directly to the shaded athlete area where it was still hot. None of the women thought putting on our race suits in the heat was pleasant. All of the swimmers got their numbers. Then we were checked for legal swim suits, body piercings, and long finger and toe nails. I had an earring that had corroded in my ear. It would not come out and was told that I couldn’t swim. It was really upsetting.
I had trained, sacrificed, and traveled all this way. This old earring, high up my earlobe would prevent me from competing even though my swim cap would cover the piercing.
Eventually the FINA delegates agreed that the earring would be OK if I taped it up and nothing would possibly harm any of the other swimmers. I was so relieved that they made a reasonable judgement call. I breathed a huge sign of relief! I then went down to the water with Mike [Collins, my coach] to feel out the different currents in various parts of the river. I noticed the current wasn’t as strong toward the cable where the spectators could stand, but it got stronger the further out you swam. I swam for 15 minutes. The organizers then they took us on the bus up the river for the start.
It was so hot so I tried to stay on the bus as long as possible. The race started in the water and the ground was very mucky. The bottom where we were standing was gushy and muddy as our toes became embedded in whatever was on the river bottom. After the start, we started swimming upstream where the pack split up pretty quickly. The majority of the race I was in a pack with the Venezuelan and Argentinian girls. The pace was very comfortable. I stuck in the second position for the first 2 loops and then decided I needed to pick up the pace to lead a few loops.
It was so fun swimming down current. The buoys came up so fast and if you were slightly off, you’d have to swim back up current to get around them. Missing a buoy – even by a little bit – was something to be avoided. The pack stuck together for a bit with an athlete or two dropping off each loop. On the 5th loop, I heard my dear friend Pilar was very sick. On the last loop, we caught up to her and I realized she clearly wasn’t herself, but she wasn’t getting out. I know she was in the best shape of her life and capable of so much more.
It came down to a sprint at the end between three of us where I finished sixth overall and second in our mini-pack. The finish was a temporary wall we just touched and then we could stand up. The organizers gave us a towel. There were chairs at the finish so we could sit down before walking back through the crowd. After the race they had awards where the fans were going crazy for anything the swimmers gave them. The Italians gave out stickers and key chains. If you wouldn’t have known, you would have thought they were giving out million dollar bills. I gave out some USA stickers too and got the same effect. Eventually you just had to ignore them because they were so aggressive. The award ceremony was great and they made us all feel very special. I loved the course and the energy there so much!
That night we were treated at a very nice authentic Argentinian steakhouse at 9 pm. It was so much fun getting to know some of the volunteers, the race director, my fellow competitors, and the local swimmers who were competing just in that race. We were all in a post-race stress-free environment.
But then the race started to have its full effects.
To be continued.
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