“…After a full day, I began throwing up, became feverish, and had some of the worst stomach problems I’ve ever had. We took a van that afternoon with the Croatians and Macedonians to Santa Fe for the next race. I spent most of the week in bed where [my coach] Mike Collins brought me Gatorade and I slept almost every second of the day. But I forced myself to get a swim in at the pool. I couldn’t eat; I had no appetite and I felt nauseous at the very thought of food. I started taking antibiotics which helped me gradually feel better by the end of the week.
There were 3 different pools in Santa Fe for us to train in. The organizers randomly selected which pool you swam.
I swam at one of the pools the majority of the time, but I wanted to see them all so went to the others at least once. The pool the Italians were given was one giant pool party. There were so many people in the pool with loud upbeat music, fans, and so much energy. It was a lot of fun getting to experience the ambiance. The pools were all very warm to swim in, but it was fine because it simulated the river’s warm water temperature. There were a few local girls who found me on Facebook and brought me “good luck” presents at the pool. They were so sweet and really made me feel special.
I don’t think many Americans visit their hometown. Unlike Rosario, there were tons of pre-race obligations to attend in Santa Fe. We went to several different cities along the course from Santa Fe to Coronda visiting different city officials, going to sponsor lunches, and even were asked to be in a parade before our sprint race in Coronda. I tried to stay in good spirits although I was still feeling terribly sick.
We were taken by bus, always escorted by police officers on bike or cars everywhere we went. There was even a police officer standing up on the bus with us en route to Coronda. At an official greeting at a Shell gas station, we were met with statuesque models in Shell outfits. They took us inside and we were offered snacks, coffee, water, and other goodies. Then we were told to get on one of the boats they had hitched to trailers with streamers and balloons. All of a sudden, we were in the middle of a big parade. They introduced us to the crowds.
People were lined up along the road and motorcycles and bicycles followed the floats down to the sprint race. By this time it was already 6:30 pm. We were told to put on our swimsuits and caps and walk down to the sprint race start which also was the finish of the marathon swim. The course wasn’t explained in English so I asked Andrea Volpini to quickly explain it to me before it started. Since he has been going to these events for 8 years, I figured he knew. Just as he was finishing his explanation, the start horn went off so I just started swimming after the pack upstream. The current was very strong and I ended up cutting the buoys which were more like giant buckets very close. Too close it turned out. I smashed my head pretty hard on the buoys and also got caught in the anchor rope.
The sprint race was just for practice so I’m glad I got to see what the water was like. There was another ceremony where once again the stickers we handed out were treated like large denomination dollar bills. We had another late dinner at 10 pm and arrived back at the hotel just after midnight. Throughout the festivities, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the event directors who were so friendly and entertaining.
On race morning, we gathered our things and were taken by buses to the start. It was important to have all of our gear and feeding items because if you forgot something, you had to live with it. The start was right across from the party pool. Many spectators came to watch us suit up, grease up, and prepare for a long race. There was an introduction of the swimmers where we walked on a large stage so the crowd could see us.
The start was an upsteam swim again. After a bit, we crossed the river to head south. The pace was lovely and the pack stayed together for about 2 hours. Then one by one people trickled off until I swam solo for 7.5 hours. The crowd was unbelievable for a 57 km race. Despite swimming by myself, I can’t remember a moment where I ever felt alone. Through the cities there were more people lining the shore than I ever imagined possible. Even when we swam past areas where there wasn’t a town, there were party boats cheering us on with people dressed in feathers, capes, and costumes. And everywhere flags were being waved.
One of the girls who I met previously at the pool came out with her family and brought me a present. She made a handmade bracelet and wrote me a nice letter practicing her English. The support was greatly appreciated because I was still having major stomach problems. About 2 hours into the race, I alternately felt OK and then felt horrible. I couldn’t keep anything solid down without feeling nauseous so I stuck to mostly Gatorade and my energy mix.
We thought we were closer than we really were at the end. The wind picked up and the boats from the lead pack had turned around and were headed back up river. This combination caused so much headwind and chop that it was very frustrating. The the finish felt the best. Whether you were first, in the middle, or last, the crowd treated us like a star. After the ceremony, they took us to eat at a Lions Club sort of deal where there was pizza and lots of unhealthy food.
But even after 57 km of swimming, I felt no sense of hunger. Instead, I was very very sick but I knew that I had to force myself to eat. When I got back to my room, I was probably in the worst condition I had been in. I slept it off and took the next day off where we ate at McDonald’s since they were a sponsor of the event.
I went to see the doctor later that day. She was very helpful and gave me advice to eat white rice to absorb, cheese, and lots of fluids. Along with my stomach issue, I had developed a wrist injury that seemed to be a torn tendon from the catch in my stroke. One of the swimmers from Macedonia had had the same issue in the past so he loaned me his wrist brace. I started to feel a little better, but I still didn’t have an appetite for the rest of the week. And with my wrist injury, I could only kick. But our send-off was great. On the last night we spent in Santa Fe, there was a huge presentation with sponsors, officials, awards, and lots of models and promo girls followed by a cocktail hour with a dance. It was a lot of fun, dancing, food, and Argentinian music.
The third race was only 25 minutes away so once again I traveled with the swimmers and coaches from Croatia and Macedonia by taxi to the bus station and then up to Parana. We had lunch when we arrived and escorted by Belen, the local athlete organizer, to the pool. This was the best pool we had swam in since we were in Argentina. It was very clean and not as hot as the other pools. It was also nice because it was a very short walking distance to the pool.
The week consisted of lunches and dinners with the fellow swimmers and lots of resting trying to recovery from a 57 km swim and knowing a 88 km marathon swim was coming up. It is mentally tough. Karla Šitić from Croatia and I got along very well so we spent a lot of time hanging out.
There was a very nice presentation of the swimmers again in Paraná, once again escorted out to the stage by models and promo girls. At every event they gave us nice shirts and hats to wear with sponsor logos so people would recognize us as athletes. There was a race briefing to go over the course and contingency plans for the long race.
That afternoon, they drove us up to the start of the race in the city of Hernandarias. I don’t know if I would call it a city or even a town. It was very small. We would stay here the night before so we wouldn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to take the 2-hour drive back to the start. They split us up into several different bungalo locations where Karla and I ended up sharing a bed. Luckily, our room had air conditioning while the coaches were in the living room without air conditioning. A volunteer asked us what we wanted to eat for breakfast and brought us back all of our requests from the store. Then we took naps and basically hung out not doing much of anything that day other than our medical check ups. Later, we had dinner and presentation of the athletes that night.
To be continued about the 88 km race.
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