Dive Right In: The First Night of Swim Practice

While living in Cusco both of our kids had settled into a regular routine with the Cusco Swim Team. Three to four times per week at 6:45 p.m. they'd stroll in to the Piscina Municipal de Wanchaq and jump right in with the other swimmers. I’m sometimes amazed at how easy they blend in. I have to remember, however, that the first practice was very difficult for my 12-year old daughter.

My daughter and I came down to Cusco 6 weeks before my wife and son (my son wanted to graduate from middle school), so she was the sibling that would pave the way for the other. After giving her a few days to acclimatize to the altitude and get a couple Spanish lessons under her belt, we showed up early at the pool to meet Coach Cristian. I had thought that there might be practice that morning so my daughter had her swim gear on. It turned out that he came especially for us and there was no practice, but he asked if she wanted to have a workout. My daughter nervously declined and we agreed to return that night for the formal practice.

Cristian had been a positive and enthusiastic correspondent, but the language barrier and his communication style left many questions unanswered; Was there a swim meet schedule? Was there a swim team web site? How many kids were on the team? How much did it cost? Were our kids fast enough to compete? Was the team in a league of some kind?

We returned that night at 6:30 sharp, but there were no swim team members at the pool. Cristian saw us in the lobby and waved us in. With no other swimmers present, my daughter reluctantly started moving towards the locker room to get ready. She spoke virtually no Spanish and was the only blue-eyed, blond-haired person at the pool. After she changed she came over to me and handed me her backpack and looked at me with tears welling up in her eyes; I knew that she didn’t want to do it. I told her, “This is going to be an experience that you will never forget and nobody you know even has the opportunity to do it.” I wiped her tears and she went over to Coach Cristian, who had her and another girl start stretching. Within five minutes she was back with more tears. I told her, “This is not going to be one of those things that I’m going to let you back out of. I know that you can do this.”

By now about 10 other kids had joined and all were introduced to my daughter. They started their laps and I noticed after about 5-6 laps, she was taking breaks on the turns: the altitude was definitely getting to her. I watched as Coach Cristian barked instructions in Spanish and she looked at him incomprehensibly. At one point he clearly motioned for her to jump off the diving platform so that she could be timed but she appeared to not have the slightest clue what he was saying. I could tell that she was completely flustered at this point. Her body language – shoulders slumped and arms folded in front of her chest – betrayed her inner state: Get me out of here!

I started to wonder if Cristian regretted his decision to let our kids join the team. It was definitely a challenge to communicate with my daughter and I wondered if this was worth the effort for him. Fortunately, one of the girls knew a few key words of English and this made the second half of practice go a little better. When Cristian asked them to swim the next lap their fastest, she turned to my daughter and said “Speedy!” ( is a Peruvian internet service provider; this is my guess as to how this word crept into her vocabulary).

I was very relieved when practice ended and I was very proud of my daughter for what she went through. Just as I was thinking about how I would reward her, I noticed that all the girls formed a circle around her in the pool with Speedy translating their questions, “You have brother?” “How many years?” I saw one of the girls stroke my daughter’s blond hair and they all giggled. She answered their questions about the brother and two of them shot their hands up as if to say “He’s mine!”

She emerged from the pool smiling; a great ending to what had been a difficult experience. We resolved to go for a scoop of gelato after her shower. All’s well that ends well.

This post is a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Blog Carnival from Claire at at First Time Travels. You can find the carnival here.

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