Cusco Characters: Coach Cristian

We’re eternally grateful that Coach Cristian allowed our kids to join his nightly swim practices at Cusco’s only indoor heated pool. Cristian has been gracious, friendly and willing but a variety of factors have caused our swim team experience to be a lesson in “going with the flow”.

Cristian is a handsome man with thick, tousled black hair in his late 20’s and is the swim coach and P.E. teacher for one of the local colegios (combined middle school/high school) in Cusco. At practices, he walks around the pool with a jock-like swagger as he barks out instructions to his swimmers. I often see him exhort his swimmers to take larger strokes by animatedly stretching out an arm, with fingers pointing to the sky and his back arched. His swimmers like him: at a recent all-comers meet, he swam freestyle in a master’s event and dozens of his swimmers wildly cheered him on. The fact that he participated in the meet also speaks well of him; his enthusiasm for the sport and his swimmers outweighs the ego of a former competitive swimmer past his prime.

On our swim team back home in Marin County, any and all information about the swim season is readily available: meet schedule, practice times, heat sheets, etc. are all on the team web site. In Cusco, none of that information is available and Coach Cristian, our sole source of information, doesn’t always have it himself. There is no web site and the schedule doesn’t seem to be known by anyone until a week or two in advance.

Because of this we never quite seem to know what is coming up week to week in the swim season. Coach Cristian’s communication style doesn’t help, either. Whenever we’re confused about a practice time, the date of an upcoming meet or what stroke the kids will swim, we’ll ask him directly and we never seem to understand the answer. Learning a language is like detective work; based on the context and sleuthing out significant verbs or nouns in the response, one can glean the meaning and communicate. For example, I’ve asked “What time is practice tomorrow?” several times in the past few months and I often get a one or two sentence response with no times or even numbers in it. The question requires a second or third iteration before I can understand the answer. Amidst this occasional confusion, Cristian smiles and carries on in a friendly manner, oblivious to my befuddlement. To be fair to Cristian, many external things have transpired to cause a delta between our expectations and reality: for example, the TransAndina Youth Games in Bolivia were canceled because of a Dengue Fever outbreak and a swim meet in Arequipa was canceled because of the Swine Flu epidemic. My wife and I think that since he only speaks Spanish, he is not used being in the shoes of someone speaking a second language and accordingly uses a lot of slang and doesn’t slow down his speech.

Along with teaching our kids swimming, Coach Cristian has taught us to not worry if we don’t know what to expect from day to day or week to week. Just go with the flow.

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