The Road to Rio has many stops, and one of those stops was Rio itself! A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to travel down to Brazil for a test event at the Olympic & Paralympic Pool. The United States took a group of nine Paralympic swimmers to get a sneak peak of the venues and race in the Test Event competition. This was my first time in South America, and I was blown away by the warm welcome we received. All of the Brazilians we talked to were so excited for their country to host the Games and truly wanted visitors to have the best experience possible.
There has been so much media hype questioning Brazil’s readiness to host the Games, but personally, I thought that everything looked great. While some venues are still awaiting completion, the Aquatic Center was completely finished. Walking into the arena for the first time, I got goose bumps. Just seeing so many seats overlooking the pool is incredible, and they weren’t even occupied! I can’t wait to feel the atmosphere when all 18,000 seats are filled with cheering fans! The small crowd at this test even was predominantly Brazilian, so the native swimmers got a much more enthusiastic applause than us foreigners. I know that come September though, the American fans (my parents included!) will be screaming their heads off for Team USA. Since I haven’t been to a Paralympic Games before, it was incredibly helpful for me to get the ‘lay of the land’ – even simple things like where the locker rooms are and where the medal ceremonies take place – so that when I return in September for the big show, I won’t have to worry about logistics quite as much.
Other concerns abuzz in the media, like Zika virus and the cleanliness of the open water race courses, are obviously things for athletes to keep in mind, but it’s a big comfort to know that the Olympic Committee entirely has our backs. It’s their job to keep the athletes as safe and comfortable as possible, and they do everything they can to ensure that. I am nothing less than ecstatic to return to Brazil in September!
From the competition itself, I came away with several important things to focus on over the next few months. My coaches and I have been working on these over the past few weeks, and I know it’s already resulted in significant improvements. For example, video analysis of my races from the Test Event showed that my head position while I’m sprinting was a little too high, so I’ve been using a snorkel during training lately to help me work on this. Even with some room for improvement, I still managed to snag silver medals in the 50 free and 100 free, and standing on the podium in the Olympic pool is an experience I’ll never forget – and one I certainly hope to repeat later this summer!
We ended our trip with a few hours on the beach. It was fantastic to get to do a bit of ‘tourism’ even though we were technically on a ‘business trip.’ Traveling for competitions is an amazing way to see the world, but we do have to remember that we are primarily here for competition, not vacation! Having a few hours to unwind at the beach was a perfect way to relax before our 10-hour overnight flight back to the US.
Multiple times during this trip, I was overtaken by immense gratitude for the experiences that my injury has afforded me.
If I hadn’t been injured, I certainly would not be going on quick trips to Rio just to test out the pool. How many little kids across the country would love to even see the Olympic pool, let alone be able to swim in it!? Five years ago, while I was still a patient at Magee, I never dreamed that this journey would lead me to such incredible heights. The road has certainly been bumpy at times, but it’s led me in a pretty great direction: the Road to Rio!