Ten days in Puerto Rico: A firsthand account of the swimming and diving training trip

5 a.m.: My alarm goes off. I grab my travel bag, my purse and my equipment bag for training. I make the trek to the O’rena (I’m pretty sure I resembled a traveling mule trying to carry all my luggage at once). We board the bus. Wait for a few stragglers who slept through their alarms.

5:45 a.m.: The bus leaves Oakland’s campus. We arrive at the airport and have no trouble boarding. The plane takes off, I am one step closer to my first training trip and miles closer to our final destination Puerto Rico.

We touch down in Atlanta for a short layover and board the final flight. At 5:15 p.m., we touch down in San Juan. We are greeted by the warm, moist tropical air and are surrounded by palm trees. We waited for teammates who flew separately to join us and met up with some who landed before we did. We even bumped into former Oakland men’s soccer goalie Steve Clark, who is now playing professionally. We board a bus for the final piece of travel a three hour bus ride to our hotel in Rincon.

After 15 hours of travel, we finally arrive at our hotel. Everyone gets checked into their rooms, and before even attempting to unpack, half the team is in their suits running into the ocean at 9 p.m. The beach was probably a 30-second walk from my room, it took me probably 10 seconds to run and jump into the warm salt water.

We made it. Training trip 2015 is underway.

The first three days were all the same. Wake up at 8 a.m., put on sunscreen, go to breakfast, go to practice, go to the beach, then go to practice again. Training really took a lot out of everyone. The first few practices, the energy was high, but the training continued to get more and more difficult.

The facility we swam at, the RUM Natatorium, was gorgeous. It included a 50-meter pool, two 25-meter pools and a complete diving tower ranging from one-meter springboard to 10-meter platform. All outside. We had to pool reserved from 10 to 12 a.m. and 5:30 to 8 p.m. In between practices, we spent most of our time laying out and floating in the ocean. Riding the waves in and flipping over the waves were popular for most of the swimmers and divers. At night after practice, there were friendly games of pool and even some karaoke.

During the hird night, the coaches allowed us to go to a local club under supervision of two of our coaches. We showed up to a restaurant right on the beach. There was a dance floor, but no one occupied it. That was until we arrived. Talia Sola, a sophomore from Spain, taught everyone how to salsa. After the DJ played some salsa music, he played some good ol’fashion American dancing music. We went hard. Everyone was drenched in sweat, it was kind of gross. Some of the natives challenged us to dance offs, but we won every time. We headed back to the hotel at 1 a.m.

On the fourth day, our day off, Coach Hovland said he had a surprise for us. Oakland was the first team that went along with one of his buddy’s travel agency and since then has attracted many more teams. To give back to the Oakland swim team, he provided us with a cliff diving/waterfall experience.

After a short hour-long bus ride, we arrived in Anasco Abajo. We hiked through the tropical forest to reveal a breathtaking waterfall. There were some natives there showing off their skills. They scaled the cliff all the way to the top of the waterfall, and would dive or flip off it. Being the amateurs we were, we went off the middle cliff, probably seven meters high. Some of the divers threw in some flips and some swimmers attempted to dive and would over estimate and smack the water.

All the coaches present jumped off Hovland, new assistant coach Sarah Biasello and diving coach Larry Albright, who threw a 1.5 flip. After we exhausted that waterfall, we were told that there was another smaller one that had a rope swing a short hike away. When we arrived at the second waterfall we were crunched for time and only allowed one swing per person. Then we hiked back and ate lunch. We arrived at the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

Some people stayed and some went downtown where a festival was taking place. The festival had many booths displaying hand-carved wooden figures or candies made from scratch. It was a real peek into the culture of Puerto Rico. After exploring there, a group went on a mission looking for a solid surf shop. After wandering in downtown Rincon for about an hour, the rain came. Half the group went back, but six of us stayed. We wandered in the rain for a little and found a small seafood shack. Now I’m no seafood fan, but I was convinced to order the fish tacos. I told myself I would try anything once. When in Rome, right? Not going to lie, they were pretty dang good. Then we made our way back to the hotel to prepare to go back to training the next day.

The next three days were just like the first: wake up swim, beach, swim, sleep, repeat. On the 23rd, our last full day, we moved morning practice to 6 to 8 a.m. to allow us to enjoy the entire day. We went down the shore and were allowed to snorkel, paddle board, kayak, skim board and go on banana boat rides from 10 to 4 p.m. I went snorkeling for the first time and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. We didn’t see any reef sharks or dolphins, but we did see and eel and a sea turtle. It was just breathtaking to swim down and see a completely different world (I couldn’t help but sing Under the Sea). When we went back to the hotel, Euchre was the name of the game. We had multiple games going on for multiple hours. Then we all started to pack up, sad to leave but ready to be home for the holidays. The next day we boarded the bus at 10 a.m., waved goodbye to Hovland, who was staying a couple of days longer with his wife, and headed home. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight to Detroit wasn’t delayed, however many other flights were. A few teammates’ flights got delayed up to six hours. The flight was long and I just wanted to be home. We landed at 6:30 p.m., by the time we got our luggage and boarded the bus back to Oakland it was 7:30 p.m.. Then finally at 9:30 p.m., I started the two-hour drive back to Grand Rapids. At 1 a.m. Christmas morning, I walked in my front door.

The trip is something I will never forget. I didn’t really know what to expect going in except that it was going to be really hard training wise. The swimmers averaged 6,000-7,000 meters a practice twice a day for 14 practices. That’s 84,000-98,000 meters in 28 hours, plus 30 minutes of dryland a day. I asked a diver how many dives they do a day, and he said, including line ups and drills, around 200. Training was, without a doubt, the most difficult of the year. In my ten years of swimming, I have never felt that sore and fatigued before. However, the memories, the laughs and the bonding done with the team is something that will stay with me for a long time.