Sonia Wang of The Claremont Club in Southern California was one of the 60 invitees at the recent USA Swimming National Select Camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In this narrative, she gives us an insider view of what goes on at this exclusive camp for some of the best youth swimmers in the country.
The 2011 National Select Camp inColorado Springswas a chance for thirty girls and thirty guys from across the country to come together and train for a weekend at the Olympic Training Center. We arrived on a crisp, bright Thursday and were immediately blown away by the facility when we stepped off of the bus. The scenery in the background, complete with snow, was magnificent and bold, and framed the calm morning. Already snapping pictures, we did not even see the best parts. In front of the drop-off lot was a lobby with the word ‘Welcome’ displayed in numerous different languages. Trying to distinguish which languages were which, we sounded like monkeys!
Thankfully, saving us from our embarrassment, the coaches halted our guessing game and told us to explore the facility. Excitedly, we walked down the stairs in the building and saw the finest sight: the buffet-style dining hall. Quotes were posted on the wall to motivate and encourage, but we were most attracted to the shiny ice cream machine. Although it was tempting to go pig out, we resisted and traveled outside, where magnificent Olympic rings stood on a building.
Across from that, we saw the indoor pool. Through the window, we could see the clear blue water proudly reflecting the flags of the previous host Olympic countries. Marveled by its beauty, we continued our procession to our dorms. Unfortunately, the girls were placed on the third floor while the guys were on the second floor (lucky!) so we all lugged our baggage up the three flights of steep, torturing steps. Resting numerous times on the way and feeling the altitude, we cursed the fact that there wasn’t an elevator. Thankfully, the rest of the camp was not as painful!
The next day, we beheld our idols. Michael Phelps, Chloe Sutton, and Allison Schmitt strolled by the dining hall as if nothing were unusual! However, my friends and I were so shell-shocked and dazzled by their presence, that we just stood there for a minute or two with our mouths open. Slowly recovering, we all mumbled, ‘Was that…was that….wow!’ Sadly, raining on our parade, the coaches walked over to us and sternly told us that we were not to approach, distract, or bother them. Disappointed, we turned back to the pool. Suddenly upon entering, we heard animated chattering. Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt were standing in front of us! ‘AHHHH!!’ ran through my head as we heard that they were going to speak to us. We all rushed over to the bleachers and quickly sat down. Phelps and Schmitt promptly got down to business. They explained the benefits of training at the Olympic Training Center and motivated us by telling stories of their success after hard work. However, too soon, the questions started. Inquiries from us were being thrown at them left and right. Some included: ‘Michael, how did you feel after winning 8 gold medals at the Olympics’ (Answer: ‘I pretty much just sat around and did nothing for a couple of months, but after a while, I got my motivation back and started training again.) and ‘Do you hate Ryan Lochte because he’s faster than you?’ Phelps answered ‘No, we are good friends outside of the pool, but when you are racing and in the pool, no one is really your friend.’ Unfortunately, the questions came to a halt when someone asked, ‘What are your plans for 2012?’ Phelps answered, ‘I’m not going to answer that. You guys are worse than a hoard of reporters!’ Despite the lack of response, we were all encouraged and thrilled after the meeting with the two Olympians.
However, swimming wasn’t our only activity. When a person thinks of a flash mob, they think of random people dressed in black at the mall doing crazy, jerky dance moves. Yet, we girls had the chance to perform a flash mob at the camp. For about an hour on Friday night, we choreographed and practiced the dance to the Cupid Shuffle. Basically, we would to the giddy-up across the pool deck opposite of the guys and do the can-can until the actual Cupid Shuffle started. Then we would perform the routine three times before jumping in the pool shouting, ‘Go USA!’ When, we were standing with the guys the next day, our signal, a bird call, sounded and we all giddy-upped to the designated side before joining hands and performing our routine. After the successful flash-mob, we got out of the pool and were laughing, along with the coaches, like there was no tomorrow because the guys were scratching their heads with confusion.
Soon enough though, the coaches announced that it was time for practice. But there was a twist. Instead of practicing, we were going to do a mini-meet! The events that were going to be swum were the 100 butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle, the 200 IM, and the 400 freestyle. When we all heard that the 400 freestyle was going to be an event, we looked at each other in fear and each thought ‘I better not be doing that!’ However, we did not know what our three events were going to be chosen by the coaches writing our names down on a piece of paper and picking them randomly out of a hat. They refused to announce the names until right before the event. No matter how much we begged, they would not give in and tell us who was swimming what, so we swam, waited in suspense, and repeated that. Racing against people across the country of the same speed and age was great fun because it’s not everyday that you can race someone who is one of the top swimmers in the nation in their worst event. Although the training was intense, there were fun tidbits included that made the camp an entertaining and remarkable trip.
The most valuable thing that I walked away with was the number of new, or even stronger old, bonds that were created in the duration of the trip. At previous swim meets, I only saw names in the programs, but now, when I see a name, I am able to relate it to a face and a story that occurred at the training camp. Determined not to lose contact, we had frantically added each other on Facebook and some people (like me) had created a Facebook to keep in touch with our new found friends. In a country that spans across the entire continent, I know that I have dear friends just a minute’s phone call away.