IMPIA (Part 3 of 12). I groaned and dragged myself out of bed. The girls had called for a longer practice than usual, for some special training our newest team mate Maria was putting together. The girls. Plural. I still couldn’t believe that we had managed to find each other and decide to go down this crazy journey together.
I snuck out of the window and ran to our meeting spot near the water. Judging by how bright it was outside, I would give us an hour to return home before people realized that we were missing.
Maria was already sitting by the water when I got there. She was playing with some kind of blade contraption. I stared to prepare to get into the water when Alicia came in running. She was carrying what looked like the swim suits women on the telly wore.
“You found them!” Maria said excitedly.
I was confused; and made no effort to hide that.
“Well you see, before we can win like champions, we need act like champions. And to act like champions, we need to feel like champions. So we got new suits — “ Maria, our darling physicist turned swimmer started.
“Basically, I bought us new swimsuits,” Alicia cut in while turning to look at me, “well technically you bought us new swimsuits since I used the money I stole from you when we first met.”
“And I got us a razor, because we all know that hair removal makes you a better swimmer,” Maria said.
A razor? No way. They were so ridiculously expensive. How could she even afford that?
“I told Mama that I ran out of nylon for my dresses, and so needed this razor as my legs would show,” Maria said, as though she was reading my mind, “but unfortunately I could only get one so we’ll have to share.”
Alicia sat down quietly next to Maria and stretched out her hand. I shook my head. This was supposed to be the first team of female swimmers to represent Mexico on a world stage. And there they were, essentially painting toe nails.
“It’ll enhance your speed, trust me,” Alicia said.
I sat down hesitantly and waited for Maria to hand me the razor once she was done. For a bunch of women who were strangers until just a few weeks ago, we were far too comfortable with each other.
“I’m sure little Svetlana in Russia is also getting her hair plucked everywhere,” Alicia said as she watched Maria, “like everywhere everywhere.”
Maria giggled. Alicia laughed at the sound of Maria’s giggle. And then eventually, we were all laughing as we jointly endured the pain of hair removal, of dreams we were not allowed to dream, and of all the secrets we were keeping to keep those dreams alive anyway #LumSalutes
IMPIA (Part 6 of 12). The impact of Mama’s slap still rang in my ears as I walked to the pool. I had finally mustered up the courage to tell my family about my Olympic dreams, which they did not take well to.
They locked me in my room while Mama screamed on about how I had violated their trust and Papa tried to calm her down. Eventually, my brother interrupted them, unlocked my room door and said that I at least deserved to be heard; if not celebrated for winning our nation a medal.
“I have done every single thing you have ever asked me to do every single day of my life, Mama. And soon, you are going to choose my husband, who will take your place in dictating my every breath. All I’m asking for is this one year. One year to control my life. One year to live out my dreams. One year to create all the memories I’ll hold on to for support as I live out my whole life,” I pleaded.
Somehow, after a lot of shouting and tears and hugs, that had worked. For the first time ever, I was on my way to training with my family’s blessing — or their acceptance, at least.
Coach walked in and high-fived me.
“You and me, kid. One year, one chance, one gold,” he said.
“Why don’t you take today off? Because from tomorrow, your time is my time,” Coach said.
“No days off here, Coach. I have to take the gold back from Svetlana,” I said as I fished around in my bag for my pre-workout power food. Avocados. Yum.
“Big dreams, kid. But I think it’s better to aim for silver. Svetlana’s frame is too slender for you — you’d have to drop at least ten pounds to have the same advantages she does,” Coach said.
I stopped eating, smiled at Coach, and excused myself to go change. As soon as I was in the bathroom, I took out the half-eaten bag of food and hid it in my locker. No need to add more weight.
I was getting ready to win. Svetlana would have no idea about what she was in for #LumSalutes
IMPIA (Part 9 of 12). I couldn’t believe it. I was actually on my way to my beloved pool once again. No more rotting in that ridiculous facility. Lalia’s tricks had worked; and I had been cleared to start training again.
As soon as I walked into the arena, Maria and Alicia ran over to give me a hug. I smiled at them, and nodded at the men’s team. Somehow, things felt different. My gaze wandered to the pool. I froze.
“You didn’t fight your way back here to just stand around, did you?” Coach yelled from across the pool.
“Haven’t been cleared to train yet,” I yelled back. Why was I lying?
“Still. It’s good to have you back, kid. You better be A-Okay before getting back into that pool,” he said, walking over to me and giving me a fist bump.
I smiled at him and joined in watching the practice from the sidelines. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears every time I looked at the pool, so I tried to focus on the clock instead. Soon, it struck dinner time and everyone began packing up to leave.
Once I was sure everyone had left, I walked over to the pool. I could see my shadow trembling. I tried to ignore it and looked at the lane I had last swum in. Just as I was about to dive in, I had a flashback to when I fell back into the pool unconscious and felt my body go cold. All of a sudden, I felt like the blood in my body had been replaced by ice blades. I tried to remind myself of the thousands of hours I had spent in that pool, and of how the water had always been my turf. But despite what I told myself, I knew couldn’t get back into the pool then. Worse, what if I couldn’t get myself to go back into the pool — ever? #LumSalutes
IMPIA (Part 12 of 12). I looked at the gold medals hanging in front of me, and at my “Team Mexico” jacket next to it. I accelerated.
“Mama!” I heard a little voice call.
“Sorry, she was too excited to finally see where you worked,” Bash said, walking in after our daughter.
I paused a treadmill and jumped off smiling. We still had a few minutes before my trainees showed up to work out. Enough time to finally show my daughter the health and fitness lifestyle bar I had built; which we had promised we would show her as her fourth birthday present.
I ruffled her hair. Wet.
“Baby, did you go swimming again?” I asked.
She giggled and looked at Bash.
“I couldn’t stop her,” he said, “she’s just as stubborn as someone I once knew when it comes to the water.”
I shook my head at him and rolled my eyes. He might be one of the most famous politicians in Mexico, but he was powerless when it came to this four year old.
She walked up to my gold medals and ran her hand in front of the glass.
“Are those yours, Mama?” she asked.
“Some of them belong to the women who train here. But the ones you’re looking at are mine,” I explained.
“When are you going to get more?” she asked earnestly.
“My turn is over, Baby. The rest of the shelf is for you now,” I said, smiling. How could I explain that I couldn’t motivate myself to go back into the pool after the Lalia incident? How could I explain that her death had sliced my life in half. Like how everything I had done until then had felt so small... until I started taking care of myself and created the gym for women athletes, so we could all take care of one another. Life still hurt, but knowing that we were making a difference — even if it was small — helped.
“And who is this, Mama?” she asked, stopping in front of a picture of Lalia.
My heart stopped.
“All right, that’s it. Time to go get dressed for school, Lalia,” Bash said, scooping her up.
Lalia wiggled out of his arms and ran over to me. She climbed up and gave me a kiss on my cheek.
“I love you, Mommy,” she said.
“I love you too, Lalia,” I replied, smiling at the scent of chlorine and the pool reeking from her. The next generation had arrived #LumSalutes