Impia

IMPIA (Part 1 of 12). “Eulia! I know you’re in there!” Mama called. I held my breath. If she found me, she would make me cook again. Or worse — do my brother’s homework! “Don’t make me come in there, Eulia,” Mama called again. At least the water drowned out her voice a little bit. I could always count on it to hide my secrets and make me feel better. “Okay, let’s make a deal. If you come out now, you can sit with Papa and listen to half an hour of the sports,” she tried. I raced towards the shore. I loved the Games, and would give anything to be able to be closer to them. Even if it was just as a spectator. As soon as I surfaced, Mama pulled my ear and dragged me out of the water. I was soaking wet, but that didn’t stop her from dragging me all the way to our house. “Que impia,” she whispered under her breath as she looked at the water trail I was leaving behind. I sighed as I passed by my father and brother huddled around the radio in the living room. It sounded like they were listening to a running match, but I couldn’t be sure because Mama dragged me straight into the kitchen. When I protested and reminded her of her promise to let me tune in to the Olympics, she shook her head and said women only belonged in the kitchen; and that I should stop being so “impia” — irreverent. I scowled and started cutting tomatoes for pico. Whenever Mama turned away, I strained to listen to the radio and all the magic of the sporting world. One day, I would be a part of it. One day, Mama and Papa and my abuelos would realize that we were their messages into the future. And I was going to make sure that they wrote them right #LumSalutes

Impia

IMPIA (Part 4 of 12). I had told Alicia and Maria that this was a bad idea. There was no way the National Selection Committee was going to allow us into the pool with men, even if we could swim faster than them. We had been waiting for the coach for hours. Maria and Alicia were determined to ask for a race against the men’s team to show the Committee that we deserved a chance to compete on the world stage as well. But they wouldn’t see us, because they had made it clear that they could only send a certain number of athletes and women did not make the cut. More time passed. We watched the men swim freely as we sat there waiting. One of the men, who I recognized as their star swimmer Juan, walked in late. As he lazily took off his clothes, he announced that women and dogs belonged at home, not in pools. He winked at me. I could feel my blood boiling. It had been hours of disrespect that day, but a lifetime of being denied. And it was starting to pile up. Just then, the head coach, who had been hidden away from us until then, came running to us. “Ah, you must be Juan’s new water girls! You see the water dispenser at the other end of the pool? Please quickly pour him a glass of water and wait at the other side for him to finish his lap and come up for a drink,” the coach said. That was the last straw. I jumped into the pool, fully clothed, and raced Juan to the other side. Just as we were about to reach the end of the lap, I accelerated, jumped out of the pool, and ran to the water dispenser. By the time Juan came up for air at the end of his lap, I was already standing there. With his glass of water. I turned to the coach. “So is this okay for how I do my water girl duties, or would you like to talk about who you can and can’t send to the World Championships?” The coach smiled and turned to Alicia and Maria, gesturing toward the pool. Time for them to shine. In the mean time, I looked at Juan staring at me, open mouthed. I winked at him #LumSalutes

Impia

IMPIA (Part 7 of 12). I stuffed my untouched lunch bag into my locker; which had begun to stink of stale food again. I would have to remember to clear it out when nobody was looking. “Don’t do this,” I heard Bash whisper behind me, “you’re weak and you haven’t eaten in days. Don’t go out there right now.” I rolled my eyes at him and fished around my bag for my swimming cap. The qualification round for the World Championship was about to begin; and I had trained for months for this. “I’m sorry, but you left me no choice,” Bash said as he moved aside to reveal Coach standing with a weighing scale. I glared at them as I stepped on it. A healthy 100 pounds. “Get out of my way,” I said, shoving Bash as I walked past him. As soon as I knew I was out of everyone’s eyesight, I undid the ten pounds weights from each thigh and hid them in my swimming bag. Time to take down little Svetlana. I stood at the poolside, ready to dive, when the all-too-familiar tingling returned. My legs vibrated, and I saw deep shades of purple and orange. But I jumped into the pool anyway, ready to rumble. Nobody could take away my spot at Worlds. Not even me. As I neared the end of the lap, I came up for some air and saw Bash running out of his place in the stands. I remembered touching down, rising out of the water to thunderous applause, and then falling backwards into the water as Bash jumped after me. And then, everything went black. #LumSalutes

Impia

IMPIA (Part 10 of 12). I jumped up when I heard the knob yo the arena turning. It was late, and everyone else had already gone home. I looked around, but didn’t see anything. I closed my eyes and went back to trying to visualize anything but drowning in the pool, so maybe I could keep the dream alive. “Where’s my champion?” I heard Lalia’s voice call. I opened my eyes. Lalia! I couldn’t believe it. She had made it out yet again? She looked at me and smiled. “On my way to the Miss Universe auditions,” she explained, “but wanted to stop by and see you first. So how are you doing, Champ?” “I’m not a champion. It’s all over. I can’t even look at the water without trembling,” I blurted. I couldn’t believe I had said that, because I couldn’t even get myself to tell my teammates the truth — or myself. But there was something about the bond I shared with Lalia. And listening to myself say it out loud did feel weird. This was the water we were talking about. “You mean, this water?” Lalia said, as she splashed some in my face. As she saw me lunge toward her, she jumped into the pool. Without thinking about it, I jumped in after her. And then I realized what she had done. She had gotten me into the pool. And ruined my outfit. But still. She slowly started walking away from me and towards the other end of the pool. I floated after her silently. I hadn’t just floated that way since I had first learnt to swim, and it was the simplest pool skill I could think of. And I didn’t want to over stress my body by picking up speed or doing one of my fancy tricks. But it still felt like a win, because the cold and unknown water was slowly starting to feel warm and familiar again. As I swam after Lalia, I felt like she was re-introducing me to the love of my life. Wave by wave. After 25 laps, she finally stood still and waited for the to touchdown next to her. “There’s my champion,” she whispered. #LumSalutes

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IMPIA (Part 2 of 12). “Bash hurry up, hurry up! We’re going to miss the race!” I said as I dragged him through the forest. We had to find a safe place where nobody would see us, so that we could enjoy our race in peace. I took one look at Sebastian. It was easy to see that he was exhausted. It was not so easy to see why he agreed to come along with me. As long as he brought along his father’s radio, I was not about to complain. I stopped as soon as we reached my favorite part of the riverbank. Close enough to get signal; far enough to not get caught. I settled down on the grass and turned up Bash’s radio. Just in time to hear about Australia and USA going head to head for the women’s relay gold. I listened to the commentator detail every stroke of the competitors; and silently guessed all the parts the poor connection stole. Magnificent — what we all aspired to be some day. Heartbreaking — knowing that I could not turn this dream to reality if I were the only one who dreamt it. I must have been pretty lost in the race because I absolutely totally did not notice my bag being stolen. Bash seems to have been lost in something as well, because he only noticed his missing watch when a stream of policemen ran past us; presumably chasing whoever took things from us — and several others, by the looks of it. Half angry and half bored, Bash and I joined the chase. Within a few minutes, we were leading the pack. Boy, our policemen had work to do in the gym. Anyway, Bash had almost caught hold of our thief; when she quickly took a side turn and jumped into the water. Perfect. My turf. I immediately jumped in after her, ready to bring her to justice. It would be a matter of milliseconds before I caught up to her. A minute later, I was still trailing — and her lead was increasing. Could it be? Had I found someone better than me? Someone who could help me form a Mexican women’s team one day? Someone who had given me permission to hope for the impossible— my name next to all those swimmers I so admired? I accelerated, trying to keep up. After all, my potential new team mate, cash, and dream were all slipping away #LumSalutes

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IMPIA (Part 5 of 12). I looked at all the women piling out of the buses covered with their flags. Breath taking. “They’re beautiful,” Bash said under his breath as we pulled up to the arena. He had generously offered to drive us to the American Women’s International Invitational after Coach decided that he would only back our bid to Worlds if we medaled at the Invitational. “They’re also strong and brave and fierce. Make your compliments worthy of the people you give them to,” Maria said, shaking her head as she pulled out her bag. I walked into the arena and looked at the champions around me. The Russians. The Americans. The Japanese. The Australians. The Canadians. All with their coaches and spotters and supporters and years of practice. Meanwhile, we had Bash. And about two days to finish swimming and complete the 31 hour drive back home before our families would get suspicious about our “picnic” for the long weekend. Before we knew what was going on, we were at the starting line. I had never felt so small — both because some women had more muscles in their arms than I had in my whole body; and because these women had an air of confidence about them that was flat out intimidating. But we were about to enter my turf, where I knew everything would be fine. The gun went off. We dove in. It took all the mental energy I had to not turn to look at the people swimming beside me. It took all the physical energy I had to keep pushing forward after the pain flared up in my core from pushing through the first 50 meters. One minute and ten seconds later, it was all over. We had made it, just by an inch, to third place. And to Worlds, if everything went through as promised. I was elated, and wanted more than anything to stand on that medal stand with our flag above us. But I also knew that we needed to get out of there and get home ASAP if we wanted to survive to live through Worlds #LumSalutes

Impia

Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders IMPIA (Part 8 of 12). I looked at the women around the room. Since I was forcefully put into the facility, I had never once felt like I belonged. Our matron walked around, handing us each a plate of food and the “elixir” tablet which was supposed to “free our mind of the demons that prevented us from being able to eat”. By the time she asked me why I wasn’t taking my tablet like the others were, I was sick and tired and lonely and just really really wanted to get out of there. Nobody there understood me anyway. “Because I’m a world class athlete working to stay in shape for my goals and not some pretty princess trying to thin down to win a Miss Universe crown,” I whispered under my breath. The matron heard me. Her face was starting to turn red with rage. “Lalia! Speak to this insolent little girl and teach her how to conduct herself,” she said, looking at her star resident and goody-two-shoes Lalia. I rolled my eyes and watched everyone take their tablets as Lalia walked up to me. Once everyone was away in the dining area, Lalia smiled. “We have to wear swimsuits too, you know, for our competition. And granted that we don’t quite compete in the same way, but we’re both doing whatever we can do to win for our country on a global stage,” Lalia said. I narrowed my eyes at her. Not the pep talk I was expecting from a Miss Mexico front runner. “I’ve followed your career and understand that you want to win. I do too. Which is why I’m going to show you some tricks to get out of here that I’ve been using, because the only way to get out is to convince the matron you’re healthy. I’ve been in eight facilities over my lifetime and it’s worked every time. For instance, if you just stick the tablet under your tongue, you have enough time to spit it out when the matron goes to prepare meals,” Lalia began. I was starting to like her. That evening, when Lalia took me to the dining room, I actually ate dinner for the first time in weeks. The matron was very pleased with us. And we were pleased with ourselves, because we had planned a fun night for how we were going to make ourselves throw up together. No compromises allowed on the path to glory #LumSalutes

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MPIA (Part 11 of 12). I desperately dialed Lalia’s number again. I was used to speaking to her before every big meet, and this was my petition back onto the Olympic team. I needed her with me. I looked at the clock above me. I had five more minutes before I had to go out and give it everything I had against the very best in the country, and maybe even the world. Only if I placed in the top three would I be given the coveted Mexican jacket. I tried Lalia one last time. “Hello?” a woman’s voice said from the other end. Probably her mother. “Hello, may I speak with Lalia please? This is Eulia, one of her friends from — “ “The facility. Yes, I remember. Lalia used to speak about you all the time. She cared for you so deeply and always used to say that seeing you at the Olympics would make her life complete,” the woman said. Sweet sentiment. But all in past tense. “Used to, Ma’am?” I asked. “Lalia passed away last night from heart failure,” she said. My heart stopped. “But at least she was getting better and on track to doing everything right. If her disease had killed her and we had just stood by watching her secretly starve herself, I don’t think we could have forgiven ourselves,” the woman continued. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. My best friend was gone, and it may as well have been me. “She was getting better though, wasn’t she? And she was happy? And you will live out your life happily and healthily and bring home the gold like she so very deeply desired?” the woman asked. I could have told her the truth and burdened her forever. Or I could have lied and burdened myself forever. “Very much so,” I lied. I couldn’t take it any more. I hung up the phone as I heard myself trembling. I don’t really remember what happened next, except that jumping into the water and gliding through it because I had nowhere else to hide. Nowhere else I could call home. Nobody else to ever go home to again #LumSalutes

Impia

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

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. I smiled. “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

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

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