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University of Chicago Department of Athletics & Recreation

Swimming & Diving: Costa Rica 2008 Blog

Dec. 12 - Associate Head Coach Doug Milliken

One of the benefits of being a student-athlete at the University of Chicago is the ability to travel to exotic locations. This year, the men's and women's swimming & diving teams have the opportunity to travel to San Jose, Costa Rica, to train and compete in the warmth of Central America.

While there, we will be sending back a daily blog of our trip. We will hopefully include funny stories, thoughts on Costa Rica, and a general overview of what all we be doing and have done while we are there. The blogs will be written by two of our first-year students, Lelia Glass and Zach Lain. In addition to the blogs, we will try to attach some pictures as we go along, and then upon our return, we will have a full photo gallery of all the pictures taken.

We hope that you will enjoy this travel journal and that it will give you a little glimpse into how we spend out training trip. Thanks for following along and GO MAROONS!

Dec. 13 - Lelia Glass

Hey, Chicago, Gossip Girl here. Bet you're jealous of the swim team. I mean, who isn't? We're the ones rocking the cute maroon sweatshirts with the white stripes on the sleeves, going back for seconds of Pierce ice cream without ever gaining a pound, and lighting up the sports page of the Maroon with our victories. But now you should be more jealous than ever, because we're headed to Costa Rica for our annual training trip.

For now, we are done with all-nighters on the A-Level, Pierce's soggy pasta, and Chicago wind that whips snow into your face no matter which way you walk. We're finally basking in the sun with no deadlines on the misty horizon, and only eight swim practice and one meet over six days to keep us busy. And you know I'll keep you updated on the juiciest gossip from near the equator.

Saturday we met at the pool at 4 a.m., early even by swimmers' standards, for a long day of traveling. Our thrilling nine-hour layover in the Mexico City airport featured Coach Doug's scavenger hunt, in which Nick Santoro used his high school Spanish knowledge to convince a Mexican airport employee to pose for a boxing picture. Details about coaches' personal lives were revealed during a trivia game. Jason Weber's resume includes a class award for "best legs" in high school and first prize in a cake-decorating contest at age 16. Who knew he was so multi-talented?

Spotted: T. sleeping with his head inside a laptop case. A. showing off the prescription anti-diarrhea medication he brought "just in case." J. flipping through the college course catalogue. Doesn't she know we're done with the quarter?

Finally, at 1 a.m., we climbed aboard a tour bus that must have been on Pimp My Ride, where we met our guides and learned that in Spanish, the expression "pura vida" can be used for hello, goodbye, how are you?, and great! Unfortunately, however, it cannot be used to ask the lady in the Costa Rican grocery store if they sell sunscreen. We were in bed by two and at practice at seven ... but we're swimmers. We thrive on sleep deprivation.

Bienvenidos a Costa Rrrrrrica!

Daily stats

  • Meters swum: 0
  • Miles traveled: 2,012
  • Practices down: 0
  • Practices left: 8 + 1 meet
  • High temperature in Chicago: 40 (in honor of our departure, I guess)
  • Temperature in San Jose: 83

Dec. 14 - Lelia Glass

Is it really Sunday? Because Sunday means sleeping in, brunching on chocolate chip waffles at Pierce, and then slogging through essays and problem sets until late at night. But instead, today we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:20 for practice. The women's team tried out the matching two-pieces we ordered together. Cute, right? After breakfast and a trip to the convenience store, some swimmers sunned by the pool while the rest of us tried to catch up on sleep ... but not for long. We had three more hours of practice, sweaty outdoor dryland, and a hard long-course set before dinner.

Spotted: M., M., M., C., and A. catching some serious rays by the pool. E. admitting she was a little tired—and she didn't even swim! K. celebrating his return to warm weather by rocking a muscle-baring wife-beater, making the rest of the men's team swoon. A. using her Spanish skills to win over the front desk lady. L. and M. beating boys in the fast lanes during afternoon workout. Well done, ladies!

At our post-dinner women's team meeting, Jason reminded us in a characteristically warm and fuzzy speech that we're all one big happy family. Ellen encouraged us to stay positive; now that first quarter's finals are over, the atmosphere is brightening already. Doug quoted Muhammad Ali on toughing it out through training "so that I can live the rest of my life as a champion." With seven practices, two weights sessions, one dry-land session, and one meet to go, we may need that reminder.

Daily stats

  • Meters swum: 13,500
  • Practices down: 2
  • Practices left: 6 + 1 meet
  • High temperature in Chicago: 45 (it's not usually like this ... global warming, maybe?)
  • High temperature in San Jose: 80 ... pura vida!

Dec. 14 - Zach Lain

Our first real day in Costa Rica... That sounds really nice to say after traveling for 22 hours. After sleeping for about four hours, we had practice across the street at the La Sabana pool. The pool is well ... unique. It certainly looks neat from the outside, sporting giant bleachers, a large field, and an electronic scoreboard. However, we quickly discovered the less attractive aspect. The pool has either a filter issue or a chemical imbalance, as it dyed the inside of our ears green. Oh well. Overall, it is an awesome facility though.

Returning to the hotel, some of us ate a delicious lunch while others (AKA the women's team) decided to suntan at the pool. You would think some of them would have had enough of a pool after a hard morning practice and prospect of another one in the evening. Sadly, no. They came back scorched and looking like a patch of rotten tomatoes. Maybe the chlorine ruined their vision?

The evening's practice was one of Jason's "don't worry, there's a pattern set." Hearing this at the beginning of practice is usually not a good sign, as there rarely is any discernable pattern.

Perhaps the most interesting event of the day was upon returning to the hotel. I was climbing up the stairs, somehow tripped, and ended up with a bloody laceration on the bottom of my foot. But since that story really is not that dramatic, from now on I fought a rogue half-bear, half-man, half-pig infidel and as I delivered the coup-de-grace roundhouse kick, his teeth caught my foot. Anyway, Doug played the role of the fearless medic, Ellen played the flawless interpreter ("blood esta on the carpet y the tile y the stairs"), and Jason the stoic ringleader (big surprise there). What a crew.

Anyway, we are all looking forward to tomorrow's excursion to the jungle canopy (and namely not having morning practice).

Tuesday started eventful, as expected. The hotel staff thought we were leaving at 8 AM instead of 7 AM, so the food was not ready. Amazingly, our superhuman coach Jason ran to the AMPM and bought us some fruit bars and Ritz crackers. Breakfast of champions, UC style.

Anyway, today was our first excursion to the Paos Canopy. After an hour bus ride (and a sloth sighting and a scientific briefing from our own amateur zoologist/chem major, Phil Bartels!) and a brief explanation, we embarked on 14 ziplines throughout the cloud forest, often passing over valleys and waterfalls. Missing only a fannie pack to complete the Disney World tourist look, our esteemed men's team captain, Alex Stabell, was the first to cross the 300-foot line. We saw some really cool scenery, especially on the last zipline that raced us close to 60 mph. Tropical wildlife abounded around us as we blazed hundreds of feet in the air through the jungle. Afterwards, we returned to the equipment store, released our gear, and indulged in a well-prepared meal of rice, chicken, fish, beef, bread, vegetables, and fruit punch. As we were leaving the restaurant, Yeonjoen Gahng showed us a clearly well-prepared Latin dance to "La Isla Bonita."

We boarded the bus to a new pool in the subdistrict of Belen, where we (thankfully) got a chance to swim short course. Four Costa Rican swimmers trained with us, two of whom were Olympic participants. Needless to say, they were fast, but our team rather easily kept pace with them the whole time, often beating them in several sprints. Both Ed Wagner and Paul Morimoto were (and still are) suffering from a bad case indigestion. And that is putting it extremely nicely.

The coaches prepared a weight regimen for us to do in Costa Rica, so after we got back from practice, we grudgingly lifted. Dinner was on par again, but sadly, there was no party/wedding/extravaganza for us to spectacle. Sad. But what is even more tragic is that the women's team ate the entire first path of deserts, leaving none for the men's team. Patience certainly is not a virtue with them. Oh, my wound is healing. Instead of a semicircular bloody mess, it is now just a black inversion of flesh. Yummy. Tomorrow is our meet against the University of Costa Rica at La Sabana pool, so hopefully we dominate!

Dec. 15 - Lelia Glass & Jacqueline Trudeau

Monday in Costa Rica is just like Monday in Chicago: it's when reality sets in. Autumn quarter grades are starting to show up on Chalk and cMore, reminding us that tropical paradise is only temporary. But even in paradise, nothing is perfect, as many swimmers woke up this morning sore and sunburned; a sliced foot, a shoulder injury, and a fever have put several of us out of commission. The hotel misunderstood our schedule and couldn't make us breakfast in time for our 7:30 bus ride into the Costa Rican mountains, but Jason saved the morning (and our stomachs) by running down to the nearby AM/PM convenience store to buy us breakfast.

Crankily munching on our Weber-provided-cereal bars, we drive for an hour through the city and up to a cloud forest ten thousand feet above sea level. With the warm, humid, sunny, weather (basically everything Chicago isn't), it's easy to forget that it's Christmas here too, and downtown San José is decorated to the nines. Along the way, icicle lights are spotted dangling from the burglar-resistant barbed wire that wreath every shop and house.

Finally reaching the top just over an hour later, we harness up for ziplining in the cloud forest. Before scaling the first platform to begin our adventure, everyone breaks to take photos in our electrician-resembling outfits. Photos with Weber and Doug are in particularly high demand. Early in our journey, a certain swim team member—all right, it was me—demonstrates how not to zipline: let go with both hands in order to cheerily wave, spin wildly, and shriek. Happily, everyone else learned from my helpful example and earned "Excellente!" ratings from the guides. The misty cloud forest lent itself to a photo shoot, so the Facebook albums continued to grow throughout the tour, especially due to the efforts of the women's team.

For a change of scenery, we swim our afternoon workout with a club team in the Costa Rican suburbs. Two members of the Costa Rican national team join us for our workout and give team-recordholder Alex Stabell a run for his money in a long-rest sprint set. Afterward, we venture for the first time to our hotel's weight room to pump iron and jam to Hispanic beats. Definitely an improvement over the Now! 5 CD ever present at Ratner...

Spotted: A two-toed sloth chilling by the highway. Did you know they poop under one tree and climb up another to fool predators about their whereabouts? Z. maybe snoozing through E.'s explanation of proposed Costa Rican immigration legislation. Guess Z.'s obsession with politics is limited to the USA. A. and C. exchanging contact information with Carlos the Costa Rican zipline guide. Caliente! L. showing off the bra she claims she'd wear every day for the rest of her life, if she had to pick. P. identifying a remarkable number of native birds and trees. Does Chicago have a closet botany major? A. and M. looking rather rosy.

Spotted: C. sporting a camo bandana in the weight room...whoa, now I can't see your forehead! Y., S., and T. claiming not to be camera whores, but begging for three different photos in the same pose. J. suffering separation anxiety from P.

It's time to rest up for tomorrow's meet against University of Costa Rica, but I will catch you later with the latest from Tropicana. Hasta manana!

Dec. 16 - Zach Lain

Day 3 was surprisingly normal. Morning practice was our best-average set for the week. Basically, we did a series of 100s and 50s holding the fastest time we could throughout. At the end of practice, we all felt tired, but relieved at the thought of a warm meal. Breakfast was awesome, except for the bread that was a little stale.

Back at the hotel, the girls went to tan at the pool (surprise) and most of the guys went to sleep. At lunch (which was a medley of a pork, rice, and salad), the labors of the afternoon were clearly evident: the women's team returned horridly burnt while the men's team was generally rested and upbeat. This training trip is providing a great opportunity for the team to bond.

Instead of training in the afternoon, we swam a meet against the University of Costa Rica. Walking to the pool, everyone was pretty sullen as the clouds darkened and rain started to sputter against the sidewalk. After warm-up, we quickly began the meet, hoping to beat the rain. Basically, the meet was structured with only 5 events (100 breast, 100 fly, 100 back, 100 free, 200 I.M.) and only 1-2 heats. Overall, our team did awesome. Some of the highlights of the men's team were: Paul Morimoto won the 200 I.M., Nick Trojanowski won his heat of the 100 free, and Kieran Deveaux won the 100 back in a photo-finish race.

Anyway, dinner was eventful. The team is really, really excited for our next excursion tomorrow, the tour of the jungle/waterfall/canopy/volcano! More tomorrow ...

Dec. 17 - Zach Lain

Wow...what a day. Today was such an amazing experience! To be honest, at breakfast everyone was a little glum about the upcoming experience since we had just completed a high-energy zipline jungle tour. However, we were greatly mistaken.

The first part of the day was a tour of the active Poas volcano. The microclimate of the area was so incredibly different from warm San Jose; instead of temperatures in the 80s, the mountain was shrouded in dense clouds, lowering to the temperature to the 50s. We arrived at the crater viewing site, but it was covered completely in clouds. After a few minutes, though, the weather cleared, and we were able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the breathtaking crater. Interestingly, the crater emitted a sound that resembled waves crashing. Our tour guide quickly told us that that sound was superheated water coming to the surface in the form of a geyser, bursting in the middle of the crater! Awesome! Our fun was not about to stop there, though.

Our next stop was the La Paz Waterfall Sanctuary. Grabbing a hiking stick, we set off toward the aviary, the first stop on our whirlwind tour of nature. Rare macaws and juvenile toucans hopped alongside us, while exotic butterflies hovered overhead. We even saw a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis! Our next stop was the large array of spider monkeys, quickly followed by an exhibit of odd insects and venomous snakes. Later, we ate lunch at a giant pavilion supported by a banyan tree. After eating, we ventured down toward the river to see the waterfalls. Wow...the five waterfalls ranged in size from 30-80 feet, cascading in thunderous plumes around us. There was even a bride spanning the gulley almost directly under the shower!

After a long bus ride, the thought of practice loomed high in our minds. After a grueling dryland, the coaches split the team into group based on strokes. Basically, everyone pumped each other up and even though we may have been exhausted, we managed to pull through and actually do really well. Tomorrow, we are looking forward to our voyage to Jaco Beach on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. If only 6 AM practice could be as fun! More tomorrow...

Dec. 17 - Lelia Glass

It was game day in San José for the swim team, but you wouldn't know it based on this morning's practice. Sprint, distance, and mid-distance all did variations on a long hold-best-average set. Training trip is all about pushing through the previous day's pain in order to get better and faster and today was certainly one of those days that met the explicit definition of a training trip. A single practice can only be so hard, but the accumulation of many hard practices and weights adds up to aching and exhaustion. After yesterday's sprint set and weight lifting, some people weren't sure they could even lift their arms to do a stroke, but found that they could do enough strokes to make it through the practice.

So we were grateful that today could be a recovery day (if you can ever truly recover on training trip J) and all we had to do was eat, sleep, and swim—just like the t-shirt. Six very motivated travelers decided to forsake their rest time and take on downtown San Jose for a bit of shopping and sightseeing, but they were a very small minority. The rest of us were content to eat, nap, sun, and read at the hotel poolside (although none of us actually got in the water. We're all saturated enough, thank you very much!) Finally, it was time to head back to the pool for our first international competition as a team, against the Costa Rican national team.

The meet included one hundreds of each stroke and the 200 IM; the Maroons took first place every event but three. A Costa Rican Olympian (whose name remains unknown but is affectionately referred to here as "El hombre muy guapo!") won the men's 100 fly in 58 seconds. His fellow teammates also claimed victory in both the men's and women's one hundred free. For the Maroons, Cassie O'Neill, Ellie Elgamal, Tara Levens, Laura Biery, Robert Vanneste, Ed Wagner, and Paul Morimoto took first place in their events.

Chicago won the meet by a landslide after a hard practice and while swimming off-events. Sound familiar? That's what Northwestern University did to us earlier this season. Maybe this karma reversal is what put Weber in such a good mood that a lucky volunteer get-out swim cut short the post-meet practice he'd planned and allowed the team to spend more time getting to know our Costa Rican counterparts. In a flurry of excitement, shirt and caps, as well as names and e-mails for Facebook finding, were exchanged between the two teams. The sharing of team apparel quickly turned to a frenzy of laughter and photos, so much so that the majority of the team eventually trickled out and the remaining girls had to be dragged from the pool. ¿Fotos con los chicos guapos? ¡SI POR FAVOR!

Dinner continues to be delicious here at the Tennis Club and, for the past two nights, has been topped off with what is mutually agreed to be the best ice cream ever tasted. The ice cream line at Pierce may be a lot shorter when school resumes!

As I type this, people are draped everywhere throughout the hotel uploading their photos to Facebook and it is clear that this afternoon's excitement has carried into the evening. People are clearing their cameras in preparation for tomorrow's exciting excursion: a hike into the cloud forest and rain forest to see volcanoes, waterfalls, butterflies, birds, and so much more! Phil's identification skills will once again be in high demand!

Spotted: M. wandering the halls last night, wondering why no one was awake to hang out with. Um, because we're all exhausted? C., A., A., K., C., and J. voyaging downtown for a brief shopping excursion. T. winning his heat by more than a body length to wild cheers, as captured by A's camera. K. wowing his fans with a near victory in the 100 backstroke. C. and D. valiantly choosing to do butterfly for both rounds of 6 x 50s held fastest pace. A. befriending the Costa Ricans and translating for the two teams.

Well, that's the end of today's gossip from here in beautiful San Jose, Costa Rica! All that remains is for me to bid you "¡Buenos Noches!"

Dec. 18 - Lelia Glass

Only three more practices! This update will be short since we have to be at the pool at 6 AM tomorrow.

Today we trained our lungs like Ed Moses by journeying to ten thousand feet above sea level, where we saw nature and wildlife. Mist cleared to reveal a jagged crater left by a volcano. Dainty butterflies and hummingbirds flitted between flowers. A toucan nibbled my jacket, and snakes eyed us through glass. A trip to the gift shop let us catch up on the Christmas shopping we're missing out on at home—take it from Gossip Girl: Costa Rican coffee will be this season's hottest gift. After lunch, we hiked by five waterfalls that were each about a hundred feet high. Plumes of mist steamed from noisy whitewater. We appreciated the chance to explore the scenery we'd only skimmed over from the zipline.

A long, sleepy bus ride let us digest our lunch before drylands and practice. It was one of the hardest practices of the trip for everyone, and we hear it doesn't get easier. Butterflyers and IMers struggled through 200s long course fly. Afterward, we scarfed down dinner and got ready for bed—tomorrow is our earliest morning (unless you count Saturday's 4 AM departure from Ratner...)

Spotted: A. jumping into every picture. T. making a faster interval than he could on Sunday! T. and T. buying llama's hair jackets and proceeding to wear them all day...sparking a new trend? Only time will tell. A. sleeping with his hand in his pants for warmth. J. tying A.'s shoes together. R. giving marvelous massages.

Tomorrow I'll be back with the latest from our trip to the Pacific coast. Aren't you excited? I know I am.

Dec. 18 - Zach Lain

Today was our much-vaunted trip to Jaco Beach on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. However, before we could begin to enjoy the endless sun and gentle waves, we had to endure a tough 6 AM training session. The practice was another best-average set of 100s and 50s, holding the fastest time we could throughout. Again, these hard sets are much more manageable when you have the whole team pumped up and encouraging each other. After a warm breakfast, we set off for the beach. During the long bus ride, our tour guide alerted us to an upcoming bridge inhabited by semi-domestic crocodiles. Naturally, we stopped, gapped, and shouted, reinforcing our tourist look to the curious natives.

When we finally arrived in Jaco, everything started to improve. The clouds cleared, a breeze formed, and the temperature warmed...the makings of an awesome day of fun in the sun. The beach was shaped like a gentle crescent, capped on either end by giant forested hills. In the distance, several mountains rose in the bay. Basically, we just tanned in the black volcanic sand and played in the ocean. What an amazing way to spend the afternoon!

Once arriving back at the hotel close to 7 PM, we ate a late dinner. Tomorrow is our last day of training (doubles, though) in beautiful Costa Rica, and Jason has already alerted us that one of the practices will include lactate/super sprint set. Can't wait... More tomorrow.

Dec. 19 - Lelia Glass

Today we did 36 x 100, 5 best average, 1 easy, one of our hardest sets. It was early in the morning, we were sore, we were tired, and it was grueling. I once read a bumper sticker—all my life profundities come from bumper stickers—that says, "Life is short. Swimming makes it seem longer." Well, this morning added about five years to my life experience. As a team, we're rallying and pushing through the hardship, though. Only two more practices until we're all home for the holidays!

Our reward for getting through this morning was a day at the Pacific coast. Our bus stopped by a river, where we hiked onto a bridge to peer at crocodiles sunning themselves below. Before we reached the beach, our guides helpfully informed us that these crocodiles adapt to both freshwater and oceans. Oh, and watch out for the stingrays and riptides, too! Hazards aside, the team piled into the warm waves—water is our natural habitat, after all. We bonded over a beachside lunch at a classy restaurant, then shopped for souvenirs and more Costa Rican coffee in the small surrounding town. No afternoon practice today! Instead, we snoozed through the two hour bus ride and returned to the hotel for dinner.

Tonight the women's team had an informal meeting to boost morale for the last two practices. We learned that one team member ate her brother's umbilical cord and used to live next to a psychotic killer; another was kicked out of school in fourth grade, and a third is a published author in a smoothie recipe book. No one was surprised to hear one girl say that everyone in Greece thought she was handicapped...and then she huffed that she was kidding, to peals of laughter. That's the fun of training trip: going through hell together melds friendship faster than months of acquaintance.

Spotted: D. coaching K. on her football technique. P. and K. crafting sand castles. J. finding what he was looking for all trip. A different J. laying aside the course catalogue for David McCullough's biography of John Adams. There's UChicago for you — that girl does not understand "beach read."

Dec. 20 - Zach Lain

Our last day in Costa Rica ... bittersweet in that we have to leave such a beautiful country but get to return to our homes.

Morning practice was a high-intensity series of 100s and 50s holding very tight intervals. After training, we ate our last breakfast at the Tennis Club and some members of the group decided to head to downtown San Jose for an afternoon of shopping and eating. Sadly, it did not turn out so rosy; sophomore Jake Hanebutt's wallet was stolen while perusing some Costa Rican wares.

Anyway, everyone was both psyched and dreading out final practice, which we knew was going to be a sprint lactate set. Our main set was eight 100s all-out from the blocks. Everyone was freezing and exhausted, but after the whole team went fast on number 6, Jason said that was enough. After cheering and taking lots of pictures, we proceeded back to the hotel to eat our last meal.

That night, we packed and prepared to leave Costa Rica. Our trip has been an amazing experience that really allowed the team to bond, especially for our departing seniors. Through hard practices and mutual sweat, blood, and tears, we have all become better friends, students, and individuals of the world.

Tomorrow, we have a flight to Mexico City...and then to Cancun...and finally back to Chicago...hmmm, sounds familiar!

Dec. 21 - Associate Head Coach Doug Milliken

Whew! What a week. I can't believe that we are already back in Chicago. The final day of travel went off very smoothly. I know I speak for all the coaches when I say that traveling with 48 college kids can be stressful, but with the student-athletes we have, the whole trip was great.

As I think back on the trip itself, I know it was a success. We trained very hard, we came together as a team, we saw some amazing things, and most importantly, we had a lot of fun. One of the things we stress as a program is the idea of family; we believe that we are all part of one big family with this program. Being abroad with all our swimmers truly made me feel that way. Everyone was amazing. Everyone bonded, and everyone had fun.

As soon as we can, we will be putting a photo gallery of the trip on this website. I don't claim to be the greatest photographer in the world, but I tried to get as many pictures as I could and ones that represented all the things that we did. So please look for this very soon. I want to thank you for reading this blog. I know the swimmers who wrote them had a lot of fun with it, and I hope that you did too.

Now as we look to the second half of the season with the Maroons, I know that we are prepared for a special season. Thanks again and Happy Holidays!