Stamford swim team exposed to culture, rigorous training during China trip
STAMFORD — Before last month, Liam Flaherty’s idea of Chinese Food was the orange chicken and steamed rice served at American restaurants.
But after a trip to the Yunnan province in China, Flaherty, a 13-year-old member of the Stamford Sailfish Aquatic Club, got a real taste of Chinese athletic training and delicacies.
“The food is much different,” the Greenwich Catholic School eighth-grader said.
Flaherty was among seven members of the Stamford-based swim team to go on a two-week training trip to China last month. The trip was arranged by coach Connie Wu, former member of the Chinese national team.
The trip was meant to teach the young swimmers — ranging from 12 years old and up — how to perform in high altitudes. They also gained a better understanding of Chinese culture and how to live on their own, even for a short time and under Wu’s guidance.
The swimmers spent up to five hours each day training. They also traveled around the area, visiting an international village, a rock forest and a cave.
“It’s important the kids learn something,” Wu said. “It’s more than getting faster. It’s that there’s not just American culture. They’re really sweet (kids) and willing to try everything. There’s a difference in culture they’re learning.”
Brielle Gold, 12, learned how the work of her counterparts differs from what she does in the Yerwood Center pool where her team trains. The Chinese training pool was about four meters longer than the one at Yerwood, making training laps longer.
Gold also noticed the training style for the Chinese — whose members are as young as 15 and already professional athletes — is a lot more intense with swimmers pushed by their coach’s shouting, a sharp contrast from the soft-spoken style of Wu.
“They’re a lot harder on swimmers,” she said. “I guess it works.”
The primary focus of the training was swimming at higher altitudes, which took more exercise and effort for the young athletes.
“Since we were up in the mountains, it takes longer to get acclimated and harder to breathe,” said Gold, a Turn of River eighth-grader. “It’s definitely a lot more challenging.”
To adjust, swimmers did more running, up to six miles a day — a contrast from their technical training in America of push-ups and pull-ups.
“You feel better and last longer,” said David Ponce, 14, a Greenwich High freshman who also went on the trip with his Stamford team. “We learned you need to pull more for long distance and you have to do longer strokes.”
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