By Emily Gursky

Given the chaos of the past year, I’ve found that it helps to remember positive experiences of the pre-COVID world, to remind myself of fun things we can look forward to once we reach some form of normalcy again.

Throughout the fall of 2019, I knew I had a training trip coming up after Christmas. I had never been to Miami before. I had also never traveled that far from Connecticut with anyone other than my family. But, as a freshman on the Mount Saint Mary College Swim Team, I knew this was part of the deal. It was like a rite of passage — everyone had to brave the intense twice-a-day practices for a week, hoping to shape up for our final championship meet after a couple weeks of downtime and holiday sweets of winter break.

Soon enough, January rolled around and I finally stepped onto a Miami street for the first time. Palm trees still had lights on them from Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It was dark, but we heard waves crashing on the beach across the street. We approached our hotel, the Broadmoor, and heard loud, fun music coming from its outside bar.

I really had no idea what to expect, except for a few details older teammates warned me about. One was that our hotel was not the best. Their advertised breakfast was cheerios and coffee (worked for me, all I needed was caffeine to get through practice). My room might be cleaned once each day, but this usually entailed sweeping some sand under the rug, wiping down a few surfaces and having your bed made (sometimes). 

One junior told me, “yeah, one year we walked into our room the first night and found a sandcastle in the bathtub.” So, I prepared myself a bit.

Another warning was that some days, after two full practices, my muscles would be so overworked that I might actually twitch. I was told that I might jolt awake at night, thinking I was still swimming laps of horrendous butterfly. 

All these unfortunate warnings turned out to be true. Walking into our dim and shabby hotel room, I did my best to look forward to the rest of the week.

The most important “warning” though, was that I would discover just how important my teammates and coaches were to me. We’d survived most of the season together already, but the training trip was going to be different. It was going to bond us even more.

Our twice-daily, two-hour torture would occur at the Miami Country Day School’s outdoor pool. It was gorgeous, and a stark contrast from almost everything else on that trip. I can’t explain how great it felt to look up at a clear blue sky during backstroke. Or to feel the warm sun on my skin, instead of fluorescent lights. The scenery didn’t really take away the pain of swim practice, but it helped. Our coach was killing us; but at least we were getting a tan, right? 

Matt Gallo, now a senior at MSMC, has always said that the trip is fun because none of us have schoolwork to worry about. “You’re with everyone all the time, in a nicer environment than school,” he said. “It’s nice to just focus on swimming.” That and the beach, of course. 

I will never forget a horrible set we had to do at one of the morning practices. It was five 75-yard swims (three laps) at a sprint pace, with 10 seconds of rest in between, if you were lucky. Oh, and we were going to repeat this four times. Great. My friend and I did the best we could to give each other hope, even if it was just a quick smile between intervals. By the last 75 of the final set, I felt deflated. My arms and legs were like lead pipes, and my lungs felt like they were half their size. But you know what? We finished. And that’s all that really mattered. 

Even with the hard practices, I still think the most pain I felt that week was not actually in the pool at all. Turns out, swimming in chlorine and the ocean every day would bless you with a classic case of swimmer’s ear. At night, I was tired enough to drift asleep but kept waking up to throbbing pain. I was soon greeted with swelling in my left cheek and even severe pain in my jaw. We went out for a team dinner, and I could barely open my mouth to eat. Knowing it would only get worse if I kept swimming, I had to ask my coach for help.

“I’ll go with you to an urgent care tomorrow, okay?” he said, without hesitation. I’ll never forget his kindness and willingness to drop everything to just be there for me. That’s when I realized his swimmers are really like his own “kids.”

I would argue that the most memorable things on this trip happened outside the pool. For example, the lifeguard stand on the beach across the street seemed to hold lots of memories. Late-night talks there are a trademark of the annual trip, and the consensus is usually that what’s said on the stand, stays on the stand.

It was also on this trip that I was given a nickname, too. Well, more like several nicknames. Gallo made the executive decision to call me, “Gurk,” “Gurky,” “Gurky Turkey,” “Gurken,” etc., and it just stuck. Just another reason the trip was so memorable for me.

Even with all the ups and downs of my first swimming training trip, I could not be more thankful for my experience and the bond I developed with my teammates along the way. I can’t wait to get back there next year to relive it all over again. I can do without the swimmer’s ear, though.