By Marcela Visconti | view profile
A new edition of the 7,5km. preliminary to the Villa Urquiza-Paraná main race started in a sunny and cool mid-morning with the required accreditation. Some hours later, at around 3pm, barely more than forty swimmers of all ages arrived at the beach of Club Estudiantes, venue to the event organization, to comply with the final requirements prior to the race. Holding our goggles and caps and being barefeet, we were first numbered on both arms and then taken to the buses which would take us to the start, upstream. Before getting on the bus, a man from the organization saw to highlight the number on our arms (“It faded” –he remarked-) with an indelible stroke - of Indian ink? or stamp ink? – which took days to wash out (although I can tell there was someone who accelerated the process by making use of a nail-polish remover).
We arrived at the vicinity of the start and went down a one-hundred-and-fifty-metre path which led to a pretty small beach where we would spend little time, until ten minutes before 5pm when the cannon shot was fired, marking the start of the race which made us dive into the river and begin to paddle and to stroke towards the aim. After the first contact with the river, the water was friendly cool - neither cold nor hot - encouraging you to double the bet. The Paraná River is wide, inmensely wide; and at that time, the sun began to set to the skyline which was right in front us, hampering an overall vision of our position and of the most convenient way to follow. You swim quite uncertain of where you are heading to – that was the feeling I had. Being part of a pack or, at least, wearing a cap as a reference is really a luxury that not many swimmers have in a race with so few participants.
Once in the final stretch – the remaining two-kilometre distance from Thompson beach to the finish line – you have to know how to take the right route and avoid the backwaters (“The Backwaters”, name of the Rowing Club canteen located halfway the route - and where we had dined many times – was a clear warning which I had unfortunately overlooked) so that the final effort to speed up, utterly exhausted, would have its deserving reward and might lead to winning a position.
Once there, you only aim to get to the finish line, touch the pontoon and emerge onto that little riverbank where you can hydrate with orange segments and flavoured water; and where your mates are waiting to hug you and to take pictures of you, with cheers, spirit and congratulations, eager to learn the details of the race – something difficult to understand for the rest of the people: how come you can talk so much and nonstop in the late afternoon and then at dinner time, and the following day while having mate, and in the car on the way back to Buenos Aires, in the swimming pool with the mates who could not go to the event; and what is more, even as time have passed, based on the remembrance and the essential catchphrase “do you remember that year in Paraná…?”
A while later, the prize-awarding announcement is made. Many podiums and celebrations for all. And then, time to go and get ready to get on a boat the following day for the splendid race which will cover the twenty-one kilometre distance from Villa Urquiza to the downtown city of Paraná.
Beautiful race! Beautiful place! We have to return!