Some people play soccer or basketball, while others run or bike. In my case, I like to play collective sports where I can communicate and interact with my teammates; it makes exercising way more fun. Even though I like physical activity just because it is fun, I have been passionate about some sports that have really changed my life. One of those, and the one that has been the biggest passion of my life, is water polo.
Water polo is played in a pool, and there are two teams of seven players each. The main objective is to score by throwing the ball into the rival team’s goal, and your team must defend as well. You can’t touch the bottom of the pool, so you must keep floating in order to you know… not drown and die.
There are two referees on each side of the pool, but, obviously, they just can see what is happening above the water. Sometimes your rivals hit you underwater, and you can do nothing but continue to swim, and hit them back on another occasion. Also, you must always keep swimming, and swimming, and swimming, and when you think you are about to pass out due to the lack of oxygen in your blood, you must swim again in order to defend your goal. It is like a never-ending 50 meters freestyle competition, even though the field is just 30 meters long. Additionally, once the clock starts ticking, your team has just 30 seconds to score; if you run out of time, you will literally have to drop the ball so the other team can make their move. On top of all that, you can catch, pass, and shoot the ball just with one hand. It’s lovely.
I started playing polo back in 2013. I went to take a run with a friend at night, and we ran next to a huge outdoor pool. We saw some people with really short swimsuits. Some of them were exercising outside the pool; the wind was hitting their soaked bodies, you could see the coldness in their eyes. Other ones were inside the water, it was really cold as well, but I guess they didn’t mind; they were too busy swimming like maniacs or holding heavy dumbbells with their hands out of the water (without touching the bottom of the pool, right… otherwise it is not fun).
My friend and I were really intrigued, it is not common to see so much suffering in one single place; so, obviously, we had to ask what that was all about. After talking to the coach I really wanted to give it a try, so by the following day I was already jumping in the pool, and so I became part of the team.
Until then, I had no experience in any swimming-related sport, but I used to train often, so after a couple of months I was already having my first matches. After the first year, I started training with my country’s national team, then I went to my first international championship (Puerto Rico, CCCAN 2015). After that, I continued training and playing a bit better every day.
One day in 2017, two weeks before taking a flight to Trinidad and Tobago in order to participate in an international championship, I was playing a friendly match among teammates. During the game, I saw an opportunity, and I shot backward (it is called a backhand shoot). A rival blocked the ball when it had just left my hand, so it bounced back and hit me right in the middle finger. It hurt and I knew right away that it wasn’t good at all. I went to see a doctor, I got some x-rays and, indeed, it was really broken (in 3 pieces, to be precise). The doctor told me that I needed surgery; I started crying because I knew I wouldn’t able to go to the championship. It was so unjust that all my training and hard work were going to be wasted; it destroyed me, and I have never trained as I used to since then.
This all started as a simple “let’s try to see if I like it.” I end up getting addicted to it (in a good sense). I trained and I suffered, but I also played, and I enjoyed. I remember going to bed thinking about what I should do in order to develop my tactical thinking, or how I should train to swim faster or shoot stronger. This is what passion looks and feels like, and I am thankful for all those years that I spent playing water polo.
Jefferson Phillips from Costa Rica is studying computer science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.