Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cal State Games

We did it! The team went to the Cal State Games to compete this past Friday and had a blast!! Several of us went down on Thursday night so we'd be there bright and early for the solo competition. Corby, Mariam and I all had solos.

Friday was a day of firsts.

I gelled my hair for the first time without Karen. I gelled Corby's hair for the first time. I was disappointed with how mine came out. It still felt spongy a couple hours later when we went to the pool. I was happy with Corby's, though. Hers hardened right away and she didn't have a helmet head.

I still needed Karen to put on my headpiece and the silver looked really nice. Now I just have to decide on the shape it should be and it'll be perfect. I was excited that even though my hair didn't have enough gel, it still held up in the water.

I actually had deck work for the first time. It really wasn't much. I totally didn't wait for them to announce me before I walked out. It's little things like that that don't even cross my mind. Gotta work on it. I dove in. Out like Corby told me, but as always, I didn't lock my knees enough so they kinda splatted in. Those two things combined kind threw me off so I don't think my opening jump was as high as it could've been.

Here's the video:

As you can see, I have to really work on holding my height for my walkout. I feel like I'm sinking like a rock. That's pretty amazing considering my buoyancy issues. The spin went okay, but my timing got off on the next strokes so I was rushed going into the porpoise. The heron was a bit on my back, but I've seen much worse out of me.

But the thing I really hate is the jump after the heron. I had a total brain fart and forgot to sink all the way under which makes that section look really awkward. Still, I kept going and finished with the hybrid Margo taught me a couple weeks before. I liked it. I just have to do it with more definition and it'll be good. The end of the routine was way too wishy washy. I have to fix that as well.

Despite all of that, I was pretty happy with that swim overall. As you can see, this routine has gotten significantly more difficult since I swam it in Australia. I'm glad I've already tried it out so I have time to fix all these things before Nationals. Like the jump where I had a brain fart. That section is totally gone. I'm going to put in some strokes instead.

On to Corby. Her hair came right down as she was warming up. Part of the problem were the heavy scrunches she had in her long heavy ponytail. Once they got wet, gravity totally took over. And I don't think the gel had enough time to set because she had strands of hair in her face. We got her fixed up before she swam her beloved Ay Jalisco for the first time in front of an audience. She did quite well. Check it out:

She's also seen the video and some things in mind to fix before Nationals. But overall, I was pretty proud of her. I'm sad she had competition in her age group so she didn't get the gold, but I really Michael, too and am happy for him. But she's my teammate and I'm going to help her kick his butt in Vegas! Nothing but love for ya, though, Michael.

Last up for the Masters solos was Mariam. I'm so glad she came. The audience was amazed, too. Most of them are parents of synchronized swimmers and they never even think that they can swim themselves. But at 89, Mariam kinda squashed their excuse that they're too old!

She swam her new routine "Doggy in the Window." I'd heard that it was totally adorable and I'd heard right. Here's her video:

After the solos, I sat with Karen to see what she sees when she judges. It was a totally different experience. And it was cool to get into the mindset of a judge so when I swim my routines, I know what they're looking at. I'm starting to feel okay about judging on my own. But I'll practice some more at our workouts.

And for the main event! The team competition! The warmup was horrendous. It was like nothing came together. And the the warmup period was super short. When we cleared the pool, we just had to hope for the best.

And we got it. It was certainly by the grace of God that we got through that routine. I smiled my little heart out at all the judges. I smiled so much at one of them, that I forgot what the heck I was supposed to be doing and totally screwed up the pointy fingers. But I was able to get back on track and went under for the spin. I think it went okay. Vickie has the video so I haven't seen it yet. When I get it, I'll post it.

On to the festivities. The Olympic team was doing a show in Riverside to raise funds for Beijing on Saturday so our competition day ended up being on Friday. That was fabulous because after the awards ceremony, we had time to go out for dinner as a team. Those who were staying headed off to Qualcomm stadium for the Opening Ceremonies.

I'm sure it was because we had all the hard part behind us, but this opening ceremony was the best ever. It was strictly fun. We arrived just in time to pick up our t-shirts and get into line to march into the stadium. It was the 20th anniversary of the Cal State Games so there were more athletes there than ever. We had to sit on the field because there were no more seats left.

Navy Seals parachuted in, a troupe danced to Ease on Down the Road, there were interviews from Olympians who were past Games participants, BMX bikers did their thing and then the Amazing Christopher made his entrance.

I only got video of part of his act, but he was hysterical. If you want to see more, he's on YouTube. If you want to book him for a gig, his contact info is on there as well. Trust me. You won't be sorry. Here's the clip I have:

Crazy, huh? He was my absolute favorite part of the Games this year. After the ceremonies, we headed back to the hotel where we chatted over dessert then off to bed. We were heading to Riverside the next day for the watershow with the Olympians.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sydney then Home

Just as it's mandatory to see the Great Barrier Reef when visiting Australia, you have to see the Sydney Opera House. Since time was so short, the only way to pull this off was to get a window seat on the flight from Cairns to Sydney and Sydney to L.A. The first I'd managed, but I was on the aisle for the L.A. leg.

When I boarded the plane, a group of older Asian people had already staked out a group of seats. When I said that a they'd put a woman in my seat, the man in charge of their group quickly pointed to an aisle seat they were willing to give me.

I stood firm, but polite. I wanted my window seat. They dug the old lady out of the seat while I patiently waited. When she finally got out into the aisle, she actually hit me. I was more startled than anything and stumbled back a step, but I got my window seat. It was worth the hassle because look...

...I was just able to get a picture of the Opera House. Whoo hoo!

As we were coming in for a landing, the plane suddenly banked to right and went into a sharp climb. The Captain came over the PA and announced that they'd gotten a warning that we were in the flight path of another jet and to fly away. So we flew away. As we circled around for a second attempt, I could see the second jet. I was glad that we flew away.

Once we were on the ground, I found myself in awe of the airport. Their duty free area is massive. And very shiny.

I'm such a tourist...

I bought some more batteries for my camera then headed to my gate where I had a very short wait before boarding.

I had resigned myself to he aisle and even convinced myself that it wouldn't be that bad. I'd have extra leg room. The couple who were in the row with me finally boarded and asked if I'd be willing to take the window seat. How good is God? I eagerly agreed and we all settled in for the fourteen hour flight.

I didn't get much sleep. Too many movies to watch. But I did manage to doze every now and again. Before I knew it, we were back in Los Angeles. Honestly, I was happy to come home. Until I saw this in the terminal...

I totally got yelled at for taking this shot. No sooner had I taken the photo than some guy came over the PA warning against taking pictures in the terminal. Seriously, what is that about? Is there some secret code in the white paint that can't get out? It wasn't the best welcome, but oh well. I concentrated on happier things; like the fact that my BBQ Sauce made it through customs.

And just like that, the trip was over.

Next up, Gothenburg, Sweden in 2010!

It's Dive Tiiimmme...

At long last, we were ready to head out to the Great Barrier Reef. The shuttle from Deep Sea Divers Den picked us up at the resort bright and early. After a brief stop at their dive store to handle final details, we were taken to the Marina to board the Sea Quest.

If you've ever been to Catalina from Los Angeles, then you know the kind of boat we took out to the Reef. I was a little concerned because there were a lot of people and not a bed to be found anywhere. The next thing I found strange was the request that everyone go barefoot while on the boat. I was a little squeamish at first, but soon got used to it.

After about an hour, we dropped anchor and prepared for our first dive. On the ride out, we'd been given briefing based on your level of diving experience. Both Jenni and I are certified, but I hadn't been out since my class. I chose to do a brief test instead of going guided for our first dive.

Putting on the equipment was an adventure by itself, but finally we were ready for our first dive. Jenni had her camera, but I chose to leave mine onboard. I wanted to get used to diving again before taking extra stuff out. Good thing I did, too.

Diving is supposed to be fun as the equipment does everything for you. Except, I'm really buoyant. That turned diving into a lot of work for me because I didn't have enough weight on top of being nervous.

Having recently returned from a dive trip in Honduras, Jenni had her camera and was ready to explore. Here's some of what she saw:

Yes, that's me floundering around. I know you can do major damage to the reef if you touch the wrong thing. It can also do major damage to you. With that in mind, I needed to get control before I dared get close to anything. So I didn't really see too much of anything during that first dive. I was too busy trying to stay under. I found that I could if just kept moving. Except Jenni was stopping every few feet to explore.

To make matters worse, the more you breathe, the lighter your tank gets. By the time I reached the half tank mark, I was heading straight to the surface. I got myself slowed so my head was just underwater, but I couldn't get back down. And then I remembered good ole synchro! When you're upside down doing a figure, you hold your height by doing a support scull. Thanks to the decision to not bring my camera on this dive, my hands were free and I was able to support scull myself back down to Jenni.

Once I was deep enough, the water pressure helped me stay under, but I had to really watch my level. And then the photographer swam up. She beckoned me over and gestured for me to hold a tiny corner of the reef so she could take my picture. By that point, I had very little control. The last thing I wanted to do was crash into the reef so I declined. I don't think she understood exactly how much control I didn't have because she kept trying to get me over there. Finally, Jenni took my place instead.

Yeah. That's me in the background flailing around. See the tiny corner Jenni is holding? There was no way I wasn't heading right back to the surface if I tried to hold on to that little piece of rock.

Jenni got a photo shoot while I was concentrating on getting out of this alive.

Jenni took pity on me and held me under while the photographer got us both.

By this time, our air was getting low. Mine, more than hers because I was working so freaking hard. We headed back to the boat.

I happily shucked the dive gear and settled in for a much safer activity. Lunch.

They allowed us to eat out on the bow which was the best part of the day thus far. Once they got everybody back on board, we moved to our second dive location.

Jenni and I talked over my difficulties and she agreed to swim faster so it would be easier for me to stay under. It worked, too. Until I'd breathed half my tank again. Alas, I went right to the surface. This time I scared Jenni half to death because she'd literally just turned her back on me for a second before I floated off. When she turned around, I was gone.

I was waving at her trying to get her to look up, but she kept looking around. Getting more frantic by the second. Finally, I did my support scull thing again and dropped in behind her almost as if I'd never left. She was a little startled at my sudden reappearance. I pointed to where I'd been and we swam off.

We ran into the second photographer. Feeling braver and because Jenni held me under, we posed for another picture. I even took the regulator out to smile.

When we got back to the boat I told her if she ever loses me to just look up. We also figured out that the swimming faster wasn't working because she couldn't keep up with me. And it's not ideal because you don't get to see as much which is kinda the point of diving.

After that second dive, I was exhausted. Can you tell?

A short time later, we docked with the Ocean Quest which was the boat where we'd be spending the night and climbed aboard. We were due for our next dive in about an hour, but I was more than willing to sit that one out. Jenni agreed. Besides, we had a night dive coming up after dinner. A short rest was welcome.

My courage was back. I was eager to try the night dive. But got a bit nervous during the predive briefing and wanted to go guided on that dive. I think it was all that talk of sharks that did it. They told us that we could shine our torches on any fish we saw and the sharks who were following us would dart between our legs and eat it. Nice, huh?

Oh yeah...and the other divers on the boat thought it would be a great idea to toss rolls off the stern of the boat to feed the fish. Three or four sharks were a part of that frenzy. It was surprising that no one seemed concerned that we were about to jump in the water right where they were luring the sharks.

Fortunately, Jenni and I were in the last group to dive in so hopefully the sharks were full by then. Or maybe just scared off.

During the dive, the guide had to finish testing a woman - she was on the trip with her twin who works up the street from me at Disney- for her advanced certification so the rest of us were asked to kneel on the bottom and wait for them.

You know all about my previous difficulties, so needless to say this was much easier said than done. Because I had a torch in my hand, I couldn't support scull. I couldn't drop the torch because then I couldn't see where I was going. Jenni saved me. She grabbed my fin and pulled me to the bottom and held me down.

The instructor and student soon returned and the group was off. By this time, I'm sure you know what's coming. My tank hit the half full point and you know where I was headed. That's right. The surface.

As I said before, sculling wasn't an option on this dive. I thought about dropping the torch, but then I wouldn't know if I was directly above the coral or not. I decided not to chance it and just stayed on the surface. The rest of the group was about 20 feet below me and I could just make out flashes of their torches. It was just enough to follow.

I really had to fight to keep my wits. Oh yeah and there was a lot of praying involved. Here I was all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night. I couldn't see the boat. I could just barely make out the other divers. And I knew there were sharks nearby. Yeah. I was slightly terrified. But I just kept swimming.

At long last I ran into the boat's mooring line. I just hung out there until everybody else surfaced. The guide actually had the nerve to look annoyed that I was on the surface. "What? You couldn't come back down?" Of course I could. I just decided not to because I wanted to keep the sharks company.

After that dive, I was nearly in tears as I shucked the gear. I was trying to figure out how to tell Jenni that I was done since she'd have to find a new partner for the rest of the dives. At that point, I was ready to never dive again. EVER! One of the other crew members, Peter, teased me out of my funk, but I was still determined to give up diving for the rest of my life.

After a shower, I started feeling better and we explored the boat bit more. There was a lot of interesting art onboard.

Seriously. It was dead when we found it.

These are our funny crew guys. Peter is on the left. He was hysterical.

As you can see by the smile above, I was getting over the horrible night dive. By the next morning I was willing to give it one more go. Jenni and I signed up for the 5:50a wake up call. After a restful night sleep, I had calmed quite a bit.

The next morning, Peter went door to door for the wake up call. We were in a front state room and heard him coming. The first couple of doors, he was okay. By the third door, we could tell he'd gotten bored. The wake up call got worse and worse as he made his way down the hall. The poor guy sounded like he was dying. By the time he got to our door, Jenni and I were cracking up.

He asked, "Are you laughing at me?"

We answered in unison, "Yes!"


"That lame wake up call."

"Well what do you want me to do?"

"A song and dance would be nice."

Then he started singing! But it wasn't a peppy song. He sang a ballad that would put anybody back to sleep. By this time, Jenni and I were dying laughing. We let him off the hook and he finally moved on, but he called us Trouble the rest of the trip.

I was ready to get down to the business of diving. Jenni suggested that I get more weights. Since things were a lot less chaotic with fewer people trying to get in the water it was easier to get to the equipment. We jumped in and I sunk like a rock. Finally!

I actually enjoyed this dive. The weights were a bit heavy, but I used a canoe scull to guide me a little and I was just fine. I finally got to explore the Reef.

I was even confident enough to take pictures like the one below.

I saw a shark...

...who swam away as we got close and a sea turtle...

...who was just waking up that morning and giant clams...

...that looked more dangerous than the sharks.

We did one more dive that morning then sat out the final dive. Since I'm especially buoyant in salt water, I decided to use it to my advantage. While the others went out on the last dive, I had Jenni take a picture of me doing an eggbeater in the ocean.

Look, Laurette! My shoulders are dry!

And check out this ballet leg. I gotta get my shoulders back, but the toe of my non ballet leg is dry. Not too bad for being in the choppy water of the Pacific Ocean.

All too soon, we transferred back to the Sea Quest to head back to Cairns. I didn't notice until the end, but the crew sticks with the passengers on the overnight dive so Peter and gang were with us from beginning to end. When we got back to the city, he had the honor of driving us back to the resort.

He teased us about owing him for the tune and we said he needed to pay us for listening. He was racking up quite a bill 'cause we charged him every time he broke into song which he did pretty often.

The trip was coming to a close. I headed for the airport at 4:30 the next morning and Jenni left about 45 minutes behind me. My Australian adventure was nearly over.

Off to Cairns

So it's like illegal to go all the way to Australia and NOT visit the Great Barrier Reef. Well, maybe not illegal, but it should be. Especially if you're a SCUBA diver. Which Jenni and I are. Even though there is perfectly good diving in Perth, the two of us were bound and determined to dive the Reef, one way or another. Thanks to Vickie, Jenni's amazing mother, we got our wish.

Vickie, a whiz with travel arrangements, found a travel agent in Cairns (pronounced "cans") who could put our trip together. Joel from Dive The Reef set us up with an overnight boat trip out to the reef that included 7 dives with all equipment provided. This was an amazing deal. He even set up our overnight accommodations in Cairns.

We flew out of Perth shortly after midnight on Friday. We changed planes in Brisbane then on to Cairns. On the plane to Cairns, I ended up sitting next to a cute guy who just happened to be from the same rural county in Ohio I'm from. Talk about a small world! We chatted about high school and the changes back home. He told me he was in Australia for a semester abroad as part of his degree in International Business. I told him about the meet. All too soon, we were landing in Cairns.

Jenni and I collected our luggage and tried to figure out how to get to the resort where we were to stay in town. It took some doing, but we finally caught our shuttle and headed off to the hotel. Perth had certainly spoiled me. Cairns was a bit more run down than Perth. I put it down to the tropical climate which has to be much harder on buildings than more moderate temperatures and humidity.

The resort was more Youth Hostel than hotel and had the rules to drive the point home. No food in the rooms. Strange because we had a refrigerator in ours. No pillows or sleeping bags in the room. I was still puzzling over this one a couple days later. And even though we had a private room, we didn't have a bathroom. The community toilet was next door and the community shower was across the hall. It took me all of five minutes to decide that I am way too old for this stuff. But, I could deal for a night.

After we got settled, Jenni and I headed out on the town to find food and explore Cairns a bit. Armed with a map, we hopped on the shuttle and headed downtown to see what we could see. Because it was ANZAC day, the streets were pretty much deserted as were the restaurants.

Still we saw our first restaurant that served authentic Australia cuisine. Here's a picture of the menu they had in the window. If you click on it, it'll enlarge so you can see some of their delicacies.

We saw a confusing street sign...

...and sang with the Blues Brothers...

...then headed to a little marketplace where most of the shops were closed for the holiday and the ones that were open charged an extra 10% as a holiday fee. I had my first self serve Chinese Food, Jenni got the noodles she'd been craving and we chowed down before walking out to the shore.

This was the coolest part of Cairns was the oceanside pool. Here's a video.

It was maybe 4 feet deep total, but it was fairly large. We sat on a low wall that bordered the beach and watched people swim. I swear one little girl is synchro swimmer in the making. She was having the best time doing handstands and flips all by herself.

As for the was kinda missing at the time.

Some seagulls with no sea.

Jenni and I at the missing ocean.

Once we'd had a our fill of the Cairns' sites, we headed back to the shuttle stop where we found Elvis. He was across the street.

After our little adventure, we settled back in our room where Jenni had a ton of homework and I fell asleep before I knew it.