This past weekend my hometown Windsor, Ontario was selected to host the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships 2016. The event took place at the WFCU center, an arena facility among the best in its class in North America.
The championships attracted more than 1,000 world-class swimmers from more then 175 countries who competed for 46 gold medals from December 6th to December 11th. A temporary 25-metre long x 26-metre wide x 2-metre deep competition pool was constructed on top of the WFCU Centre’s main arena floor.
The transformation involved converting the hockey rink into an aquatic complex, courtesy of 1.4 million litres of water that just filled the pool in the main bowl. Roughly 1,000 Grade 6 students took part in each morning session of the championships . and more than 4,000 students total received a ticket compliments of the local organizing committee. Luck would have it that I teach Grade 6, and so I had the privilege to go see one of the morning heats – for free!
I’ve been to the WFCU numerous times, but the hype and excitement buzzing around the building couldn’t even be compared to other events. Media teams, journalists, and random athletes just prancing around the complex – just like it was any other day. Many of the athletes were gracious enough to meet and greet their fans. To my surprise, on the exact day that our school attended and within the exact time frame that we would be there, some Italian team members held an autograph session. What were the chances? Meeting world-class Italian athletes – not in Italy, but in Windsor, Ontario? (If you are a frequent visitor to the Blog you’ll understand how ironic this is, considering I spend every summer in Sardinia, Italy.)
I had the pleasure of meeting Gregorio Paltrinieri, the current 1500 m freestyle (short course) world record holder, and Gabriele Detti, a bronze medalist in the men’s 400 metre freestyle as well as a bronze medal in the men’s 1500 metre freestyle at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Not only did I get my hands on a few autographed postcards, I also just happened to get locked in the Arena store – the official partner of the FINA Championships, while they were doing interviews!
The story is as follows…we were waiting anxiously for the line to dwindle after the initial autograph session, in hopes that we could have a chat with them. As always, I began to lose my patience so I decided to head over to the Arena store and peruse the products. A bright red t-shirt instantly caught my eye, and while I was at the cash desk purchasing it, a huge crowd came storming in, including Paltrinieri and Detti. Someone blocked the doors, preventing anyone outside of the store from coming in, and consequently preventing anyone on the inside from getting out.
Long story short, I met the athletes (again) and some of their PR team, talked briefly about their time in Windsor, and about my summers in Sardinia. I felt privileged to have met the athletes, as they can be admired for their determination and their successes, but also for having the opportunity to speak with them about everyday life in general. We are worlds apart (but not in the summers!), yet we have one thing in common – our love for our nation, and for other nations as well.
The FINA World Swimming Championships 2016 were about swimming and competition, but for me, they were a more unique experience. Not only was I able to enjoy one of the only sports I enjoy watching up close and personal, I also had the privilege to share my life experiences, however brief, with people from across the world. In short, it’s a small world after all- and it’s events like these that bring people together!