By Karen Alvarez
The Buffalo News is publishing Rio diaries from some of the Western New York families who have competitors at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Karen Alvarez is the mother of synchronized swimmer Anita Alvarez.
RIO DE JANEIRO - After a long year of intense training and preparation, Anita's Road to Rio has finally come to an end. With her comes her cheering squad, seven family members including Anita's parents, grandmother, brother, uncle and godparents. Traveling from Florida, New Mexico, and the Town of Tonawanda, we all met in Miami this past Thursday to catch our eight-hour flight to Rio.
Upon our arrival to the Galeao International Airport, we retrieved our luggage and quickly passed through customs and immigration. Following a hectic and overpriced two-hour-long taxi ride, we arrived to our Airbnb condo in Barra da Tijuca. Cranky and sleep deprived, we squeezed into a condo that, according to internet description, could accommodate eight. Despite some minor speed bumps, we were overwhelmed with joy and excitement to finally be in Rio.
Our first impressions of the city are varied. Its beautiful beaches and lush urban neighborhoods are backdropped against sharp mountainsides filled with poor shanty towns. At first glance, Rio is crowded and busy, yet also vibrant and beautiful. All of this is incorporated into the Summer Games, which currently decorates the city with its colorful logo and Olympic rings.
After settling in, we made a short walk across the street from our condo and entered the Olympic Park, home to gymnastics, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, speed swimming, weightlifting, tennis, basketball and many other sports. Dressed modestly neutral, saving our American gear for days of competition, we noticed right away hundreds of people draped in their country flags and colors, ready to cheer on their athletes. The upbeat vibe immediately woke us up from our jet lag-induced lethargy, and the reality of us finally being at the Olympics became real. It was exciting hearing the roar of the crowds echoing out of the stadiums.
On Saturday we decided to venture a bit farther and visit the famous Copacabana Beach. After our not-so-pleasant taxi ride from the airport, we decided to travel with Uber. With the help of Google Translate and my son Tommy's elementary Portuguese, we made it to the beach with ease.
We were struck by the beautiful white sand and crystal blue water. As we walked along the beach, we were amazed by how crowded and active it was. Rarely did we see anyone lounging or sunbathing on beach towels, but rather kicking soccer balls, riding waves, and serving volleyballs. Here, we also learned that for many Brazilian beachgoers, less is more!
Another highlight of the day was the USA House located in the popular district of Ipanema. Here we were welcomed with free dining, an open bar, livestreaming of events, and other amenities. It was fun to meet other friends and family of athletes as well as some recent medal-winning athletes there to be commemorated for their achievements.
Sunday is the start of the synchronized swimming event, beginning with the free duet competition. Anita and her duet partner, Mariya, arrived to the Athlete's Village on Thursday morning, following a two-week training camp in Puerto Rico. They have good energy, and are excited and feel well prepared to begin competition. As the competition begins their vigorous 6-8 hour daily practice, dedication, and strong work ethic will finally pay off.
Adding to the craziness and unpredictability of our trip thus far, we just received word from Anita that the competition pool is currently being drained and refilled due to a mishandling of chemicals resulting in murky, green pool water. As we write this blog, we are unsure as to whether the event will go as on as scheduled, and we will not know until Sunday morning. However, Anita and Mariya are prepared to handle whatever outcome may occur. We will be back to update you on our experience here in Rio as well as Anita's results. We would like to thank the community for all the wonderful support you have given Anita and our family. Go Team USA!"