A Different Perspective from a Different View by Abi Liu, PEAK Swimming (2013)



First of all thank you so much for having me here and thank you for coming.  I know it has been a long day and for us swim coaches who are so used to standing on the pool deck and walking around.  And having you guys sitting here and listen to me is such an honor.  By the end of the day, I will try my best to make it fun and engaged; and let me know, we can talk afterwards.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank ASCA to give me this chance to share some of my stories from childhood and some of my experience since I have been working and coaching in the United States.  Hopefully you guys will enjoy the talk.  The topic is A Different Perspective from a Different View, obviously, as Jennifer introduced.


I grew up in China; grew up and raised in China, I would like to talk a little bit about that.  I came to the United States in 1997, swam and all that.  But I got to the National Team when I was 14, right after I turned 14.  Left home, said goodbye to my parents, cried a lot; but learned my way and made great friends along the way—and they are really my life-long friends as well.  I came to the States in 1997; was recruited by University of Nevada, Reno.  I swam for them for a couple of years and realized, you know what, I am done with all the swimming by myself and I would like to move on to the next stage of my life.


So I got a job with De Anza Cupertino Aquatics, and a lot of credit to them.  Learned a lot about the Swimming system in the States, a lot about Age Group swimming, and made great friends as well.  After that, after 7.5 years with DACA, moved over to Palo Alto Stanford mainly with Scott Shea at the SCRA site as an Age Group director.  And not only did I continue to learn and improve on the wet-side of Swimming, but also learn a lot on the dry-side of Swimming—computer stuff.  It really helped me move on to my next stage, which is in 2010 PEAK Swimming was formed.


We are about 3.5 years-old now.  We are on currently Bronze; last year was Silver Medal Club.  We started off with 26 swimmers.  I walked on the pool deck on April 10, 2010; did not know what to expect: how many athletes are we going to have.  Started with 26, which was great, and we are now about 165.  We are still growing.  (I told you it is a rock concert: feel free to get up and jump around and make sound.  This is interesting.)  In addition to PEAK Swimming, I also am a part-owner of two swim schools.  One is called Saratoga Star Aquatics and one is called Milpitas Star Aquatics.  We built our two indoor pools.  We currently have about between 4,000 to 4,500 students, weekly, going through the area.


Anyway, some things that I would like to share… my next talk tomorrow is more of a technical talk and we will share a little bit more about the things we do specifically in the pool and in training and all of that.  I wanted to just go back to, today’s focus is to, try to share with you what the experience was when I grew up.  And what things that I think that really worked for me in this good-old Chinese system, and things that I felt the differences in comparison to the U.S. system.


This is one thing I think was great, listening to Coach David Marsh saying the middle school… in the U.S. the middle schoolers start taking swimming as a P.E. class.  In China this was mandatory an all elementary schools, Swimming was part of P.E.; so the P.E. teachers will take the students to the local swim school, local swim school pool, to take the swim lessons from the teachers and coaches there.  And this was mandatory; it started from first grade.  I think if we can do all this in the U.S., we can really reduce the drowning rate.


I started swimming when I was 8, in first grade; just going to the swim pool twice-a-week with my P.E. teachers and with my class.  And just the sports school coaches would teach and coach us, but there were also other coaches spying on the walls, just trying to see who is… trying to detect early talent.  My coach, my very first coach, was Coach Chen.  Very first generation of Chinese Swimming, and he grew-up swimming in a river.  Never really had any high-level competitive experiences; however, really he was one of those great thinkers and creators, who created ways to think outside the box.  And mind you, during that time, during the early 1980s, the resources, the information, was very limited in China and not a lot of people knew anything about… so this was all just creating on your own, doing your own thing.


This [picture] is Coach Chen in the middle and that is me.  I believe we just finished… I was 13/12.5-ish and we had just finished the trial for the Junior National qualifying meet.  And that is the grey wall in the back; very young.  A lot of us talk about the pool conditions in the U.S., and I think that it is a global problem.  I would like to share a little bit about the details of the pools I grew up in, the one pool.  It was 4-lane, 25-meter pool, indoor.  And to this date, I do not remember, I cannot recall, whatever crazy sets I did or, you know, the times I did; but I remember the color of the wall.  And it was green, and moldy.  I also remember the texture of the wall: it was slimy.  It is just… you know, we do stretches before we get in, after we get out; you know, you touch the wall and it was just slimy.  And this is the texture I remember after 20-some years; not the times, not the sets, but that.


Color of the water: give a guess, what color?  Varies.  Sometimes blue, sometimes brown, green, kind of, you never know.  You get out, you do this; it is all green here.  You do this, from your face a green moustache comes off.  You know, I think at that time we did not know any better; we were just happy and fortunate to have a pool to swim in.  Whatever the condition was, we would just do it.


The powder: I do not know if any of you guys have any experience with that.  My coach would be on-deck, we would be swimming whatever sets we were going.  He looks at the water, he goes, umm, the water looks, the color looks a little off today.  So he takes out the bucket of the powdered chlorine—it becomes a powder, right?  He gets a scoop; here it goes, just spray all over.  Meanwhile I am swimming, we are all swimming in the water; powder is going all over, until the color looks right.  So, there is no… you know, your pH, your chlorine measure, every two/three hours; nobody is regulating that.  Health department is not going to come to bust you because, you know, you are throwing powder at your swimmers.  But that is how it was.


We shared the space; and we talked about 4-lane, 25-meter pool.  We shared… how many of you guys know there used to be a sport, a competitive sport: monofin sport?  Yeah?  Big giant monofins, either with snorkel or the oxygen tank.  We shared space with that team.  And you can only imagine how many cuts we would get on our legs and arms; they were just going.  My brother was actually on that team, and I would go home and I just, like, yell at him all the time: you cut me again today.  Every time they flip-turned, it echoed so loud; it is an indoor pool.  But thank goodness, they cut that sport out.


You cannot really tell, but it is an old photo.  But just to kind of give you an idea about the moldy walls in the back.  I do not think any of you guys would really want to feel the texture.  Really dark, kind of rundown, really small pool-space; that is where we did it, that is were we grew up.


Moving to the next, I would like to talk a little bit about what beliefs were shared with me by my coach, and how he… what kind of differences of things that he viewed as Asians verses Westerners.  He believed that Asians are smaller—do not look at me, I am Asian, but I am not small; I am one of those abnormal ones, but… skeletal-wise.  The Asians are typically smaller, so the Chinese believe that in order to have the Asians compete with the Westerners who are all muscular, big and powerful, we need to win by technique, we need to win by paying attention to details, we need to win by decreasing the drag force and be super, super efficient in the water.  And that was taught to be me very, very early; just… in order to compete with somebody with much bigger biceps than me.  So, technique versus size, very detailed at a very early stage.


One of the biggest differences I notice is the national training camp in China versus the home stay in the U.S.  In China, once we get selected to any semi-professional team or professional team, you leave home; including the coaches.  How many coaches here are willing to leave your families and go to the Colorado Springs for 350 days-a-year?  One, two?  Good; that is good.  But all the Chinese coaches would do that.  And I remember my coach in the National Team, he had a newborn and he did not go; he had to stay with us in Beijing and his wife was having a baby back in hometown.  That is just a different style, I guess.


The early scientific training I talked… (yes?)  The early scientific training.  My coach grew-up in the water, was just running rivers.  But he was a really great thinker, and sometimes I would like to share.  How many of you guys actually do x-ray to predict the biological age and growth and development for you athletes here?  And this was for second graders; I was 9 years old.  Every single year, annually, in the beginning of season we would go to a clinic, get out bone x-ray taken for our hands to predict how tall we were going to be and to monitor our actual biological in comparison to our chronological age.  I was predicted I was going to be 173 cm tall and I am 173.5 final; not taller.  So I thought I was pretty clear; at age 9 I knew how tall I was going to be.


The mirrors.  We have the mirrors here, put on the bottom of the pool.  And FINIS, right, makes great mirrors and you guys swim… your swimmers swim and all put on bungee cords, they can watch themselves.  How many of you guys wish that your swimmers swam backstroke and can see themselves?  I do.  And this was such a genius idea: he hung three or four mirrors—not just in between the flags.  And every time I swam backstroke, I would look at myself every single stroke.  That is probably why I turned out to be a… I was a backstroker myself.


But I would love to have any of you guys here help me to develop the idea; especially for West Coast teams, it is such a hard thing to do: how are you going to hang them somewhere where there is no building, no roof?  Something, I mean, I would love any suggestions, ideas; we can make this work.  But just a simple idea: if you guys in the East Coast, you have an indoor pool, just put three or four big mirrors, just hang them.  It does not have to be every lane, but just one lane.  Your backstrokers, one, the can immediately see themselves: whether they are over-reaching or not, whether their legs are dying, if they move their heads and they are not going to see themselves.  It is just such a great idea that he came up with.


Emphasis on flexibility.  Most of the Asian swimmers are much, much more flexible.  And to this day, I can still try to scare my kids and I am like: you know you guys, I am 300 years old and I can do this, I am much more flexible than you.  Before and after: before we get in, we stretch; and afterwards we stretch.  How many of you guys have seen Michael Phelps’ underwater dolphin kicks?  His ankle flexibility is just so impressive and I think that is, you know, a great contributor to his success: his flexibility.  And I think a lot of us here kind of overlook that or maybe we think we do not have enough time to do the stretches before and after.  I would really strongly encourage to implement that in your daily practices.


The swim meet schedule where I grew-up is very, very weird, very different, compared to what you guys here, what we—I should we now, I am one of you guys, I am use to it.  We would have swim meets twice a year, that is it.  And that is why a lot of Chinese athletes in early years; and I would say between 2000 Olympics and 2004, many Chinese swimmers who went to the Olympics, it was their first international meet.  They had no international racing experiences; even national, just a very few meets.  So not enough competition, not enough racing experiences.  So just to try to fix that, my coach would have us do time trials, a team-wide time trial every two months, just trying to monitor our progress.


Weight training.  Although now I know better, I would never have a 10-year-old doing dumbbell and doing bench press and all that.  But this was… I was lucky, I mean, for some reason I was never injured; but this was when I started: 10 years-old.  We would be do bench press with dumbbells, overhead lifts; all kinds of crazy things.  The ladder: we would have a latter, a simple wooden ladder.  We would do leg lifts all the way up, and row-ups and pull-ups as well; as a 10-year-old.  I think a pull-up is okay, I think.


And the bamboo stick.  It was such a Chinese stuff; you know, it is not a leather whip, but it is a bamboo stick.  The parents are not allowed to watch.  When we were swimming, the parents were not allowed to watch practices.  And when they would come to pick us up, they would see Coach Chen with a bamboo stick walking up and down the pool deck.  So they were curious; they would say, “Coach Chen, what do you use the bamboo stick for?”  Well, they can’t hear me; they’re in the water, they can’t hear me.  I just use a bamboo stick to tap them.  Well, tapping becomes a little harder, hitting, and whipping.  You know, I cannot recall how many bamboo sticks he broke over the years, really not from tapping obviously.


A little bit of the overall development stage in steps, if you can make it all the way—it is so scary.  Swim class is part of P.E., we talked about it; it is just generalized and make sure everybody is water safe.  And then once the sports school coaches select you… each city, each year, during my time, they would select 8 girls and 8 boys of entire city and invite them to go the sports school.  Which is the next step: local sports school.  The have 1st grade all the way to high school, 8th grade; where the kids only go to half-a-day school and then half-a-day training.  But the curriculum is much more concentrated; it is not, you know, learning less or more, but it is just a lot more concentrated.  So they will spend half a day, just in the morning, they go to school, four periods; and in afternoon, it is all training.


During that time I learned a lot, for myself, the time management skills.  I would do my homework in-between classes, because I know I have practice in the afternoon.  After practice I got dinner, and I would be wiped out.  And the next day in the morning, I have to bike with my swim gear bag and my school backpack.  Five o’clock in the morning, bike-out to morning practice; and I was 9 years-old, all by myself.  And so, anyway, at a really early stage, I learned time-management skills.


The provincial sports school, this is when the kids leave their families.  They could be aged between 12, 13, 14, they leave their families.  In olden days, mostly are the kids from the countryside.  Because once you get to that level, the government actually raises the kids: they board the kids, they feed them and they educate them.  So a lot of families from the countryside, they prefer to have their kids to have that skill and go to the provincial sports school, and to really take-off some pressure off the family.  Provincial team is a professional team, at that time.  And also ages can be between 13 to all the way to 20.  And during that time period school becomes less important, and it almost becomes optional: nobody is going to come and yell at you if you did not go to the evening school.  Kids leave their families, coaches leave their families.


And then the final stage is National Team, which they train in Beijing.  Same schedule; however, they get to go home 15 days a year.  For the rest of the time, you will be staying in a camp.


For me, I did not go through the middle two steps: the provincial sports school and the provincial team.  I was at the local sports school.  I was not good at all when I just started; of the eight girls I was probably sixth, seventh and eighth.  And when my friends and teammates started getting invited to go to the provincial sports school, provincial team, I felt totally left out and felt badly.  But when I was 12, I got invited to go to the provincial team, but my parents said no.  My parents said: you need to finish at least middle school back in the sports school where school is a little bit more serious than the provincial team.  Then, I was not happy with that, obviously; I wanted to be with my friends.  And my coach said: Okay, let’s just train, you and me, and let’s see how far we can take.  And I will make sure that the quality of your training is still high, and let’s see where does that take us.


So, let’s go back a little bit.  In 1989, before I turned 14, I actually won the Junior Nationals.  As the only local sports school swimmer who went to the Junior Nationals, and I actually won it.  So later that year, the National Team invited me to go to Beijing.  And I told my parents, like, “Now what?  This is it, this is the highest a swimmer can ever dream.”  And so my parents said okay, you can go.  And that was the very first time I left home for a long time.  And my hometown at the time did not have train tracks, did not have an airport; all we had was bus.


So I was on the Greyhound bus for 12 hours to get to the capital city of my providence, first; then took a flight out to Beijing.  But I remember after I got on the bus, I cried from city to city to city to city; I was only 13.  And I think after an hour-and-a-half, my dad finally said, “I think that’s enough, you can stop now.”  So, I stopped, and, you know, it is hard.  I am 37; I have lived away from home for the last 24 years.  And, you know, still, it is a family, and you are still attached to them.  I remember, the first couple of years when I… after the family visit each year, 15-day visit, I would cry and cry and cry.  And later on, I was able to hold back my tears and get on the flight and then start crying.  I was just, you know, just young.


You saw the facility earlier of that black pool.  The pool gets better, obviously, as each level goes up.  And this is the National Team pool, and there is a flag there.  And always told: you are swimming for your country, and you are not yourself, you are not doing your own thing; you are doing everything for your country.  And it is a lot of money invested from the government.  And you guys remember in 2011, the World Championships was in Shanghai.  They invested $2 billion to build that pool, for that event only in Shanghai.  Right after that meet, the pool was torn down, and that place became be a concert venue—the pool is gone.  So the government invests a lot, the government has a lot of involvement in the sport; in fact, it is a government-run sports association.


And it has a pride.  As I said, we were always told to swim for our country and swim for our city.  And this is one of the photos from after I won the Junior Nationals.  I came back to the school, and they had a huge thing for me.


Let me talk a little bit about the national training camp in Beijing.  All sports live together, so not just the swimmers, but all the other athletes, we live in the same courtyard in the building.  Everybody leaves their family, so we are all sisters and brothers.  The guard is in the front; it was really hard to sneak out.  Our rooms would always be at the end of the hallway, and the coaches’ rooms are always in the beginning of the hallway.  So I remember, you know, shoes in hands and tippy toes sneaking-out on Friday night, and climb over the fence and try to get over the guards and come back.  So nowadays I tell my kids, you know what, I have done all that; so do not try to get around from me.


The elevator experience.  Because all the sports live in the same complex and all sports have their own unique shape and size.  So I was in an elevator one day, and behind me a giant basketball player, 9 feet tall basketball player, shadow way over me; and right here, a big weightlifter took up all the space; and right here a little gymnast with crutches and, you know, a neck brace on.  And I am here in the middle, I am looking around like: yeah go swimmers; we are the normal ones.  It just came as a realization.


Swimming schedule.  We talk about twice a year, maybe three times, if you have one or two international meets.  And of the six days, I would swim two events, maybe three: 400 IM as a warm-up the first day, third day 100 back, last day 200 back—that was it.  So, when I first came to the U.S. and swam for college, I am like, “What?  You’re telling me to get up again, four events in two hours?”  Could not take it.


Once-a-year home visit.  We did not… I think to a lot of people, this is unthinkable.  And to me, this is everything that I wanted.  I wanted to be in Beijing, I wanted to train with the National Team; I did not care if it takes 350 days or 367 days to train there.  And so it was not a difficult thing.  Yeah, of course, leaving home was difficult, but I did not realize how difficult that was.  But really I made life-long friends, and my friends back home—some here, some everywhere in the world—we went through blood and sweat together.  I think the bond was so tight and so… it is just like all your kids, your swim team kids: their friendship, their bond, will last forever.  And it is so important to have that with each other.


So any questions about the whole system and about my background so far?  My experience.  Yes?


[audience member]: When you said it was a profession team, at that level and at that age, were you paid?


[Liu]:  Yes.  I was and I turned it down.  But most of the kids—because I did not go through the middle two levels—most of the kids who went through all that, they would be on the payroll at the age of 14.  That is why the families from the countryside send their kids off.  Not only, you know, they do not have to spend on the food and stuff for their kids, but the kids send money back home.


The culture shock.  I came here in 1997.  First city I landed in was Carson City, Nevada.  My first impression of American swimmers was a 7-year-old, his name was Sean, came up to me and said, “I’m going to the Olympics one day and I’m going to win it.”  And I was like, woah, I can’t believe you just said that, really?  We would never; even in the National Team.  We used to joke about it: if someone stood on top of roof and threw down a rock and killed ten people, of the ten, nine would a national champion and another one is world champion.  So even with all that, nobody really talked about what they wanted, what their dreams were; nobody.  Because it is a losing-face thing if things do not happen; it is more of a face thing.  So for a 7-year-old, barely swimming, telling me that he is going to win in Olympics was total eye-opening for me.  But I also think this is something that we encourage kids to dream big, to have that kind of motivation and drive, to get them through and really develop that passion for the sport.


I love the friendship and the communication between the coaches and athletes in the U.S.  It is open, it is casual, it is close, and it is personal as well as professional.  My relationship with my coaches back in Beijing and Wenzhou—Wenzhou is my hometown in China—is always: you are the coach, I will never argue back.  There is always only one-way communication, never two.  So, I love how the kids feel so free to tell you what they are thinking about.  And to me it was really important because I did not grow up here; I did not go to high school here; and I did not know what these kids, what their daily life is and really about the culture.  So it is really important to me to have that two-way communication channel.


This, I am not sure: the freedom to choose club and coaches.  It is not… I am not saying pros or cons, but I think when you work with an athlete, a coach will have a long-term development, long term-plan.  In a typical way you have a quad-year plan, every four years according to the Olympics.  And as Coach Marsh said earlier, we are looking as a career goal, not as a seasonal goal or a meet-to-meet goal.  So for some swimmers having… giving them that freedom, oh I didn’t do well in this swim meet, I am going to go to the club down the street, it really does not teach them any problem-solving skills or working with others.  And also really to have the culture of the four-year plan, it is really meaningless then, right?


But at the same time, if one program does not fit a certain type of athlete, this athlete also has a choice and a variety of things to look for; and to be able to talk to both coaches and make that switch and find a best fit for themselves.  And I think this is also good, so I am not taking either side.  But this was something very different for me, when I came and found out that.  As the track/steps you saw earlier, this was one track.  Government tells you: this is the where you are going to be, when you are going there; there was no choice.


Learn and listen from them.  And, again, this is going back to the two-way communication.  [This] Helped me a lot; not only understand what their daily life is about and understand the culture, understand the pop culture.  But also to me, it is almost learning the language as well.  When I got on the airplane flying from Shanghai to San Francisco in 1997, I did not know a word of English; I was pretty proud of myself when I said to the flight attendant this bag is too big and she understood, I was really happy.  But talking to the kids, they really… they keep you honest, and they correct you when you say something wrong.  And it was really a learning experience for me.


You guys heard my story about half-day schooling, half-day training.  But I think you guys would agree, all the American swimmers here, their daily schedule is much, much busier than the schedule I had.  They get-up, morning practice, they go to school, they come back in the afternoon, swim some more, go back, dinner, homework, start all over again.  Go to bed who knows when, 12:00, 1:00?  And on top of that, they have to do SATs, ACTs.  All the pressure they are able to handle, and the dedication, has really showed a lot.  So I have a lot of respect for my swimmers; I think it is such a great life lesson that they are learning.


I love the change of the friendship now.  When my kids, my post-grad kids, come back from college, they look at you so much different.  They are no longer that bratty, little kid anymore; they come back, they are so much more appreciative.  They are happy to see you.  They really find their dedication and passion for the sport.  They wanted to do this; the internal motivation level is so much higher than even, you know, their senior year or junior year in high school.  I love that.  They come back; they become almost a family and friends, rather than just the coach and athlete.  (This is a little dark here.) But all these kids, I started coaching them when they were 8 or 9 years old, and they were much shorter than me.  and here they are, all towering over me.


To summarize, from my own experience and what I have gone through, when the East meets West, I think what we can learn from both systems and both different beliefs.  Through our different beliefs, we can combine the attention to detail—again, I am saying this again, which I will share a little bit more in my talk tomorrow, about the drills and details that we work on in our daily practices—is when you see something, you say something.  And so many coaches know a lot, but they just… in day-to-day practices, they just assume the swimmers will remember what they said three days ago.  No, they do not.  And no matter how old they are, how good they are, there is always something to work on.


So my personal goal is when the kid goes back home, when the parents ask them What did Coach Abi say to you today?, and the kid has one thing to say, at least the one thing.  Not an in-general to-a-group; not say, hey everybody do your streamline tight—no.  I will say, “Hey Johnny, you need to stack your hands up, you need to really close up your elbows.”  Then it is a personal attention each child receives.  And we need to show what we know, and give and pass on what we know.  So, I have that from the early education from my coach that really changed… that really has a lot of effect on my coaching style.  I never sit down; I am always moving.  Whenever my swimmer is in the water racing, I stand up, I do not sit.  I think that is the least respect we pay to our swimmers.


To the passion of Swimming, as we said, how dedicated the swimmers are and student-athletes in the US are, if we can combine all that, I think we will have a really strong team and team of swimmers.  The controlled environment I grew-up in—where you are not allowed to go out, where you cannot go do anything but you are locked in a courtyard—versus we have absolutely no control of our swimmers once they walk off the pool deck.  Now, in an ideal world, we want the kids to finish a practice, go home, finish their homework, go to bed.


But Friday night, school dance; Saturday/over the weekend, parents decide to take ski trip, go up to Lake Tahoe; Monday shows up, all cast up.  You have absolutely no control over that.  But you cannot say, hey you can’t do that.  That is just not life.  Life happens and these guys need to a balanced life.  But if we as coaches and as educators, we can educate them how important it is to take care of yourself, such as nutrition and sleeping schedule, time management skills.  To have that and not only do well in Swimming, but also have a balanced life outside of that, have fun.  I think it is really important skill for them to have, that we can teach them how to manage themselves better.  And not only they be fast and smart, but they be healthy as well—all bones attached.


And also, I see a huge increase of Asian population in Swimming community.  Yeah, everybody?  No matter which part of the country; I think, especially, where we are I think, 75-80% in school, about, are Asians.  But for us to understand the culture; now, yes, we can say, well, we work with the kids.  But you also have… a big part of your job is communicate with the parents: work and connect with the parents.  So for us to understand a little bit more about their culture, their background, will make things a lot easier.  At the end of the day, they are the ones giving you the credit cards and paying the dues.


This pretty much concludes my talk here.  Feel free, if you have any questions and you can… yep?


[audience member]: When you went into that half day, were you forced into Swimming or did you have a bunch of options that you could choose from?


[Liu]:  Swim only.


[audience]:  So how did you grow to like it as much as you did?


[Liu]:  Great question; I have a little story to share.  During P.E. class, Swimming was a requirement.  So then the sports school coaches, after they kind of have a general idea of which eight they are going to select, they will come to your school and measure a few things.  One, they measure your standing jump; how far you jump.  Two, they measure your wingspan, and then height.  Obviously, you know, the difference is bigger is better.  And then they ask what your parents heights are, and to predict how high you are going to be.  From there, and this is one sport, they come.  You do not get an option; this is the one sport you are going to do.  You are going to the sport school swim team; there you are just doing one sport.


My parents did not want me to go as a first grader because they did not want me to give up half a day of school.  But I loved it so much, I wanted to go.  I cried, I cried and cried again—I was such a crier, I cried a lot, for days.  I would go to school all happy and peppy; I would come home, walk in the door and start crying.  And so I wanted to go the sports school.  And finally they gave in, and they said, “Okay, let’s make a deal.  We will still keep a spot at your regular school, but you need to promise you’re going to do well academically in the sports school.  If not, after first semester, you’re moving right back.”


So I worked my butt off, and I actually did really well.  Finally after one year, they said okay, we can let go of this seat, because the elementary school that I was in was a really, really good school.  So finally after one year they said okay, we can let go of that now.  So I was in the local sports school all the way till finishing, almost finishing, middle school; 13 turning to 14 before I went to Beijing.  So I never actually spent one day in my life in high school—I am a middle school dropout. [laughter]  But I ended-up, went back, to San José State and got my degree in Kinesiology, because it is something I love.  I love the stuff I learned, and I can apply every single day.  And I am really, really happy I made the decision.


Any other questions?  Yes?


[audience member]:  When you went to the sports school that you were talking about, did they hit you with sticks there?


[Liu]:  That is where the stick starts.  And it is still normal, it is still there.  And you guys probably have seen all the video clips during the Olympics how the gymnasts, how they train; and it is real, it is real.  It is still there.  Kickboards, sticks, bamboo sticks.  Yes?


[audience member]:  When you won Junior Nationals with your local club, what was the transition like when you went to the National Team?  How was the training different and how hard was that transition for you?


[Liu]:  Umm, went from… my coach was really so close to me, Coach Chen—you saw the picture. My dad to this day still remembers this one incident.  Parents at that time, they do not travel, they do not come to swim meets; my parents were just there.  One time, just during that Junior Nationals, my dad happened to be on a business trip nearby.  And we were sitting there waiting for the 200 Backstroke finals.  If you guys know, in olden days, 200 Backstroke finals was always after men’s 1500 meters, on the last day, sixth day.


So I am sitting there waiting at the indoor pool.  My coach says, “You know what, you’re sitting here doesn’t help you.  There is no fresh air, you get nervous.  Let’s go sit outside.”  So, we all walked outside and my dad was there.  I am about to sit down on the step.  My coach said “Wait.”  Took off his jacket, put it on the ground and said, “Sit on my jacket.”  To this day, my dad still remembers.  He is my dad, he did not even think about it; my coach thought about it.  So along with the bamboo stick, I have a lot of respect for him and he is like a father figure to me nowadays.


So, going to Beijing was very difficult.  Like I said, I cried city after city after city, again, crying.  But working with different coaches, first I look up to them.  And during the Junior Nationals, I was introduced to these coaches.  It was such an eye-opening for… image a little girl from a little city, very little city, in southern China called Wenzhou—about a 45-minutes flight from Shanghai; never seen any big cities.  And there I was watching all the National Team members walking-by.  And my dad remembered, years later he told me, he said, “You were telling me, Abi, you were telling me, Dad, look, that’s so and so, it is all the big names.”  You know, I was starry-eyed.  She is wearing an all-Arena outfit; look at, you know, Speedo outfit.  Meanwhile, I was wearing I do not know what.  I actually won the Junior Nationals with a cotton swimsuit.  If you soaked those up, it is like five pounds, heavy.  Halter top, over the head; wooden button in the back.  No caps, green ear plugs.  I was a total dork.  Just image, it is dorky looking; you know, halter top, wooden button swimsuit.


But got to Beijing and, you know, it was not a hard transition for me I would say.  Because we were told always to obey our coaches.  Yeah?  Whatever they say, you just do it; regardless.  And that is why this was a very culture shock for me when the kids say, no, I think this, this and that here.  Sometimes it is great and sometimes you wish just like cut it out right?


Yes?  I am sorry?


[audience member]:  How culturally and ethnically diverse is your swim team?


[Liu]:  Very much so.  I would say we probably have a dozen, over a dozen, different ethnicities on our team: Japanese, Chinese of course, of course Caucasian, Vietnamese.  And especially in the Bay Area, it is very diverse; and over a dozen different languages spoken on our team, as well.  So it is really fun, you know, we talk and learn about each other.  A lot of fun.  And I got to travel with one of my swimmers who represented Israel internationally to a couple of European Championships, and interacted with the Israeli National Team.  It was interesting.  But I love traveling and I love to get to know different people from different groups.  Yes?


[inaudible audience question]


Eastern Chinese?  Um-hm.


A lot; pretty much everything I do.  One thing I really like… getting my degree in Kinesiology was all of a sudden everything I have learned and everything my own body experienced now explained in the scientific way.  And I found myself… I went to school in the morning and coached in the afternoon.  I found myself starting teaching things differently.  Now, of course, the material, all that stuff I learned is from early stage and through my own body, but the way I delivered, the way I explained it, was very different from what I had learned from school.  So I think just overall, in technical delivery and the way I look at things, try to dissect from what cause the outcome, rather than just… let’s say if backstroke, someone just gets out here, rather than telling them okay, get your hand out in the middle, I will probably look on the other side to see if the other side is over-reaching.  Just… I think just dissecting a little deeper, it was just a habit of my thinking.


Any questions?  Yes?


[audience member]:  What brought you to Reno?


[Liu]:  Ah.  Most people ask me: Why did you go to Reno first? and How did you end up in Reno?  I just did not know any better.  [laughter]  The diving coach….  I am sorry.  Anybody from Nevada here?  I love Nevada.  But I swam there and kind of got bored of swimming myself, and I thought you know what is better to do, you know.  I did not know any better, but this is something I have been doing for all my life and I would like to continue and maybe pass-on my knowledge.  So I interviewed with a bunch of teens in the Bay Area.  And the first one who offered me a job was Brian Bolster from Osprey Aquatics; unfortunately, I turned it down—sorry.  Shannon, sorry.  But De Anza Cupertino Aquatics offered me a position; that is when I moved down to the Bay Area in 1999.  Yes?


[inaudible audience question]


Yes.  The sports school is funded by the government.  All the levels of sports school is funded by the government.  And the national team, the provincial team, is run by the government.  So at the same time, when the athletes get money, they do not really get to keep it.  In 1993, I won the World Cup, and FINA awarded me with $11,000.  When the funds came-in, 50% immediately went to the national sports association—gone.  And 10% of the rest went to the swim team, and then 10% of the rest went to the coach.  And so I think I got about $3,700-$3,800 out of the $11,000, and that was it.  And in a way, I think it makes sense, because the government… because it is a completely different system.  Here they pay for everything: club dues, traveling, everything.  But when I was training… or back in China, everything is paid off.  And wherever we go, there will be chaperones and the police will be escorting us.  It is all government investment.  So when we got some little back, we give it back.


Any questions?  Always feel free to email me if you guys like to or have any additional questions, okay?


Thank you so much.  Thank you.


##### end #####



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