Rookie of the Year: Maria Feliciano

 

The annual Justas LAI are rapidly approaching and with that, the end of this year’s athletic season. As we anxiously await this year’s finals, let’s take a look into the Rookies of the Year from 2017-2018. María Feliciano is a second-year marketing student who is also a long-distance swimmer in UPRM’s swim team. The Guaynabo native first began as swimmer at five years old doing synchronized swimming which helped her transition into a competitive swimmer.

(Picture taken by Photographer Fernando Neris Flores)

Feliciano competed for the first time with Puerto Rico’s National Synchronized Swimming Team at age 10 and then again in the Central American Olympics in Veracruz 2014 when she was 15. As a synchronized swimmer, Feliciano had only a few minutes to “go hard” and do the routine. Now, as a swimmer, there are competitions which are longer in and of themselves. Thankfully, Feliciano’s previous training has helped her in the last stretches of her competitions. “When there’s only 200 or 300 meters left, I start motivating and pushing myself like I did in synchronized swimming,” said Feliciano about the skills she developed from such a young age. Sadly, her career in synchronized swimming ended the following year because most of the girls left for college and the team was not able to replace them. She later tried out triathlons but realized it was not her thing.

Feliciano also played Water Polo from ages 11 to 14 in mixed teams. Her strength in the sport was in assisting her teammates with the plays and traveling the ball. The most interesting part of this experience for Feliciano was precisely the mixed categories. There was a notable difference between how men played against women and how women played against women. The men were a lot gentler in trying not to sink the women but the women between themselves held nothing back. “It was very intense,” said Feliciano which is why she didn’t pursue the sport further when she was old enough to join the female teams.

(Picture taken by Photographer Julia Toro)

When she was in high school, Feliciano decided to focus on improving her skills as a swimmer hoping to secure a spot in UPRM’s team. Her training changed as she made the transition. She was a member of a club and began first shifting her focus towards swimming itself. She faced even more changes in her training when she joined the UPRM team. Their coach is from Cuba therefore he implements their techniques and manner of training into his players. Thankfully, the basics don’t change. “Going hard, going deep, stretching out… those are things that don’t change,” said Feliciano about the training styles.

What motivates Feliciano to continue swimming is how much she enjoys being active and doing physical activities. The sport keeps her “in shape” which wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t a swimmer. When the season starts, she pushes herself to cut down her times. As the qualifiers grow near, she aims to get good marks and if that happens she gets more motivated to do better and better the following competitions. Beyond that, the sport gives her a space blow off steam. There is no problem big enough that a practice can’t get off her mind which is why she loves swimming so much.

Feliciano swims in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m competitions as well as relays with her teammates. Her biggest goal is to be able to win the most medals she can in the LAI competitions. She has won a bronze medal with the relay team, yet she believes her individual strong point is the 400m race which she can handle better. Nevertheless, she feels more confident this year with her times. She has gained experience from the past competitions and knows how to better manage herself in the water. Her participation in the team and their support is really what pushes Feliciano to give it her all and see the products of her hard work.

(Picture taken from Deportiva Huella)

Before her competitions, Feliciano feels nervous and anxious, as most athletes do. Last year, before qualifiers, all she felt was fear. Feliciano was the only rookie and didn’t really know what to do. “I started putting pressure on myself like what if I don’t do it right? What I don’t do the technique? What if I get tired? I don’t eat well. I wasn’t hydrated,” said Feliciano about all the thing that rushed through her mind as she waited for her time to compete. She tries to listen to “pumped up” music in her headphones so she can create her own positive atmosphere and prepare herself properly for when she gets in the water so that she can have her own good vibes pushing her forward to do her best.

According to Feliciano, “to be part of a UPRM team means you have an immediate connection with the rest of the athletes in the university.” They understand how hard it is to manage practices and classes, so they tend to help one another out. It is impressive how we can excel at both. To Feliciano, the athletes are community. Sadly, their community is facing mayor cuts to their programs which will cripple UPRM’s athletic programs. Feliciano believes many athletes will leave the teams or maybe the teams themselves will cease to exist if the athletes don’t receive the economic support they deserve from the University. Many athletes came to UPRM because of the university, meaning for their education, not because of the sport itself. If they are not receiving compensation for their hard work and for impairing their studies, to a certain degree, to represent the university, many athletes may choose to walk away and focus on what they came here for.

“The administration only pays for [the swim team’s] bathing suits and even then, it’s the cheapest ones,” said Feliciano about the terribly uncomfortable suits she and her teammates are forced to swim in. The suits are expensive, that is true, which is why the team buys their own uniforms and gear. Yet, Feliciano believes, if they are going to buy only one thing, it should be a good one. Her suit ripped during last year’s qualifiers right before she was about to compete and was forced to do quick change which is a testament to the care, or lack thereof, the administration has for the needs of its athletes.

(Picture taken from Huella Deportiva )

The experience that has marked Feliciano as a swimmer happened at last year’s finals when she learned the hard way how to compete with the best. According to Feliciano, the best swimmers take it slow during the qualifiers because they know they are going to pass. Feliciano, not knowing this at the time, gave it her best, went hard, and safely landed in 4th place securing her spot. When the finals came around, the rest of the swimmers put in what they didn’t in the qualifiers and Feliciano dropped down to nearly the 8th spot. “I came out and I couldn’t believe it and everyone just told me that that was just how the LAIs go down,” said Feliciano about this experience. Nevertheless, Feliciano says she always gives it her all in every competition because she doesn’t know if she’ll make it in the next one. Therefore, if the competition she’s swimming is the last one of the season, all she can do is make it her best one yet.

From April 23rd to the 25th, 2019 are the LAI finals in Ponce where Feliciano hopes do cut down her times and do better than last year. Let’s see how hard and how fast her experience will take her now.