Well hey! It’s “I’m going to be a sophomore in the fall” (freshman forever) Marlee Ehrlich coming at you from New Jersey. I just got back to America from a three-week stay in Israel where I was competing for Team USA in the 19th World Maccabiah Games. The Maccabiah is a sporting event much like the Olympics, in which every 4 years athletes from all over the world come together to compete. However, unlike the Olympics the Maccabiah is always held in Israel, and all the athletes are Jewish. While my family hoped I would go to Israel and find “a nice Jewish boy” to bring home, I ended up finding an amazing team, countless life experiences, and some medals (so, still single, sorry mom).
The first week of my trip combined training and touring. The Open Swim Team would wake up, practice, eat breakfast, and then embark on whatever Maccabi USA had planned for us that day. We went to Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, we hiked around Masada, we prayed at the Western Wall, and while doing all of this the 25 swimmers became a team; no, actually, we became a family. HWSD has taught me that the fastest way to achieve success is to do it together. My HWSD teammates and I are very close. I was nervous about being on a team with 24 other individuals (one Olympian and some who swim for other Ivies such as Princeton, Brown, and Yale), and how the team dynamic would work. Now, I don’t know if it was the commonality of all of us being Jewish, sheer luck, or the three-hour game of “never have I ever” that we played, but our team chemistry was phenomenal! We all became best friends in less than 48 hours (at least I think it was 48 hours even with the time zone changing…math). It no longer mattered that Harvard and Princeton were rivals at home; in Israel we were teammates. We were fortunate to have Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale as a teammate. Before this trip, I never would have thought that Garrett would become one of my close friends, but despite all my best efforts to avoid it happening he has definitely become a close friend. I’m just kidding, Garrett is really cool, and I’m lucky that he decided to be my friend (hey Garrett, if you’re reading this, I still can’t believe you went camel riding without me). The first week of the trip was so important for us as a team. It allowed us to get to know one another and bond, and it also allowed us to connect to our Jewish faith. I even met a fellow Harvard athlete and coach who were also on the trip. Harvard is literally everywhere; I love it.
The second week of the trip focused on competing. We were lucky to be able to swim in the brand new pool at the Wingate Institute. The pool was beautiful and fast. It was easy to swim fast in such an exciting environment. Team USA ended up winning over 70 medals. I personally won 3 medals in the pool (2 golds and a silver), and a bronze medal in the open water swim. My dad swam in the 1985 Maccabiah Games, and he won a relay gold, and an individual silver. I grew up seeing his medals framed on the wall, and when I left for Israel this year, I knew I wanted to beat his medal count. When I won silver in the 400 free and then my 800 free relay won gold and broke a meet record while doing so, I knew I had one more chance to out-do Ricky. The next night was the 800 free, and before going to the pool for finals, I checked my twitter (follow me!! @mar_tender) and saw an outpouring of support from HWSD. With their support in mind I dove in for the 800, and managed to take gold. I got out of the pool, looked at my dad, and said, “got ya”. Team USA was so successful in the pool and it was so much fun to watch my teammates win medals and swim fast. After the pool competition, there was an open water swim. A small number of swimmers went to Tiberias to swim in the Kinerret. I signed up to do a 5K because I am a crazy person, and I love distance swimming. This was my first open water event, and it was definitely a learning experience. Some of you know that I spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or two in the endless pool, or shark tank as Chris and I call it, in order to work on my stroke technique. The endless pool training really helped me in the open water competition; just one more way HWSD is always helping me out!
The third week of the trip consisted of lying by the pool, meeting athletes from other countries, visiting children in a hospital, watching other sporting events, and sampling Tel Aviv night life. Needless to say, I had a great time. Visiting Schneider Children’s Medical Center was definitely a highlight of my trip. Team USA visited with children staying in the hospital, and we gave them USA Swimming shirts, while getting to know them. I sat with a young boy who was coloring a Spiderman picture, and even though we couldn’t really communicate, he left a huge impact on me. Sitting next to him as he concentrated on coloring is something that will stick with me, as it made me really appreciate my life and be thankful for the opportunities I have been given. As much as I love my Team USA teammates, I cannot wait to be back in Cambridge with my HWSD family. I still can’t believe (or admit) that I’m no longer a freshman, but I know that if this year is anything like last year, I can’t wait for it.
As they say in Israel, Yalla!
Harvard Athletes on top of Masada
"Bonding" with my new best friend, Garrett.
Team USA is jumpin'!!