Aaron versus athletes: Pamela Benitez

By Aaron Graff

For the first time in my life, I shaved my legs.

Of course, there is a reason for a 19-year-old male to do this. I had challenged senior swimmer Pamela Benitez to a freestyle swimming race.

I had heard shaving can help swimmers better their times from covering the team. It gives them a fresh layer of skin, which is hypersensitive to water and causes the swimmer to go faster.


Benitez’s resume includes: Olympian from her home country, El Salvador, two-time Missouri Valley Conference Champion, eight-time MVC Swimmer of the week, one-time MVC Scholar-Athlete of the week, two-time First Team all- MVC selection and a member of the MVC Scholar-Athlete team.

Mine is a bit shorter: A good standing grade point average, two semesters as a sports reporter and no competitive swimming … ever.

In Rick Walker’s 27-year tenure as SIU’s swimming coach, I became the first reporter to ever challenge one of his swimmers to a race.

In a 25-yard freestyle event, I finished roughly four seconds behind Benitez, even with shaved legs. Of course, I was not wearing a swim cap and my swim trunks put up a lot of resistance, but it was not even close. And not worth shaving my legs.

When Walker first said it would be 25 yards, I felt cheated; I would not get to do a flip turn, even though I didn’t know how. He looked me in the eye and told me I could not handle any more. I concurred.

After 25 yards, it took about 15 seconds to get my breath back. Benitez jumped right back in the pool. Walker said the team goes back and forth dozens of times every day without complaining.

It was only about a week before our competition that I learned how to dive in properly. I did about 10 pushups and sit-ups before the start of the race. It wasn’t enough. My dive looked sloppy and my workout did not get me the rock solid body I was looking for.

If only SpongeBob could have loaned me some blow up muscles.

Even if I really thought I had a chance, I knew it was over right after the whistle blew. Benitez was already about five yards ahead of me doing a flawless dolphin kick.

I dove underwater and did a basic breaststroke, so my only hope was to surface and give it my all.

At the finish line, Walker said I came close to winning because he graciously called it second place instead of losing.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I’m also going to keep covering the swim team, which has been a pleasure and honor. The whole team has always been polite while sparing their time.

In reality, the entire swimming and diving team is impressive in many ways. Roughly a quarter of the team holds a 4.0 grade point average from the fall semester. 90 percent of the team had grade point averages of 3.0 or higher.

Walker said he would brag about swimmers’ grades before their times in the pool.

If you’re still not impressed, imagine swimming up to seven miles a day on top of schoolwork. Also, 17 team members are from foreign countries, including Benitez. English is not even Benitez’s primary language, yet she holds a 3.71 GPA in marketing.

Benitez said she typically wakes up at 5:30 a.m. for 6 a.m. practice.

Waking up that early would cause me to roll into the pool and request a raft to nap on.

Her tips to success are to write out lists of things that need to get done and focus on one thing at a time.

Whether or not you take that advice, you have to admit Pamela Benitez and the entire swimming and diving team are pretty special people.

That was also the last time I’ll ever shave my legs.

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected],@Aarongraff_ DE, or 536-3311 ext. 269.