Athletes for Hope

Bri Leverenz: A Global Advocate for the Sport of Swimming

In a previous blog post, AFH Athlete and swimmer, Bri Leverenz, shared with us her mission – to teach swimming to children in the Philippines. Most individuals in the Philippines do not know how to swim, so for too many, especially in an archipelago like the Philippines, swimming is a life saving skill. Read Bri’s latest blog post about her philanthropic journey in Southeast Asia.

I have been in the Philippines for an entire month, and there have been so many instances in which I have been blissfully unprepared for, and they have all taught me different lessons. Less than 48 hours in a foreign country, and I got to experience a true volcanic eruption followed by hundreds of earthquakes. Selfishly, 3 inches of ash coating the ground is really a bummer because that means there are 3 inches of ash in every pool too. Swim clinics? Not happening. Unselfishly, I am glad I witnessed it. I saw a community in distress: schools closed, thousands evacuated from their homes, and people rushing to get masks so they can even BE outside without the sulfur from the ash hurting their lungs. A new perspective is the greatest teacher, and I saw a community struggling with unimaginable damage and suffering. Reading a story on the news will never accurately portray the practical impact of a natural disaster. That city was not my home. If I felt my personal security was compromised, I could just leave, but everyone else did not have that luxury. Ash gets cleared (and used as building materials!) but the community won’t forget, and I certainly will not as well.

Despite the desolation, the people I was with were the most welcoming and gracious hosts. This is a common thread among the Filipino population. I have never felt more welcomed in my life, and I certainly do not feel like an outsider. Traveling alone presents unique challenges, but it has never felt like a burden. I’ve met people who I now consider to be friends, and I have been welcomed in to a foreign community entirely on the platform of sport.

I have gotten to share my history in sport with athletic directors, coaches, students, professors and athletes. I never knew that I had a story that anyone would want to listen to or that I had anything inspiring to say, but this journey has repeatedly proven that to be the case. My athletic career is one that I can look back on with reverence and appreciation. Sport opened up so many opportunities for me, including this trip, and now this is my chance to share the invaluable lessons I have learned. The facilities look different, the commentating sounds different, but the game remains the same. Sport really is a universal language.

I had every intention of traveling to the Philippines to be a champion for my sport and with a noble cause of teaching others to swim. My expectations and this reality could not have been further apart. I’m not just a champion for swimming, but for sport as a whole, and the relentless power that it holds.

Every day that I am here looks dramatically different than the last. I have been a guest on a radio show, I’ve taught basic swim skills to 400 students in one day. I’ve coached kids who only speak Tagalog or Korean. I’ve shared my story with athletes and in turn learned their sport from them. I’ve been a coach, an ate (Tagalog for big sister), a ma’am, and just plain Bri. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. I have learned to listen more than I speak and to watch everything. From dragon boat racing to diving for sea urchins to eat, I have taken on every opportunity enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. I thought I was coming to teach, but I have learned so much more than I could ever share. It has only been a month, but this archipelago feels like a second home.

Someone asked me today when was the last time I tried something for the first time. I could honestly answer every single day of the last 35 days straight. This blog could be an endless story of all of my firsts, from eating goat, to driving a motorcycle, leaning towards dragon boat race, or even teaching swimming in a freshwater spring filled with tilapia. I could list so many more, but it hardly does the experiences justice.

This trip has already shaped me in to a person I am proud to be. I have not always been comfortable. The world looks very different from my current view, but change fosters growth. I could write about a million more stories, but I would prefer to put the screen down and go live them. 9 cities down, who knows how many more to go.

I’ll be back to share about my next adventures.