Swimming helps German exchange student Behrends adapt to life in USA

Swimming helps German exchange student Behrends adapt to life in USA

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Exchange student Emily Behrends smiles after her participation in the third heat of the 200 yard Medley.

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Kalinda Reed of Fruita swims the fly in the third heat of the 200 yard Medley.

Emily Behrends crashed into the El Pomar Natatorium pool during the Western Slope Relays on Saturday, floated a moment, then pin-wheeled her arms, grabbing and flushing water.

A backstroke in one hemisphere is a backstroke in another.

Location fades away in the water. It’s home again.

Whether in a swimming pool in Germany or one in Colorado, the swimming mechanics don’t change, and, of course, neither does the water. That’s where the similarities hit a dead end.

For almost one year, Behrends, a junior swimmer at Fruita Monument who on Saturday led off the Wildcats’ fifth-place 100-yard backstroke relay team, will have left a relatively ancient city of Leipzig, Germany, and all the opera and theatre she absorbed.

In their place are bookcliffs and Munchies Pizza & Deli hamburgers and all the swimming and English she will have pounded into her mind.

The AP calculus and American history classes she takes will not transfer to her school in Germany.

“This is pretty much for fun,” she said.

Behrends, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blonde, bubbles over like a failed science fair volcano when she slices time off personal bests. There are different strokes of people, and Americans, it seems, don’t play “hard to get” in the friends department.

Behrends is used to a German culture in which only longtime friends get chummy. So to Behrends, the streets of Fruita and the school’s hallways are more of a city-wide fraternity.

“In school, when I’m walking down the hallway, people are like, ‘Emily! How are you doing?” Behrends said. “I say, “Hey. …’‘

She remembers names — even writes them down — and walks on. Behrends is on German time. Always.

“She keeps me on track,” Fruita coach Jessica Haley said. “We’ll be practicing and she’ll say, ‘Coach, we’ve got to get going.’ And I say, ‘Oh, we’re supposed to have a minute rest. That’s right.’ “

Teammate Nikki Milsap sometimes gives Behrends a ride home, where she stays with her father’s friends, Jack and Valerie Robison.

“We talk about swimming,” Milsap said. “How we have to practice at 5 a.m.”

Behrends will not be late. “German time” doesn’t allow it.

“She talks about German time,” Valerie said. “She says, ‘I have to be on German time.’ “

German time means on time. And she eats properly, Valerie said, always with a knife and fork. So it’s another contrast of cultures when 50 Cent and Eminem’s hip-hop music bumps from a nearby room. That’s just her temporary younger brother, Sawyer Robison, grooving out, and German opera it is not.

“She’s nice,” Sawyer said of Emily. “She puts up with my music.”

When she came to Fruita in August, Behrends tolerated a 10-hour plane ride from Paris to Salt Lake City and no sleep for 24 hours.

“My first though when I got off the plane?” Behrends said. “I was like, ‘Dang, this is a small airport.’ “

After a spring running track, Emily will return to Werner-Heisenberg Gymnasium, her high school, where she will have tales of gregarious Americans and fond memories from some place named Fruita Monument, where friends come easily and water was still water.


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