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NYC youth swim team pools resources to help Puerto Rico

The repaired pool and bleachers of the Club

The repaired pool and bleachers of the Club de Natación swim team in Caguas, Puerto Rico, that were damaged after Hurricane Maria and fixed with the help of funds raised by an NYC swim team. Credit: Club de Natación / Gizelle Castro

After superstorm Sandy destroyed the Manhattan Youth Triton swim team’s pool, $2 million in donations poured in to help rebuild it.

More than five years later, it was the Triton’s turn to give back.

Led by Coach Jen Prince, the team of grade school and middle school swimmers raised $17,000 to help rebuild a pool in Puerto Rico used by a youth swim team but ruined last fall when Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

In tribute to the Tritons, 55 school-aged children from Caguas, Puerto Rico, will wear uniforms with the Manhattan team’s logo when they compete in a championship swim meet there in March.

The donation “was a blessing,” said Lee Nieves, whose daughter Daniella Estella, 12, swims for the Caguas team, which was back in its refurbished pool Jan. 29, thanks to the Tritons and other donations.

Daniella Estella cried in a telephone interview as she expressed her gratitude for help getting the team’s pool repaired, her passion for swimming and her sadness over many teammates who left for the U.S. after Hurricane Maria flattened their homes.

“I love my team and I am happy that we are back in the pool,’’ Daniella Estella said.

“Why are you crying now?,’’ asked her mother.

“I missed the pool, my friends . . . I don’t know if I will ever see them again,’’ Daniella Estella answered.

After Hurricane Maria, Prince searched for community swim teams in Puerto Rico to help. Last month in a swimathon, the Tritons raised the $17,000 for Club de Natación in Caguas.

After Hurricane Maria, Club de Natación’s pool was filled with green water, and inundated with fallen trees, debris from bleachers and downed electrical poles, all of which were removed by parents and municipal workers in the aftermath of the September Category 4 storm.

“There was no electricity, but we were alive,” said Gizelle Castro, president of Club de Natación. “The head coaches left town and the kids had no one. It has been a sad change.”

But the parents pulled together, she said. They had track and field practices to keep the swimmers in shape, which gave them a feeling of resilience, she said.

Triton team member Sadie Sadler, 13, an eighth-grader at Packer Collegiate in Brooklyn, said she made an immediate connection to the Caguas team. She swam 125 laps in an hour and raised $1,000.

“When I heard about the hurricane I immediately thought about my baby sitter. She is from Puerto Rico and it was sad to hear about her family who lost their home.’’

During the swimathon, Sadler said, the photo images of the devastated Caguas pool were in her head.

“I was thinking about the kids who could not swim,” Sadler said. “I thought about how important it is emotionally and physically for me to swim.”

Izzy Sartori, 11, a sixth-grader at Salk School of Science in Manhattan, said raising money in the swimathon “made me feel proud that I did something I love for a real good cause.”

The fundraiser “made everything more real for the kids,’’ said Wendy Chapman of TriBeCa, whose son Dean, is a Triton. “Sometimes we live in little bubbles and a tragedy like Hurricane Maria reminds us that we need something normal when our world is turned upside down.’’

But the team is not out of the dark. Puerto Rico is facing another “wolf” Castro said.

The government and the electrical company are fighting whether to approve a $300 million loan needed to keep the lights on. If not, the island will have to ration their electricity. “We will face the wolf like we did Maria,’’ said a defiant Castro.

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