By Brandon Hensley
In November, the first ever men’s water polo team from Afghanistan will fly to San Diego in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics. So naturally, one local resident’s way of helping the team came in the form of … line dancing?
Last Sunday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, Sally Gilles, with the help of her parents and friends, held a fundraiser for the water polo team by encouraging those willing and able to try something new.
The entrance fee was $10 per person, and $20 to buy a T-shirt supporting the Afghan team, which plays in a country with just 13 pools and limited resources.
“I had everything handed to me,” said Gilles. “I didn’t have to pay for anything, and then this comes along and they have nothing. They only have 13 pools … and I said if I can play for free why can’t they?”
Gilles is a sophomore at Cal Lutheran University. She is also a former Crescenta Valley water polo player, where her teams won Pacific League every year of her career. When her mother Heidi read about the plight of the Afghan team last year, Gilles wanted to do something about it.
She thought about holding an event at her house, but decided otherwise when thinking of the small space. Soon though, Gilles came up with this idea. She is a regular line dancer at clubs and the YMCA allowed her to put on the event for free.
All proceeds from the night will go toward room and board for the team, once they arrive in the U.S.
“They don’t have enough money to decide where they’re going to go yet. They have the airline tickets but besides that they don’t have anything else,” said Gilles.
The team’s story has been well documented as of late. U.S. Marine Jeremy Piasecki, who has been stationed overseas, has been trying to put together a team for about three years. The Afghan government recently made water polo a national sport, and now Piasecki has a pledge from Delta Airlines to send them to Southern California this fall.
Not only are the resources tough in Afghanistan, but there are also restrictions. The players can’t swim during the holy month of Ramadan because it is forbidden to ingest anything and water is certainly something that can be ingested while swimming.
The team’s goal is to train hard, but not to make next summer’s games in London, but rather for 2016 when the Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro.
And here is Gilles and her family to support them.
“I just thought it was so cool … that a Marine could start something that had never happened in that country and make a kinship between the cultures,” said Heidi.
Gilles, dressed in cut-off jeans and boots, had about seven different dances to teach those who showed up, including “The Cupid Shuffle,” which is well known and easy to learn. About an hour into it, the place began fill up and Gilles was confident more were going to make it. She sent out mass invitations on Facebook and put up flyers around town.
Gilles said her friends and others she knew were enthusiastic to learn line dancing because, “A lot of people around here haven’t really done it before.”
So in a way, Gilles broke new ground, just like the Afghan water polo players are hoping to do for their country.