For Immediate Release
Date: August 31, 2023

Public Affairs Officer


Swim The Race The Way You Trained For It

DoDEA school counselor earns victory at World Championships


A Department of Defense Education Activity Ramey Unit School counselor made waves on the international stage, showcasing remarkable skill and determination at the recently concluded World Aquatics Masters Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. This edition of the championships was the first since 2019 due to the global pandemic, and it attracted more than 6,000 athletes aged 25 to 89+.

"The world championships are an incredible experience. You see athletes of all ages from all over the world, and we all share a love for the sport," said Maria Valerio, a school counselor at Ramey Unit School in Puerto Rico. "For me, it is a sisterhood and a brotherhood. And it is inspiring to see the older athletes in their 70s and 80s still kicking it in the pool. It makes me want to keep doing it for a very long time!"

Valerio, a seasoned competitor, stood out from the field, becoming the world champion in the 800-meter freestyle event within the 50-54 age group. This victory complemented performances that earned her silver medals in the 400-meter individual medley and the 200-meter butterfly. And a bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke, alongside a commendable fourth-place finish in the grueling 3000-meter open water race.

"Swimming is a demanding sport. Most swimmers sacrifice a lot: personally, professionally, mentally, and physically. We get up early to practice for hours before work or school. Most people are still sleeping," said Valerio. "Practices are brutal. They can be repetitive; some would say boring! But I love it. I love the mental and physical challenge."

Having previously competed in the World Aquatics Masters Championships in 2012 and 2017, Valerio's journey to success reflects years of dedication and commitment to the sport. Originating from a background in competitive swimming, she represented Puerto Rico at the Pan-American Games and swam at the collegiate level in the Division 1 program at Boston College. After a hiatus of 15 years, while she earned a master’s degree and raised a family, she returned to the pool, securing a prominent role in the Puerto Rican masters league, winning multiple medals.

Beyond the podium finishes and accolades, the true essence of swimming resonates deeply with Valerio. Early morning training sessions, camaraderie among fellow swimmers, and the personal challenge to consistently push boundaries form the foundation of her motivation and love for the sport.

"I hope that people see what I did in the competition as a positive example-- that you can achieve your goals when you work hard," said Valerio. "I don't know if they realize how much work I have to put in."

Valerio's journey is a clear example of the rewards of hard work and dedication. While the intricate details of driving for hours to early-morning practices and the grueling training regimens might remain hidden, the message of perseverance is seen in the accomplishments. By sharing her experiences during assemblies and engaging with the local swim team, Valerio hopes to inspire the next generation to chase their dreams with unwavering determination.

“We face a lot of challenges here,” said Valerio. “And the support of my Ramey family was invaluable. I am truly grateful for my Ramey family.

Navigating through challenges is a critical part of any journey, and Valerio's path to success is no exception. Overcoming obstacles such as power outages and natural disasters, which have impacted Puerto Rico’s training facilities in recent years, emphasizes this swimmer's resilience and unwavering commitment.

"I enjoy competing, but most of the satisfaction doesn't come from the medal," said Valerio. "It comes from swimming the race the way you trained for it." 

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