Local kids travel to Bolivia for futbol

After a month of running sprints through shallow rivers, and practicing twice a day at the world famous Tahuichi Way Soccer Program in Bolivia, Landon Roser and Kirkwood Harris said they became "Americasick."

And grew tired of eating chicken and rice.

"That's all they would eat," Roser jokingly said, who along with Harris stayed with a Bolivian family during their stay in Santa Cruz, which is Bolivia's second-largest city.

Roser and Harris, who are both Carson High School students, knew a bit of Spanish, but overcoming the language barrier took some time.

On the soccer field, the coaches used translators to communicate with the campers. Luckily, off the field it wasn't much of a problem.

"We had a guy that was from Bolivia but goes to college here (United States)," said Roser, who will be a junior next fall. "He knew English, and we could communicate with him."

Two soccer practices a day for a month is rigorous anywhere, but at Tahuichi (pronounced tah-WEE-chee), it tends to be harder than the norm.

The camp's first week involves fitness training, which besides river running, also included running to the top of towering sand dunes. Not exactly what most teenagers envision for their summer plans.

"It was intense but it was also fun," said Harris, who will be a sophomore. "You work hard, but sometimes you really don't notice you're tired until that night when you go to bed."

The second and third weeks focused on technical and tactical work, which basically meant soccer drills and strategies. And the last week was spent playing games, although the fields weren't the same as the ones they are used to playing on.

"The ground was hard, bumpy, almost like concrete," Harris said.

The program normally has more than 3,000 yearly participants between the ages of 6-19, and it has had 150,000-plus kids since its inception in 1978. Major League Soccer's Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno both participated in the program, and its reputation worldwide has been noticed by the some of the game's greatest players.

"Tahuichi has caused a revolution in youth soccer around the world," former Brazilian soccer star Pele' once said about the program.

Roser and Harris started playing soccer when they were 5 years old. When they're not playing high school soccer, they play on their High Desert Elite club team, which is also made up of Carson players.

Preparing for the upcoming high school season is one of the main reasons Harris got interested in the Tahuichi program.

"I first heard about it three years ago and was psyched about going," Harris said. "I planned it before the high school season so I could get ready for it."

Because of the camp's popularity, Roser and Harris had to sign up a year in advance. But before that they had run the idea - and most importantly, the bill - by their parents.

"My parents knew I wanted to do it," Roser said of his parents' supportive reaction to the program's high cost.

And at $3,000 per person, they both were quick to point out that they will be doing plenty of extra chores around the house to offset the cost.

But Tahuichi wasn't just about soccer for Roser and Harris. It provided an eye-opening experience through soccer that gave them a chance to see a different way of life.

"You would have the rich community and then the poor community," Roser said of Santa Cruz's lack of economic diversity.

They mentioned about all the little kids they saw playing soccer barefoot in the streets and how passionate Bolivians are about soccer. And, unlike in America, they said soccer fields are everywhere, instead of football and baseball fields.

Harris added that he was shocked to see that not everybody had cars in Bolivia. But the most obvious thing was soccer's popularity.

"It's definitely the most popular sport," Harris said. "They live, breathe, and eat soccer."

Or at least chicken and rice.

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