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It's Friday night at the Bain Schubert on St. Lawrence Boulevard — one of those inner-city Montreal pools built in the '30s. An 11-year-old boy sighs while reading the line-up of teams for this weekend's Coupe de Montréal provincial championships. "Not LEM," he moans.
LEM stands for Les épaulards (killer whales) de Montréal, the Hochelaga nemesis of the eight- to 12-year-old Schubert swimmers.
David Paradelo, the team's coach and a senior A player himself, reassures the boy. "Last year, it was CAEM (Club Aquatique de l'est de Montréal) that was hard to beat. But with every game, we improved. Finally, at the Jeux de Montréal (Montreal's Olympics for six- to 12-year-olds) we beat them to win the gold.
"It's all a question of heart," he laughs, patting the boy's heart.
Heart is something Paradelo, a 20-year-old, second-year student in chemical engineering, knows something about. At five feet, seven inches, he's an unlikely candidate for playing water polo at the national level, much less for being in the club of Canada's top10 scorers. Water polo players tend to be tall or ox-like. Well-muscled as he is, the slightly-built Paradelo is neither.
But just as small hockey players have Martin St. Louis to look up to as one who bucked the odds, small water polo players have Manuel Estiarte, the five-feet, nine-inches Spanish multi-Olympian who is considered one of the best players of all time.
“He was small and trained a lot by himself,” says Paradelo who, with his parents being immigrants from Spain, shares Estiarte’s heritage. “I always thought: If he can do it, I can do it.”
Persistence is a quality Paradelo is long on. As a child, he excelled in school, travelling miles by metro from the east-end house he still lives in with his parents first to an international school, then to Les petits chanteurs de Montréal, the prestigious choir school near St. Joseph's Oratory where he would sing the Sunday masses.
At the same time, he was swimming and diving competitively and began to play water polo when he was nine at the neighbourhood pool, Édouard-Montpetit, where he now teaches water polo in the sports program at École secondaire Édouard-Montpetit.
Paradelo began coaching children in his last year of CEGEP. He favours teaching the "minis" (atoms, in English) who, being anywhere from six to 12 years old, are the youngest players. "It's best to get them when they're young in order to teach them persistence," he says.
"I want them to be a bit competitive, to push them beyond:‘It's too hard, David,'" he chuckles, adding that water polo is a game that requires "managing the levels of difficulty."
As for his own preparation for the next level — in water polo or in chemical engineering — Paradelo is weighing his options. The plan is to finish his degree, continue with coaching and playing water polo, then, his degree completed, head to Spain to play professionally.
Unlike in Canada, "where you pay to play," he laments, water polo in Europe is a high-prestige, high-paying sport, second only to soccer. He's considering looking for work in the pharmaceutical sector as a company representative, a position in which he can travel and use his four languages, Spanish, French, Galician and English, and still have time for his sport. "Maybe I'll invent a soap that removes chlorine from your skin," he jokes.
Even when he's overloaded with schoolwork, Paradelo rarely misses a game or practice. "Whenever I have stopped water polo for exams, I didn't do any better. The sport helps me to relax and to concentrate."