The North County man working to bring his newly formed Afghan water polo team to the U.S. to train for the Olympics is tackling obstacles one at a time.
In January 2008, Piasecki landed in Afghanistan, tasked with training the Afghan Army in administration. He was assigned to the Afghanistan National Arm Base Pol-E-Charki, about 15 miles east of Kabul.
When he noticed an unfilled swimming pool near the compound, the former water polo coach got an idea.
In a country where organized sports were outlawed by the Taliban for years, where there are just more than a dozen active pools, where it's estimated that less than 20% of the population even knows how to swim, Piasecki is coaching the first-ever Afghanistan national water polo team.
Most of the athletes had never seen a pool before. They normally swim in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
“It was very exciting for them to get to learn a new sport that they’d never learned before; experience something new and it was great,” he said.
But in the eyes of the Afghans and Coach Piasecki, playing water polo is about much more than just fun and games. They’ve got a serious goal in mind.
Piasecki is raising money to bring the entire team to San Diego to train this spring. Southern California offers the most opportunities to train and compete with other teams. Coaches have been lined up and area pools have been offered.
None of the team has flown on an airplane. The average education level is the third grade. Many have never lived with running water, electricity or traffic.
“If we can take these athletes and get them to the Olympics, but more importantly, develop heroes for Afghanistan. Tell them that it’s ok to dream, tell them to live their dreams,” he said. “Once these athletes come home, Afghanistan will be such a better place.”
The team still needs visas, transportation to the United States, and housing once they get here, according to the North County Times.
California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are working to get the visas approved and to secure government transportation for the team, possibly aboard military aircraft, Piasecki said. Private donors have been offering their frequent flier miles as well, he added.
Piasecki also plans to ask the Vista City Council for a special permit to allow a one-time exception for the team to live at the shelter while it's not being used for the homeless.
He said he also plans to ask the city for low-cost pool time.
Contact Afghanistan Water Polo if you’d like to find out more about how you can help.