"We fought cancer together and would talk one-one-one about how we deal with it. I would think, ‘This little girl is schooling me on life.”
As our favorite banjo-strumming Muppet once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” While Kermit was singing about the challenges of being a green puppet, his song applies to the swimmers – or “frogs” – belonging to Frog Aquatics Swim Team in California’s Antelope Valley.
To be fair, Frog Aquatics isn’t supposed to be easy. In fact, its founder Mike Timperio, a former U.S. Marine, designed the swim program to effectively train young swimmers by pushing their mental and physical limits. But much like Kermit, and Marines, Timperio’s frogs have an incredible, family-like support system that pulls them through the toughest times.
Timpiero, 44, started swimming as a second grader in the early 1980’s, swam competitively for a club called the Aqua Colts at age 10 and swam on the varsity for four years at Antelope Valley's Palmdale High School.
Swimming became Timpiero's profession when he joined the Marines and was selected for a 12-person aquatic scout team. While he has fond memories of “fun stuff” like jumping out of helicopters and cruising around on rubber boats, one particular training exercise tested his courage.
Timperio and his outfit were dropped nearly a mile offshore in unfamiliar, pitch black Thailand waters and told to reach shore. As his fellow Marines grabbed his arm for assistance, Timperio felt another grab that belonged to neither human or fish.
“I called my officer ‘dude,’ and said ‘Dude, something just grabbed me,” Timperio said. “If it was teeth, that would have been okay because I would have know it was a fish or something. But it didn’t have teeth, it just grabbed on, held me for a minute or two and let go.
“We were all pretty scared after that.”
Timperio, then 32, found himself in unfamiliar waters again in 2006 when he left the Marines to found Frog Aquatics. While he knew swimming better than most, the business end – or “dry side” – was completely foreign to him, providing a constant stream of challenges, namely the cost of renting pool time. However, Timperio was motivated by his belief that he could provide a structure that teaches young swimmers to set and achieve goals.
On the wet side, Timperio combined his background in competitive and scout swimming to design workouts for frogs in three genres of ability. He said he never gives the full practice regiment ahead of time. Instead, if his final goal is for the kids to swim 2,500 meters during practice, he will tell them they are going to do three 200-meter swims, then he’ll add a few more, then a few more, all while judging their stamina and attitude.
“Instead of focusing on 2,500 meters, they focus on a few sets at a time,” Timperio said. “Pretty soon these kids come to practice knowing they are about to get wrecked. It builds their minds. They are strong-willed kids, and they keep me young.”
During its first decade, Frog Aquatics became one of the most consistent and competitive teams in the Antelope Valley. In 2016, Team USA’s performance at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games led to a surge of new swimmers and sent Timperio in search of additional coaches and administrators. He found help for the dry side when a horse-riding, high heel-wearing real estate agent named Linda Arquieta-Herrera brought her son Cruz Anthony for a tryout.
“Her kid could not swim worth anything,” Timperio recalled. “I’m looking at this kid doggy-paddling at his tryout, and Linda was begging me to give him a chance. I did, and he caught on quick. From there, Linda and I started our professional relationship.”
Arquieta-Herrera’s business background includes more than 23 years heading the Records Management department at UCLA and 12 years practicing and teaching real estate. She quickly embedded herself at Frog Aquatics as a swim cheerleader and the driving force behind the program’s marketing efforts. She teamed up with Team Unify’s Matt Emerson to learn how to operate Frog Aquatics’ website.
Name: Linda Arquieta-Herrera
Resides in: Palmdale, California
Family: Husband, Cruz; son, Cruz Anthony (12)
Occupation: Adjunct Faculty at Antelope Valley College, Team Administrator at Frog Aquatics
Interests: Charity work, cheering on Frog Aquatics swimmers and taking care of a rescue dog named Chance and four rescue horses.
Arquieta-Herrera, standing five-foot-three-inches without heels, also convinced barrel-chested Timperio to reach out to home-schooled and charter-schooled swimmers to bring them into the Frogs family. They began by offering swimming lessons for 20 kids from a charter school. Forty-five showed up.
“I’m completely making Mike go bald,” Arquieta-Herrera said. “But the kids at non-traditional schools need that team bonding more than anyone. These kids become each other’s family and seek each other out when times are tough.”
Recently, times have been tough for Arquieta-Herrera and the Aquatic Frog family. In August 2016, Arquieta-Herrera was diagnosed with rectal cancer, underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments simultaneously and had surgery to remove a blockage in December 2016. Having never been separated from her son for even a day, she spent two six-week stints at the UCLA Medical Center with the community driving her to treatments and bringing meals to her family.
Despite the constant pain of chemotherapy and radiation, Arquieta-Herrera continued to work at Frog Aquatics on daily basis, even making calls and sending emails from the hospital. Frog Aquatics not only served as a distraction from the pain, but Arquieta-Herrera said being with the team made her feel stronger, especially on days when getting to the pool seemed impossible.
“There were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed and Mike would call and say, ‘Get out of bed, you are my business partner!’ ” Arquieta-Herrera said. “He would give the push I needed to get up, and I think that helped me recover.”
The team administrator kept in touch with Emerson at Team Unify to continue working on the Frog Aquatics website. Emerson said it wasn’t uncommon for Arquieta-Herrera to send emails that he couldn’t understand. To work around the garbled emails, the two corresponded over the phone and got to know each other better.
There were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed and Mike would call and say, ‘Get out of bed, you are my business partner!
- Linda Arquieta-Herrera
“Linda was always full of love and appreciation,” Emerson said. “When SportsEngine bought Team Unify I had the opportunity to become an account manager. Linda caught wind of this and wrote me an amazing reference letter and myself and the rest of our tech support crew. She didn’t have to do that, but that’s just who she is.”
Arquieta-Herrera also used her sense of humor and larger-than-life personality to maintain normality throughout treatment. Her doctors claimed she was the only person to wear heels to radiation, and even tried to walk around in them during treatment. She used the term “chemo brain” to explain her garbled emails and cracked one-liners like, “Someone grab my hair so it doesn’t blow away,” on windy days.
The Frog Aquatics community also supported Arquieta-Herrera by giving Cruz Anthony a support system and much-needed routine while his mother fought for her life. Just like when he was learning to swim for Tempiero, the 12-year-old was forced to learn new skills and rely on a routine.
“It gave me a tough time, especially when she was away for six weeks at time,” Cruz Anthony said. “To stay motivated I kept going on my normal schedule while making time to visit her on the weekends. I started learning how to take care of the horses and do more around the ranch. I learned more about the car, the trash and taking care of the dog.”
Cruz Anthony said Tempiero and Frog Aquatics taught him how to be self-motivated both in the water and in other areas of his life. When he is swimming, he can hear Tempiero encouraging him to kick his legs by yelling, “Out! Out!”
Arquieta-Herrera also found support in an eight-year-old named Emily Jarquin battling her fourth round of brain tumors. Arquieta-Herrera had met Jarquin and her mother, Olivia, while volunteering at Cruz Anthony’s school.
“Emily and her mom were the first ones at my door when I was diagnosed,” Arquieta-Herrera said. “They would pray for me in the midst of her chemo, and she would sneak up to the door and put flowers on it. We fought cancer together and would talk one-one-one about how we deal with it. I would think, ‘This little girl is schooling me on life.’ ”
Jarquin shared her desires with Arquieta-Herrera, which included travelling the world and, more immediately, becoming a frog.
Tempiero said Emily’s determination was nothing less than inspiring to himself and the other frogs.
“It was an honor to be put in that situation with Emily,” Tempiero said. “It wasn’t a good situation, but her motivation to get on the team - it touched me. She was doing her private lessons in the back yard and got to the point where she was able to become a member of Frog Aquatics.”
It meant everything to her to be a frog.
- Linda Arquieta-Herrera on Emily Jarquin
At the pool, Jarquin enjoyed showing off her teddy bear collection and making sure everyone knew which stuffed animal she would be cuddling that night. In 2018, her cancer returned and she became a self-proclaimed “frog on hiatus.”
“She always talked about getting back in the pool,” Arquieta-Herrera said. “It meant everything to her to be a frog. She just loved to be on the team and being seen as a regular kid on the team.”
Jarquin lost her battle to cancer in April 2018, and Arqueita-Herrera couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed as more than 1,200 people attended her wake. Arquieta-Herrera and her son are continuing Jarquin’s efforts to raise cancer awareness through the Ronald McDonald House, Children’s Hospital and other local programs.
“I’ve learned that this team is more than just a team,” Arquieta-Herrera said. “It’s a harbor for kids facing tough issues and dealing with them together. For the hour that they are here, those troubles melt away and they are just another swimmer on the team.”
As for Arquieta-Herrera, who received clean scans in April 2018 but was still dealing with a intense, constant pain leftover from radiation, Frog Aquatics is a place where polar-opposite personalities, like hers and Tempiero’s, combine to accomplish great things.
“I’m here to annoy people with my heels on the swimming deck for as long as possible,” Arquieta-Herrera said. “Once you get beat up by treatment, you learn to cling to yourself even harder to get through. I grew up with my mom telling me, ‘You have to put yourself together before you leave your house.’ And that’s what I do.”
Tempiero said although Arquieta-Herrera’s work often goes unnoticed, she provides the backbone to Frog Aquatics.
“Her job is not glorified by any means, and it’s grueling,” Tempiero said. “That woman went through Hell. Her spirit animal is a beast.”