Posted inArts & Culture

More than medals: Fort Worth swimmers look to build friendships during international meet in Italy

At age 9, Fort Worth resident Valeria Venegas started swimming at the Amon Carter Jr. Downtown YMCA to get over her fear of water. She started really enjoying the sport, she said.

Valeria, 15, is part of a 12-person team of Fort Worth teenagers competing in the seventh Tricolore Youth Sports Games in Reggio Emilia, Italy, one of Fort Worth’s sister cities. 

Nearly 100 young athletes will be representing Fort Worth in Italy and are the only teams representing the U.S., according to officials. The competition runs from July 24-30.

Valeria Venegas swims during a meet in Mansfield on June 4, 2023. (Courtesy photo | Valeria Venegas)

Fort Worth Sister Cities has sent young athletes to the Tricolore Youth Sports Games since 1997. The competition is hosted every four years.

Before flying to Europe on July 22, Valeria relished the opportunity to connect with other athletes. 

Daniel Zimpelman swims breaststroke at the Red, White, & Blue Long Course meet in Tyler on June 30, 2023. (Courtesy photo | Leslie Zimpelman)

“I’ve only gone to Mexico. Italy is just very far away. It’s very different. I just know it’s going to be very exciting,” Valeria said.

Valeria swims year-round with the Sigma swimming club and is part of the team at R.L. Paschal High School. Valeria enjoys the sport, but balancing swim practice and school can be difficult. 

“It can get a bit frustrating, but you just have to push through in the sport,” she said. 

Practice has been easy and hard for Sigma team member Daniel Zimpelman. Winning might be everything for a teen his age, but Daniel, 15, sees it as more than that — it’s about who he swims with.

“All the amazing people I met and coaches that taught me. That’s one thing I like about it.” he said.

Tricolore Youth Sports Games

Fort Worth and Reggio Emilia have been sister cities since 1985. The city has participated in the Tricolore Youth Sports Games since 1997.

  • The Games started in 1997 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Italian flag.
  • The national flag originated in Reggio Emilia on January 7, 1797.
  • Hosted in Reggio Emilia, Italy, every four years.
  • In 2018, 1,000 athletes represented 22 countries. 
  • Reggio Emilia’s sister cities from various countries participate, along with other cities who have established ties

Coach Abby Harbour picked swimmers because of their speed, but that wasn’t the only quality she wanted. The dozen swimmers were picked because they would appreciate the experience abroad and forge friendships with athletes from all over the world, she said. 

“The kids can see how even though we all come from different backgrounds, speak different languages and come from very different places that we have so many similarities in the things that we do,” Harbour said. 

Fort Worth Sister Cities has maintained a relationship with Reggio Emilia since 1985. Mae Ferguson, CEO and president of Fort Worth Sister Cities, said the competition is part of a series of events that bring the two cities closer. 

“The whole point behind these diversity programs and exchanges is all about bringing people together from other cultures,” Ferguson said. “You learn to understand that culture and understanding leads to respect and respect leads to less conflict in the future.”

Marcela Sanchez is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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