Feature by Steven Munatones
SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 4. DURING the welcome dinner at the RCP Tiburon Mile, 20 pool and open water swimming Olympians and world champions were asked by race founder Bob Placak, "Who is the person in your life who most inspired you to become the athlete that you are?"
As many elites of the pool and open water swimming worlds looked on, the swimmers took the podium one-by-one to give heartfelt answers.
Thomas Lurz, a multi-time world open water swimming champion and Olympic 10K bronze medalist said, "My parents and older brother, who is now my coach, inspired me. My parents always supported me. They took me to school, gave me money and helped me through university. It is important to have such parents. We could not do it without them. My father died last year, but he would be happy to see that I am still training hard."
Erik Vendt, medalist from the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, answered, "I could not do it without my parents and older sister. My parents drove me to practice so I could pursue my dreams in the pool. They were always supportive of me and instilled in me my work ethic. They clawed their way up from nothing."
Chip Peterson, the 2005 world 10K champion from University of North Carolina, reflected, "I am a very competitive person. I like to win like every one of the other athletes here. I have had that desire since I was a kid. But, I needed to focus that energy. The person who most inspired me was my former coach, Catherine Vogt who is now at USC. It was her enthusiasm and uncompromising support that really helped me. I owe it to her and we still talk once a week about competition, workouts and everything."
Chloe Sutton, multiple national open water champion and Pan American Games 10K champion, said, "In my life, my parents have always been there for me. My father is an extremely strong person, a football player from Air Force, and he always has good words for me when I am feeling low. Another person who has helped me is Coach Rose. I am from a military family and have moved 12 times. When we moved to Mission Viejo, I met Bill Rose and he always makes me feel happy and motivated. He makes me want to swim fast, not only for myself, but also for him."
Melvin Stewart, the 1992 gold medalist in the 200 butterfly, gave a passionate tribute to George Baxter. "I had a mentor – Mr. B – who was 50 years my mentor. He paid my way to high school and I hope everyone has someone like that in their lives. [His help] was pure love. After the Olympics, I gave him my gold medal. He passed away five years ago, but I think about him every single day."
Brendan Capell, 2004 world 25K champion from Australia, said, "A career does not happen without one's parents, taking us to 5 am morning workouts and driving us on all-weekend car pools. Also, we have a rich history of distance swimming in Australia that we are proud of. Swimmers like Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett are leaders and who always give advice and the time of day to anyone who asks."
Sergiy Fesenko, 2004 Olympian and 5-time NCAA All-American, explained humorously, "My dad was the Olympic champion and he inspired me. But he wanted me to play ice hockey. I had to carry my bag every day with all my stuff: skates, uniform, everything. It was so heavy. It was hard. But one day, he said I could try swimming. So, I carried all my stuff in a bag: it was a towel, goggles and suit. I compared the bags…and chose swimming. I have had good swims and bad swims. But swimming has enabled me to see the world and given me my friends. I want to thank my dad again."
Jonny Moseley, gold medalist in the 1998 Winter Olympics, said, "I am forever grateful to Bob Placak. I did the Superstars competition years ago and was competing against all these ball and stick guys. I thought there was no way I could compete against them, but I got second place. I was shocked because supposedly us mogul guys don't train at all. But I got second in my second year, too. So, I thought I can try to win this thing. I am from this area and was introduced to Bob. I did a bunch of swim training with Bob. At the next Superstars competition, things were going well. I was getting ready for my swim, spitting in my goggles like all you guys do. Now, I have a pretty high tolerance for pain like most good athletes. I was standing them and then felt a sharp pain in my foot. Oh, it was terrible. I basically swam my race with a dead foot. Later, the doctors told me I was stung by a sting ray. But, I am grateful to Bob for all the help he has provided me."
Eva Fabian, an up-and-coming 15 year old 10K swimmer, said, "The people who have inspired me are all my family members: my father, mother and brother. My dad is also my coach and he is the best coach and best father you could have. My brother is the best [workout] competitor you could have. He is great to chance in the water."
John Flanagan, a top open water swimmer from Honolulu, said, "I get older year by year and everyone seems to stay the same. The person who inspires me is Bob Placak. Every year, he keeps calling me and asking me to participate here. So I keep on training so I can stay in shape. Bob's encouragement helps make fitness become a lifestyle for me. If Bob did not invite me to compete, I would be at least 50 pounds heavier. The whole experience here in Tiburon is great. Bob puts on a great show and makes his invitation to compete hard to turn down."
Today, the elite swimmers will be giving a clinic to many of the 900 swimmers who will gather in the 64° waters of San Francisco Bay for the 9th Annual RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim on Sunday.