DALLAS – Saturday morning at the Dallas Middle School natatorium brought a group of swimmers to the pool to practice technique, seek out advice and improve as swimmers thanks to some instruction from a man familiar with time spent in a pool.
While this kind of day sounds routine to most who have experienced a formal practice or two in their time, the man in charge of the pool was certainly a step away from the norm.
Running Saturday’s sessions was Peter Vanderkaay, a three-time member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team and a four-time Olympic medalist.
“It’s been a good day, for sure,” said Vanderkaay. “The young kids came in and did a good job of soaking up the information, even though it’s a lot. I helped the older kids that came in fine tune the basics they already have down and the technical part of it all that will help them get better. And everybody’s been having fun today, which makes it all worthwhile.”
Throughout the day, swimmers had a chance to hop in the pool with Vanderkaay and practice the drills he was there to teach and even try them out against some experienced competition. At the end of the training, all were invited to take on Vanderkaay, lap for lap.
“When the kids got to race against him at the end of the practicing, especially the younger kids, they really enjoyed that,” said Romayne Mosier, head coach of the Dallas Mountaineers’ swim team, on hand for the day. “Though I have to admit, what’s really exciting for me is seeing the way the older kids listened to him and accepted the techniques he’s explaining to them and that you need them to work at. That’s absolutely going to make some things better for the team when practice rolls around.”
For the swimmers in attendance looking for lessons about an athlete coming from a humble start as a competitor who eventually became a champion, they definitely had a fine teacher.
“When I was younger the biggest thing for me was just to keep working at the sport,” said Vanderkaay. “I knew that the hard work would come back to me and help set me apart. I quickly noticed that the amount of effort and focus I put in was directly related to the success I put out.”
Vanderkayy began swimming at a young age and by his own admission was not a top competitor until later in high school. In his senior year of high school, he broke the Michigan state record in the 500-meter freestyle before moving on to swim for the Michigan Wolverines and eventually the national team.
While at Michigan, Vanderkaay earned his first gold medal as a member of the winning 800 freestyle relay team at the 2004 Olympics. From that point until the recent end of his competitive career, Vanderkaay added another gold medal in the same event to go with a bronze medal in the 200 freestyle at the 2008 games and a bronze in the 400 freestyle in the 2012 Olympics.
“I hope the kids on hand gather some inspiration from my story, that an everyday guy like myself can make it to the Olympics,” said Vanderkaay. “I think it helps them to realize that everyone they see on TV started off in the sport of swimming the way they did. It helps to give them a perspective on working hard in the sport.”