Third-graders get in the swim with Olympic medalist
By Terry Oparka
March 19, 2013
Olympic gold and bronze medalist Peter Vanderkaay told the Barnard Elementary School third-graders he wasn’t always a good swimmer.
“I started swimming when I was 7 years old,” he said.
Vanderkaay said he got interested in swimming because his older brother was a really good swimmer, and swimming was something he liked. “It’s important to make sure you’re having fun,” Vanderkaay said. “I like being in the water.”
He said when he was in the eighth-grade he quit all other sports — soccer, basketball and baseball — to focus only on swimming.
Vankerkaay, a Rochester native, stopped by the school March 11 with the Olympic medals he was awarded in the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, Bejing in 2008 and London last summer at the invitation of his cousin, third-grade teacher Meghan Mulhern Waldron.
He won the bronze medal in the 400 meter freestyle last summer. He won a bronze medal in the 200 meter freestyle in the 2008 Olympics, and two gold medals as part of the U.S. team in the 200 meter freestyle relay in 2004 and 2008.
He told the students that, to train for the Olympics, he attended 10 practice sessions each week and swam the equivalent of 35 miles a week.
“Sometimes I didn’t want to get up at 5 a.m. to get into the pool,” he said.
When one of the third-graders asked him who his rival was, Vanderkaay said that his teammate Michael Phelps also swam the 400 meter freestyle and won the gold medal in London.
“We were competitors,” he said.
Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, Vanderkaay said his long arms helped him to pull more water.
He elicited excitement from the third-graders when he said he met the U.S. female gymnasts in the Olympics cafeteria in London last summer.
He showed slides of his family, who accompanied him on his trip to London, and explained how there were people there who spoke many different languages to give directions to the Olympians.
When Barnard Principal Mary Haezebrouck asked him if he planned to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Vanderkaay said he was retired from swimming but will continue to swim for his own enjoyment.
Vanderkaay’s visit fit in well with the third-graders’ lessons on goal setting, Waldron said. “It was perfect,” she said.
Haezebrouck added that one of the third-graders’ character trait goals was to develop perseverance, which Vanderkaay exemplified.
“I wasn’t good for a long time,” Vanderkaay said of his swimming expertise. “I was always getting beat. I realized I had to set goals.”
About the author
Staff Writer Terry Oparka covers Troy and the Troy School District for the Troy Times. Oparka has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2000 and attended Oakland University and Macomb Community College. Oparka has won an award from the Michigan Press Association and three awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter.
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