By Jonathan Van Dyke
ContributorObserved Saturday afternoon at the Coggan Family Aquatic Center on a rare scorching La Jolla weekend: A little girl, grin ear to ear, scurrying toward her family after holding a piece of Olympic gold.
“Momma, they’re heavy.”
For many of the kids - ages 5 years to high school - who gathered to meet Olympians Misty Hyman, Ben Wildman-Trobriner and Ous Mellouli for the Swim Champions Fitter and Faster Tour, the fun was indeed surreal.
Who’s your favorite?
“I think, all of them,” said Pierce Dietze, 8, who swims for the local Windansea team.
Word is that you’ll be racing at the end, do you think you have a chance against an Olympic gold medalist?
“Yes,” he said, sporting a confident smile.
For the three gold medalists, events like these give them a chance to help maintain and grow the sport.
“It’s the kind of thing that’s really never been done at this scale,” said Wildman-Trobriner, who won gold with the 4x100 freestyle team in 2008. “It is critically important for the development of the sport, especially now, when the popularity of swimming is at an all-time high.”
With the sun beaming down on a simmering day, the athletes were quick to let the kids in the pool, but not before offering up their own stories of triumph and determination.
Hyman, a butterfly gold medalist in 2000, talked about being a heavy underdog in the most difficult race of her life.
“Really, I was just happy to be there,” she said, noting that most swimmers had a look of determination, but that the cameras caught her grinning. “Why was I able to smile on one of the most important days of my life? Well, when I went out there and swam I was free to express myself the best way I can,” she said.
“Put everything into it, and you’ll be a winner no matter what.”
Dozens of kids and parents packed under the canopy to escape the sun and comb the Olympians for knowledge, but the real fun began in the water.
Kids divided up, warmed up and then received some instructions from each professional swimmer. The day began with drills for sculling - a warmup stroke that has the swimmers arch their feet out of the water - to end-of-the-day races.
The experience was good for all involved in a celebration of sport.
“This is awesome and very exciting,” said Mellouli, a national hero in Tunisia for wining gold in The Mile in 2008, before jumping in the pool for some drills. “It’s a beautiful location; it can’t get any better than this.”