Age: 17

High school: St. Thomas Aquinas

College: Elon (N.C.) University or Wake Forest

Alex Giordanella learned the true meaning of commitment when she started swimming nine years ago.

Growing up, Giordanella took ice skating lessons, went to karate school with her father and played the piano until last year, but it was swimming that taught her what it takes to be committed to a single goal.

“I wanted to improve,” Giordanella said. “Swimming was more than I expected at first. It took a lot more commitment than anything else I did. You had to go to practice, work hard, stay dedicated. It was more of a team thing.”

Giordanella competed in the 50 and 100 freestyle events and relays.

“The sport helped me make a lot of good friends but the biggest thing was it taught me commitment,” she said. “There were times I didn’t want to go and times it was hard, but I am definitely glad I stuck through it.”

Giordanella said it helped having neighbors (the Monaghan family) who swam with the Coral Springs Swim Club. She also liked that her younger sister Brianna wanted to swim, too. Brianna, 15, also swims with the Coral Springs Swim Club and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Giordanella said the ribbons that she won at swim meets were gratifying and kept her working hard in the pool. She was also team captain of her high school team.

“It’s just the little things like that mattered to me,” Giordanella said. “I didn’t go to Junior Olympics, I wasn’t that good. When I got to the Division II meet and got those ribbons it meant so much to me and showed me what commitment really is.

“Being a team captain was fun. It was really cool getting the team pumped up. We did really well. I am so glad I stayed with swimming.”

She hopes to continue swimming at the club level and recreationally while she focuses on her future as a veterinarian.

Sharon Robb can be reached at


Age: 17

High school: Cypress Bay

College: Indiana at Bloomington


Two years ago, Brittney Phelan was beginning to have second thoughts about swimming.

It was the end of her sophomore year at Cypress Bay High School and the talented breaststroker was having a hard time in workouts.

“I wanted to quit very badly,” Phelan said. 

“I was training but I wasn’t doing well and I wasn’t sure why. I was second guessing myself. I honestly wanted to quit. It was just a year where I wasn’t doing anything with my swimming. But I worked through it. I wanted to see if I could get better and I did.”

Phelan never thought about quitting again and has yet to regret her decision to stay in the pool and keep swimming.

The 17-year-old swam a career-best time in the 200-yard breaststroke at the recent Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships. She was seeded second going into finals. After a blistering opening 50-yard split of 31.83, she went on to win by half a pool length.

Another reward was earning a scholarship to Indiana at Bloomington. She starts classes this fall.

“Swimming is still a huge priority for me,” Phelan said. “I love the sport and I am so motivated to swim. I did think I would go to college and swimming has played a big part.”

Coral Springs Swim Club coach Michael Lohberg wasn’t surprised when Phelan had doubts about her swimming. He said he sees it often with teenage girls.

“At that age, there are always motivational and other issues,” Lohberg said. “Sometimes 16 and 17-year-olds get a little off track but she found her way back. She is fully back on track. The last couple of meets she has done really well. She is focused again.”

Phelan has been swimming since she was little along with gymnastics, soccer and basketball. She said she loved swimming the most and started getting competitive at age 10.

Three years ago, she started swimming at Coral Springs. At zones in Texas, one of her biggest meets, she won the 100 breaststroke at age 15.

“Michael has been great to work with,” Phelan said. “He has done a lot for me actually. I am swimming fast again. He is happy and I am happy with it.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at


Age: 18

High school: Monarch

College: University of Florida

Sofia Gonella took her first swim lessons in Argentina where she and her family lived until they moved to South Florida in 2003.

After a break, she signed up at the YMCA of Boca Raton where she swam until she joined the Coral Springs Swim Club last year.

“I wanted a more competitive environment and I wanted to swim more hours,” Gonella said. “I loved it the first day of practice.

“I always liked swimming since I was 9 years old,” said Gonella, who also played indoor volleyball for four years. “I totally fell in love with the sport in eighth grade. I liked the social aspect of making friends, I became more organized and I liked competing.”

Swimming wasn’t as popular in high school as it was at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex with the club swimmers.

“By nature I am a competitive person,” Gonella said. “I always wanted to improve for my high school team.”

Gonella competed in the 100 butterfly, 200 individual medley, 200 freestyle and all three relays.

Despite taking five Advance Placement classes, Gonella was able to improve her final season of high school.

“I was able to do a lot of things in high school and still keep swimming,” Gonella said. “I think swimming helped me be a more competitive person and more understanding of other people.

“I never missed a day of practice unless I had too many tests in one day. Academics were really important to me. I applied for every scholarship my senior year. I am going to major in industrial engineering at Florida and would like to see if they have club swimming because I would like to swim on my own.”

Gonella said she will miss her high school 200 medley relay teammates the most.

“They are all juniors and upset that I am leaving,” she said. “I swam the 50 fly on the relay and that was my favorite event. That relay was such a team effort. For me, that’s the best moment that stands out in my mind.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at


Age: 17

High school: Coral Springs Charter School

College: Florida Gulf Coast

Katherine Kealty followed in her mother’s footsteps and started swimming when she was nine years old.

“She was a swimmer when she was a kid and told me it was great so I said ‘okay, sure.’

“I really liked it and made a ton of friends,” Kealty said. “When you think about morning practice you don’t want to go at all, but once you get there and you’re with your friends, it’s not so bad.”

Kealty’s mom, Carolyn, a national-caliber racewalker and 2004 and 2008 Olympic trials qualifier, continues to inspire her oldest daughter.

“My mom is a big inspiration,” Kealty said. “I see her dying out there in practice, working in the hot sun. When I don’t want to go to a practice or a meet, I think of her sticking with it and I say to myself if she does it, I can do swimming. I really look up to her.”

Kealty always made time for swimming despite her extracurricular activities that included Student Government, junior class president, Key Club, drama, chorous and flag football.

“I liked swimming but I did other things,” Kealty said. “I had a life, it wasn’t swimming 24-7. If I had to miss practice a day or two, they were cool.”

Kealty said she managed her busy schedule around swimming.

“Swimming taught me time management,” Kealty said. “I worked around swimming. I had fun with it and all my friends.”

The atmosphere on the pool deck at practice and meets helped to motivate Kealty.

“Everyone cheers for you and made it fun,” said Kealty, who competed in the 50 and 100 freestyle events and 50 breaststroke. “I got some great workouts in and I liked to be competitive, too. You look around and see swimmers like Vlad and Dara and you’re swimming in the same pool as them. That was the coolest.

“I think the best moment for me was all the friends I made. These are friends I will have for life.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at


Age: 18

High School: Monarch.

College: Florida Atlantic University


Asthma led Nick Perez to swimming seven years ago, his love for the sport kept him in it.

The Monarch High School senior started swimming after his father, who swam as a child for his asthma, suggested that he try it to help his breathing.

“It helped my dad’s asthma so he got me into it,” Perez said. “The cardio was better for my lungs. I liked it and it really did help my asthma.”

Perez’ interest in swimming increased and he decided to drop soccer and focus solely on swimming. 

“I had more of a love-hate relationship with swimming,” Perez said. “I did both sports for a while but I liked the competitive aspect of swimming more than soccer. It was more a race against yourself. That’s what initially dragged me into the sport.

“I wish I had been more consistent when I first started. If I had dedicated myself fully at the beginning I would have turned out better but I am happy with what I earned. It was definitely awesome to swim with a top training program like Coral Springs where swimmers actually had gone to the Olympics.”

However, it took Perez a while to get used to the early morning workouts.

“That was tough the first couple times,” Perez said. “I learned pretty quick dedication was the No. 1 thing you need to be a swimmer. Personally, I don’t enjoy morning workouts but it’s not bad. It was worth it when I first started and it’s still worth it.”

Perez, who competes in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly, hopes to walk on the FAU men’s team this fall.

“One of the best things swimming helped me with was time management,” Perez said. “Knowing I had practice in the morning and afternoon, school, homework, a job and sleep, I knew that I had to get everything done at a certain time. I know that’s the No. 1 thing that’s going to help me later in life.”

The week before Perez moved into Coach Chris Jackson’s group, he had a breakthrough swim during the Division II meet where he broke a minute in the butterfly for the first time.

“I had hit a plateau for a couple months but I was still training,” Perez said. “It was going to be my last competition for a while. I swam in the morning and I qualified for the final. I wasn’t going to swim it until my dad convinced me to go back. I ended up swimming my best time. That was a highlight for me.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at




PALM BEACH GARDENS—Olympic medalists Maritza Correia McClendon and Matt Targett kept a group of young swimmers entertained by combining fun with swimming at the Swim Champions Fitter & Faster Tour stop Saturday at the Palm Beach Gardens Aquatic Complex.

For three hours, Correia, a 2004 U.S. Olympian and Targett, a member of the 2008 Australian Olympic team and former Auburn swimmer, took turns encouraging up-and-coming swimmers and their parents about a sport that helped them get to where they are today.

From racing with swimmers as young as five to answering questions about superstar Michael Phelps and koala bears, the Olympians inspired and encouraged swimmers at the grass roots level. Based on the question-and-answer session, the one most recognizable name in the sport is Phelps.

“The kids relate to Michael so you can’t help bring his name up,” Correia said. “It gets them excited to talk about him. There are so many Olympians out there but they only know a handful. There are so many of us that have a great story, have done so much for our sport and communities, but they don’t get the limelight because they don’t have eight gold medals.”

Mesmerized by a life-size photo of Correia at the pool entrance, a young boy said to his father, “we get to race the Olympians, I think I can beat them.”

Unlike football, basketball, baseball and soccer where kids can meet and watch athletes at games and other events, the opportunity for young swimmers to see, meet and swim with Olympic swimmers is limited.

“We want to find kids that are excited about swimming,” Correia said. “It’s a very healthy sport to be in. These kids absolutely love it when we come down here. I leave here with the biggest smile on my face.

“For us as Olympians, it’s so exciting when they want to come up and talk to us, get our autographs and take pictures. They want to get in and race us. They get pumped up and ready to go.”

Correia and Targett talked with parents and swimmers before getting in the pool to work with swimmers on everything from strokes to kicking. They incorporated games to make it fun. Autograph, photo sessions and goodie bags were also part of the clinic.

“It took me a long time to figure it out,” Targett said. “I was slow in the beginning. I didn’t win a race until I was 17 or 18. I was always second or third. One day I just decided to put my head down and race.”

Since the tour’s opening event in Seattle in August 2009, more than 10,000 kids have participated throughout the U.S. including South Florida.

“When I was growing up I never had the opportunity to listen to an Olympian talk or give us their story, or even get in and swim with us and teach us simple drills,” Correia said. “I think this is fantastic. I didn’t even know clinics like this existed until I started doing them.

“I think it has a huge impact on them,” Correia said. “They see Olympians and want to try and be just like them. This tour’s goal isn’t to go out there and find Olympians, it’s just to get kids excited about swimming. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

It’s also another way for Olympians to get more exposure for their sport and themselves other than every four years at the Olympic trials and Olympic Games.

“They may not know who we are but just the fact we are Olympians and giving them a few pointers here and there are a thrill for them and makes an impact,” Correia said.

Correia said talking to parents is “a huge plus.”

“The kids can listen but they might not remember everything,” Correia said. “The parents really listen to our story and it’s good for them to know that we weren’t perfect kids in swimming. We didn’t want to come to practice a day or two when we were growing up. It’s good for them to hear that because they can relate to their own kids.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at




With her competitive racing days behind her, Maritza Correia McClendon wants to make a difference in the sport that changed her life.

The first black woman ever to make a U.S. Olympic swim team, break a world record and hold American records, has become a role model for future generations of swimmers.

Now 28 and newly married in March, Correia works for Nike Swim in several roles including Grassroots Field Representative, where she is able to work with youth swimmers and club teams including the new South Florida Aquatic Club.

“I am excited for the South Florida Aquatic Club,” Correia said. “They want to outfit the kids head-to-toe. I think they have a great plan. I am very excited to be working with them and to see where it goes.”

The Tampa-based Olympian oversees a large territory for Nike Swim including Canada and Puerto Rico and is a member of the Swim Champions Fitter & Faster Tour that hosted a clinic Saturday in Palm Beach Gardens.

After three hours of working with kids and parents, Correia took time to reflect on her career–past, present and future.

“I am still in swimming because of the kids,” Correia said. “I actually don’t have any desire to train and practice or anything like that. I don’t miss competition too often. I think when I go to nationals as a rep I miss it because I am not going to make the travelling team and go to all those cool places.

“I think going to clinics like this and seeing the kids’ excitement gets me motivated to get back in the water with them,” Correia said. “I don’t train for the clinics. My endurance isn’t there anymore but I do enjoy getting in the water with them.”

Not so long ago Correia was a kid herself growing up in the sport in San Juan, Puerto Rico where she was born.

At age 7, she was diagnosed with severe scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. Doctors said swimming would help treat the condition so her parents got her on a summer league swim team.

“It just kind of all started from there and I ended up liking it a lot more than I ever expected,” Correia said. “I stayed with it and got better and better.”

Correia was a natural in the water and soon was dominating the sport at every level. She was a six-time Florida high school state champion in five different events. She was a member of the 1997 U.S. national junior team that competed in Sweden and 1999 U.S. short course world championship team that competed in Hong Kong.

She earned a scholarship to the University of Georgia where she was the first and still is the only swimmer in the Southeastern Conference to win an SEC title in all freestyle events. She was a 27-time All-American and 11-time NCAA champion.

In 2004, Correia, whose parents are from Guyana and educated in England, became the first black female swimmer to make a U.S. Olympic team. She won a silver medal as a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team. A year later, she won four gold medals at the 2005 World University Games in Turkey. She also won two gold medals at the Pan American Games and three medals at World Championships.

“I am very proud of myself for what I accomplished, I wish I could have done a little bit more as far as being more in the limelight, doing more clinics and appearances, I could have impacted more people,” said Correia, whose last meet was in December 2007. “I swam for 20 years and I ended up going to every single meet possible as a swimmer.”

During her competitive years, the Tampa-based swimmer trained alongside Olympian Brooke Bennett with Olympic coach Peter Banks and the Brandon Blue Wave at the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center. She trained six days a week, 5 ½ hours, 14,000 meters a day.

She and Bennett briefly trained at Broward Aquatics at the Davie Pine Island Aquatic Center when Banks was hired as a coach. Banks later returned to Tampa.

Correia relishes being a role model for young swimmers and student-athletes. She plays a big role in minority swimming and getting more inner city kids involved in the sport. She is active with the annual National Black Heritage Meet scheduled May 29-30 at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Raleigh, N.C. where she will hold two clinics on Friday and Saturday. She was also involved with the Black History Meet in Washington, D.C. in February.

“I think going to meets like that makes an impact,” Correia said.

Correia said remaining positive around swimmers is the key.

“I think turning any negative situation into something positive and having fun with it is the best advice I can give,” Correia said. “So many of these kids get discouraged by bad times or have a swim meet or two that they don’t do that great. They don’t want to come to practice or it’s too hard.

“I always just say sometimes you do need a breather here and there. Take a practice off, come back, be refreshed. It might be a positive for them to get away for a day and do something different, then come back, be refreshed and have a great practice.

“I always tell them you go to a swim meet and might have a bad swim, figure out what it was that made it that—bad turn, bad start, bad finish. I am queen of bad finishes. I didn’t make the Olympic team in the 50 free in 2004 because of a bad finish. I think paying attention to little things like that, turning that negative situation into something positive can make a big difference.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at




It will be a Who’s Who in swimming, diving and other aquatic sports this week at events being held throughout South Florida.

Four-time Olympian Franziska van Almsick of Germany and three-time Olympian Brooke Bennett, who trained in South Florida during her swim career, will be among 2010 honorees during the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s 46th year of honoring the greatest names in the history of aquatic sports.

Van Almsick won 10 medals during four Olympics (1992-2004). The three-time European Swimmer of the Year and 1993 World Swimmer of the Year broke two world records in the 200-meter freestyle.

Bennett is a three-time Olympic champion and won back-to-back 800-meter freestyle gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. She also won a gold medal in the 400 freestyle in 2000.

Other Class of 2010 honorees are: Paul Asmuth, open water swimmer; Larry Griswald, pioneer diver; Maria Kisseleva, synchronized swimmer; Cornel Marculescu, honor contributor; Kevin Murphy, open water swimmer; Murray Stephens, Olympic swim coach; Tamas Szechy, Olympic swim coach; Petria Thomas, swimmer; Teofilo Yldefonso, pioneer swimmer; Tamas Gyarfas, swimming media; and artist Guy Harvey, Gold Medallion award winner.

“With honorees from the U.S., Australia, Germany, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines and Romania, the Class of 2010 is as impressive and as internationally diverse as any in the history of ISHOF,” said Bob Duenkel, museum curator and ISHOF selection committee liason.

The ISHOF honoree festival is a multi-day celebration of the Hall of Fame class Thursday through Sunday in Fort Lauderdale.

The festival features the induction ceremony Saturday night at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, the AT&T USA Diving Grand Prix May Thursday-Sunday at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex, open water swim off Fort Lauderdale beach and Paragon Awards Friday night at ISHOF.

The 2010 Paragon and ISHOF awards will be presented at a ceremony on Friday at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Among Paragon award recipients are John Leonard of Fort Lauderdale, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association.

Sponsored by Paragon Aquatics, the night will begin with a reception from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Museum followed by the awards ceremony in the John Dupont Auditorium.

Tickets for all events may be purchased by calling 954-462-6536 or go to


As part of the 40th anniversary of the AT&T USA Diving Grand Prix Olympian autograph sessions will be held during the meet. USA Diving has assembled an All-Star list of Olympians to sign autographs during events finals on Saturday and Sunday including four-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, Olympic bronze medalist and 28-time national champion Cynthia Potter, two-time Olympic silver medalist Michele Mitchell, 2008 Olympian David Boudia, Chris Colwill of Brandon, and Terry Horner of Orlando, the only Floridians on the U.S. roster, and several others.

The diving event will feature the world’s best divers from 20 countries including Olympians and world medalists. Most of the divers are expected to compete at the 2012 London Olympics. On Sunday, moms will be admitted free in honor of Mother’s Day. The first 60 moms will also receive roses. Moms can also get their picture taken with Louganis.

Here is the diving schedule:

THURSDAY, MAY 6; 10 a.m. – Men’s 3-Meter Preliminaries  followed by – Men’s 3-Meter Semis; 3 p.m. – Women’s Platform Preliminaries; Followed by – Women’s Platform Semis.       

FRIDAY, MAY 7: 10:00 a.m. – Women’s 3-Meter Preliminaries; Followed by – Women’s 3-Meter Semis; 3:00 p.m. – Men’s Platform Preliminaries; Followed by – Men’s Platform Semis.

SATURDAY, MAY 8: 12:00 p.m. – Men’s 3-meter Final; Followed by – Women’s Platform Final;  2:30 p.m. – Men’s Synchronized 3-meter Final; Followed by – Women’s Synchronized Platform Final.

SUNDAY, MAY 9: 12:00 p.m. – Women’s 3-meter Final ; Followed by – Men’s Platform Final; 2:30 p.m. – Women’s Synchronized 3-meter Final; Followed by – Men’s Synchronized Platform Final.


U.S. Olympian Maritza Correia, Nike Swim’s Grassroots Field Representative based in Brandon and first African-American woman on the U.S. Olympic team, and Australian Olympian Matt Targett will conduct a swim clinic for swimmers, ages 5-18, and parents as part of the Swim Champions Fitter & Faster Tour set for the Palm Beach Gardens Aquatic Complex Saturday at 9 a.m. The three-hour sessions will feature question-and-answer sessions, fantasy races with Olympians, photo sessions, stroke drills, autograph sessions, tour program and gift bag. Cost is $75. For more information on the tour go to

Sharon Robb can be reached at




Melissa Cooper got the stunning news in a text message from a future college roommate.

Clemson University, the college that the American Heritage senior and South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer signed with for its biomedical engineering and swim programs, was eliminating its men’s and women’s swim programs at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.

Christopher Ip, head swim coach since 2002, was told Monday (April 26) by athletic director Terry Don Phillips. The decision was to withhold it from the team until final exams were complete on Friday (April 30).

According to school officials, Clemson was unable to make the financial commitment to compete at a championship level. Instead of building a new quality facility with a 50-meter pool, Clemson chose to dissolve the swim program. The women’s diving program will remain.

Clemson trains at McHugh Natatorium, a 35-year-old facility with an eight-lane, 25-yard long pool that was last upgraded in 2003.

Cooper, who turns 18 in July, talked with her parents and Coach Chris Anderson, an All-American at Clemson (1994-1998, team captain his senior year), and is exploring her options, she said. She would like to pursue cancer or cardiac research after her undergrad studies and continue swimming.

“I had no idea until I got the text and then I went online and got more information on Saturday,” Cooper said. “At first I was shocked. I had no indication they were going to end the program when I went on my college visit. The school seemed to be a good fit. It was a good balance between academics I was looking for and swim team.”

Cooper said she is either going to transfer or wait through her freshman year and get recruited again. The Academic All-American has a 4.7 grade point average.

 “There are a few colleges I am looking at to see if they have any interest,” Cooper said. “I was upset at first but in these economic times a college has to be able to pick and choose what it needs to do. If they don’t have the money, they don’t have it. It’s not like they did it on purpose or were vindictive. It was just bad timing for me.”

It’s not the first time Cooper has been faced with adversity. She swam with a broken left foot her junior season and won the state 1A 100-meter breaststroke title only to have it taken away seconds later with a false start disqualification.

“I was heartbroken especially after everything I had been through that year,” Cooper said. “I put my all into that race and thought I came out on top. The pain in my foot was really excruciating. I could only push off with one foot. I had to wear a brace the entire season.”

After the 2008 season, Cooper underwent foot surgery. While her doctor allowed her to swim through her junior season since the injury wouldn’t worsen, there was no guarantee she would return to her champion form her senior year.

Cooper underwent surgery three weeks after the high school season ended. Six weeks later she was in the pool. It took her three months to get back to where she was before the injury but she was more determined than ever. With her drive and determination, she was swimming the same times as the year before.

She took back that 100 breaststroke state title, finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and earned All-County honors. Her best 50 time was 23.70 and her breaststroke time was 1:03.59. She also made her Olympic trials cut.

“My senior year of high school was a good one,” Cooper said. “I was really proud of myself getting the surgery and bouncing back.

“There was doubt at first. I was in denial at first and I ignored it. I didn’t want it to be happening. It was hard to get through.

“I wasn’t sure if I could get back to where I was,” Cooper said. “I knew I had to stay positive and everything would work out and it did. When I jumped back in the pool and realized I could still swim breaststroke, I knew I would come back.”

Cooper never dreamed she would be as good as she is in swimming when she tried the sport at a friend’s suggestion. She joined a team and started getting serious when she was 12.

“The first year I won JOs I knew I would stay with it,” Cooper said. “I just kept improving and enjoying the sport and being with my friends.”

Cooper decided to leave Heritage Aquatics and joined SOFLO to train with club swimmers her own age and team to go to meets with, she said. She is training for junior nationals with her sights set on making the Junior Pan Pac team. “I like it a lot, I am really happy here,” Cooper said.

As far her college setback, she said she will bounce back.

“You just have to keep going and stay positive,” Cooper said. “Everything comes back eventually. I just want to find a balance with academics and swimming. Everything will work out for the best.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at




Ryan Lochte is the first to admit he wasn’t always a fast swimmer.

He said it took time, patience and hard work before he turned the corner and became a two-time Olympian and world record holder.

“The thing that got me going was myself,” said Lochte during a recent visit to Fort Lauderdale.

“When I was growing up, we would go to JOs every year and I would always get beat every time in every race.”

He used those disappointments as motivation.

“When I was around 13 or 14, I told my dad that it was never going to happen again,” Lochte said. “From then on I was more focused in practice. I committed myself to swimming fully and kept going from there.

“Now, when I talk to young kids at swim clinics or schools, the main thing I want them to understand is that to get where I am at, you don’t have to be fast right away,” Lochte said.

“Growing up I was really bad. I was never the fastest swimmer. I had to work at that. I just want them to know that you can always get better no matter what. You don’t have to be always great to become great.”

One of the early turning points in the Canandaigua, N.Y.-born Lochte’s swimming career came when his father, Steve, a club and college swim coach moved his family from Rochester, N.Y. to Daytona Beach because swimming was more popular in Florida.

Lochte flourished in the Sunshine State. He was a solid club and high school swimmer at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange. But he added that he wasn’t the best swimmer coming out of high school and not heavily recruited.

University of Florida only offered him a scholarship after two other swimmers turned the school down.

“No one believed in me back then, but I knew what I could do, I believed in me,” said Lochte, a 24-time collegiate All-American.

Despite success during his teen years, Lochte knew there was more work to do in college if he was going to take it to the next level.

“It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I felt like I could do something in this sport,” Lochte said.

“After my freshman year, I won my first big international meet at the Pan American Games and broke the Pan Am record in the morning. No one expected me to be close to that. From then on I thought, ‘wow, I did something that not many people can do.’

“Then my sophomore year I won NCAAs for my first time. From then on I was like ‘I can do this.’

Lochte, now 25, has compiled an impressive resume in individual medley, backstroke and freestyle events.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist and 12-time Olympic and world medalist won an Olympic gold medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay and silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley at the 2004 Games.

Four years later in Beijing, he took gold in the 200-meter backstroke and 4×200 free relay and bronze medals in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.

“Every great swim I had I kept feeding off it,” Lochte said. “I kept on getting better and better. I kept reminding myself I had that first great race and I could do even better. I kept on going for the 2004 Olympics and kept going after that.”

Lochte never loses sight of what keeps him in swimming.

“When I was a little kid I was just having fun,” Lochte said. “I remember coming to meets and getting a bunch of icees. My mouth would turn blue and I was just having fun with all my friends. I am kind of still the same way.

“The most important thing is to have fun. I tell kids for me having fun is racing. I race in practice, I race at meets. Everything I do I try to make it a race because that’s fun for me and I love it. That’s why I keep swimming.”

Losing also motivates him in the pool.

“I am very competitive, I hate to lose,” he said. “If I do lose I lose, but I am not going to crawl in my own cubby hole  and cry or anything like that. I am just going to forget about it and move on.”

From late August to October, Lochte used his down time to travel, model, make appearances and speak at swim clinics. He has a contract with Ford Modeling Agency.

“Modeling is something different,” Lochte said. “I am used to modeling in my Speedo and comfortable with that, but now I am doing real business clothes and suits. It is different. My main thing I want to do is design my own clothing line. It would be some kind of business suit with a twist to it, like a rock star-surfer laidback business suit.

“Swimming is always going to be the priority until I’m done. That’s just how I want it to be. I am just doing the modeling thing and other stuff on the side.”

In November 2009, Lochte underwent knee surgery to repair damage  to his medial collateral ligament, an injury suffered while dancing with friends.

“I should have made up a better excuse for it, like I got hit by a car or saved a child,” Lochte smiled.

During his recovery, he worked on his upper body. That added strength showed when he got back in the pool.

“I was doing a lot of upper body lifting in the weight room, bench pressing, dumb bells and strongman work,” Lochte said. “I was trying to get my upper body stronger because I couldn’t do anything with my legs.

“Once I got into the pool, I started slimming down but still had all that muscle. I think that’s what helped me. I am a lot stronger in the water. A couple of coaches came up to me at a meet and said ‘wow, we know you’re not going best times, but you look a lot stronger in the water.

“Now that my knee is back in shape and I am getting stronger when everything comes together I am really excited to see what I can do this summer. I think it’s going to be good.”

Lochte has already committed to training for the 2012 London Olympics. He said he could swim as many as nine events.

“I am not done with my swimming career. There is so much more I want to accomplish that I know I can. It’s just a matter of time. I think 2012 is where it’s most likely going to happen.”

Lochte will probably lock horns with U.S. teammate Michael Phelps. Lochte said he tries not to pay attention to the limelight when it’s shining on him or other swimmers. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was cast in Phelps’ shadow despite some outstanding individual and relay performances.

“I am always in my own world and it doesn’t bother me at all when other swimmers are getting the attention,” Lochte said. “I kind of like it because it gives me something to look forward to doing, that I have a purpose going into that water. I think at worlds I broke out of the background and showed myself l can do it. I just have to keep that ball rolling.”

Lochte has returned to training in Gainesville “basically where my career started” and where he owns a house. He works with Gator swimmers, past and present, and coaching staff.

“As you get older, you start looking to the other things in practice, whether it’s going up and down the pool hauling butt all out, all the time,” Lochte said. “You start focusing on the little things like technique. You start doing less yardage just because your body can’t handle all the pounding. I definitely am more aware of my swimming now than I have been before.”

Now that the swim suit issue has been resolved and playing field is even again, Lochte said normalcy will return to the sport and spotlight will be back on swimmers and not the suit.

“Everyone was looking for the suit to help them go fast and now it’s not the case,” Lochte said. “Now it’s have you trained? Have you done the work? How bad do you want it? All that stuff comes into play now and that’s where I like it.”

Lochte’s next meet will be the May 13-16 Charlotte Ultraswim Grand Prix in Charlotte, N.C. He will be joined by Aaron Piersol and Phelps. The meet will be a training gauge for Lochte who is gearing up for the Aug. 18-24 Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif.

“I want to do really well there,” Lochte said. “Then it’s short course worlds in Dubai, world championships next summer and after that 2012 Olympics.

“The sport is still fresh for me because I love racing,” Lochte said. “The time when I stop loving racing and not having fun in swimming is when I quit and walk away from the sport. But I honestly don’t see that happening soon.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at