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An Olympics backstory
Even if you aren’t really a fan of sports, I bet you like watching the Olympics. Maybe gymnastics or the 100-meter dash. Perhaps wrestling or archery. Yes, the TV networks make every effort to manipulate our emotions with pull-on-the-heartstrings backstories, but we gladly submit. We cheer for the underdog, the illness-survivor, the athlete who grew up in poverty or a broken home. We cheer for the awe-inspiring feats of athleticism, and we cheer for the men and women who accomplish them.
Along with everyone else I’ll watch the Olympics and be moved by these incredible athletes. But what I’ll care most about is a person who will not race along a track or sail over a vault. He’ll be on the sidelines.
My old swim coach of nearly a decade, Pete Motekaitis, will be there, and for me, that’ll make me more choked up than any stellar show of strength or courage.
A few weeks ago, during the U.S. swimming Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., (where our editor, Mike Flach, watched his son compete for a spot on the team) Scott Welz, a U.C. Davis graduate who finished outside the top 35 in the 200-meter breaststroke at the trials four years ago, beat a group that included the former world-record holder and the American-record holder. I grew up in Davis, Calif., so I was excited to learn that Scott made the Olympic team. But I was even more excited to hear that his coach, Pete, also is going to London.
After Scott won the event, the New York Times reported that Pete “jumped out of the stands and slipped on the deck in his haste to congratulate (Scott).”
That was classic Pete, and I wasn’t at all surprised.
Pete loves the sport of swimming and his athletes, and his act of excitement was a manifestation of both. He wants the best for his swimmers, and he celebrates their success and helps them learn from their defeats.
Pete knows that once his swimmers have hung up their cap and goggles, they must deal with other kinds of defeats. Not just second place or a bad race, but life defeats. Struggles at work, relationship problems, illness, addiction, loss and disappointment. So he taught his athletes how to swim well, very well, but he also gave them wisdom for the hardships that happen outside the water. Through storytelling, encouragement and his own example, he taught thousands of swimmers — from scrawny, uncoordinated teenagers, to timid 6-year-olds, to national record-holders — so much. Work hard. Don’t complain. Cheer on others. Have fun. Don’t ever stop learning. Don’t ever stop trying. Be honest. Be yourself.
Even without an emotional TV montage, I know the backstory on Pete and I’ll watch the Olympics inspired by him. He’s helped a young man make the Olympics, but he’s helped so many live well — through all life’s blood, sweat and tears.