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Olympians deliver inspirational messages to young swimmers
Jan 6, 2013 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports Editor
Four-time United States Olympic swimming gold medalist Jason Lezak brought his talents and message of always believing in yourself to Lander for a clinic Saturday at the city pool.
Lezak was joined by fellow Olympic swimmer Kim Vandenberg.
In the clinic, the two swimmers covered all the strokes and gave motivational speeches.
"A lot of the time in my life, I wasn't enjoying what I was doing -- and it really showed," Lezak said. "That is when I wasn't improving, and I had to change my attitude and have fun with the sport."
Lezak's first individual medal was a bronze in the 2008 games in the 100-meter freestyle.
"I made it to 32 years old when I finally achieved my goals and dreams of winning my first individual medal," Lezak said.
Vandenberg won a bronze medal on the 800-meter freestyle relay team in the 2008 Olympics.
"I love giving clinics with Jason," Vandenberg said. "He is such an inspiration to me as a swimmer. He has been all over the world competing. He pretty much has experienced everything in the sport.
"I learn a lot from him when he is teaching the kids," Vandenberg said. "I'm taking mental notes when he is talking."
The four-hour clinic drew 67 swimmers from Lander, Worland and Riverton.
"It was an excellent turnout," Lander swim club coach Jennifer Schaff said. "We were very excited to have Riverton and Worland swim clubs participate with us. The majority of the swimmers were from Lander. Sometimes the parents push for the win all the time. Sometimes winning is not as important as what you learn in the process or how much you get better."
Lezak is no stranger to being on some great relay teams.
He won gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle relay and the 400-meter relay in the 2008 Olympics.
Lezak qualified for his fourth Olympics this past summer.
At the London games, Lezak swam for the U.S. team in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay team in the preliminaries.
Lezak didn't swim in the finals, but he earned a silver medal for the United States for his heat swims.
"I was just so happy to make the team with everything that I have been through and how hard it was for me to just qualify for the team at 36 years old," Lezak said. "Everybody gave it their best effort. We didn't make a mistake. They just happened to be faster on that day. That is the way that you have to look at it."
Lezak is spending most of his time traveling and telling his story.
"I'm having a lot of fun doing swimming clinics," Lezak said. "I'm doing a lot of things out on my own. I'm just enjoying my life and my family a lot."
"It was a really cool experience to meet somebody that has been to the Olympics," Lander Valley High School senior swimmer Gwynaedd Howdyshell said. "It was very exciting."
Howdyshell said the biggest thing she learned is to never give up.
"Second-place doesn't matter, because you can always get first next time," Howdyshell said. "I have been a big fan of Jason and Kim for a long time."
Howdyshell went home with autographs from Lezak and Vandenberg.
"It was pretty cool," Howdyshell said. "I will have it forever."
The LVHS senior has a goal to swim at the college level.
Howdyshell helped the LVHS girls win a team state title two years ago. This year, the Tigers placed second at the state meet.
"I will probably go Division II, but then I will move up to Division I," Howdyshell said.
McKenzie Lilygren of Lander, 11, said spending Saturday morning with the two swimmers was a perfect way to stay motivated for her sport.
"It was really awesome to see them," Lilygren said. "I have never meet anybody from the Olympics before. It was inspiring for me. I think that they helped a lot with my strokes, which is really nice because I really need to work on those."
Schaff wants organize more clinics in the future.
"It was a very big success this year," Schaff said. "Hopefully, we can do it again next year and bring in somebody else."