July / August 2009
Ian Crocker: Chapter 2
interview By Michelle Susan Twomey
With five Olympic swimming medals locked tight in a safe in his closet, Ian Crocker (Cheverus 2000) has always been a free spirit dancing to his own tune. But now that he’s daring to change lanes in the face of worldwide acclaim, what can he do for an encore, and how will he stay fit? And really, Ian, swimming in Guantánamo Bay?
Swimming in Gitmo seems like such a bizarre follow-up to the 2008 Games in Beijing, almost like a scene out of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. How did this happen?
The opportunity to go to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was amazing, the chance of a lifetime. I was contacted by an armed forces support group called the MWR (Moral Welfare and Recreation). They specialize in bringing in actors, athletes, musicians, and comedians to come and entertain the troops who are stuck [in strange places with faraway names] for months on end. We got invited down last October–a really cool opportunity. We did a lot of meet and greets with various military [personnel], and we also had some free time to check things out as well. We toured Camp Delta and the detainee camps and saw where the prisoners were kept until the maximum-security prisons were built. It’s really interesting, the way they have it all set up. If I were a prisoner, I’d rather be there than in any prison on U.S. soil.
When exactly did you join the CIA?
[Laughs] Yeah, they want us to go down there and show us everything and come back and tell everyone it’s not quite what CNN tells us it is. For example, not many people know you can get permission to visit family [service] members down there.
Could you see Florida from the base? You must have wondered, can I swim that far?
Oh, no. It’s like 90 miles off the coast, and Guantánamo’s on the opposite side of the island. You can see the Caymans and Haiti from there, but they’re 90 miles away, too, quite far off in the distance.
Speaking of open-water swims, would you ever consider swimming in the Peaks to Portland race?
Yeah, that would be something I’d do. I was always scared of swimming in the ocean, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. When I was at Guantánamo Bay, we had a chance to go snorkeling a few times, my first time in tropical waters. We swam with barracuda. So I think I’d be able to swim Peaks to Portland with no problem now.
How’d you handle crowd noise during your first Olympics?
In 2000, I remember walking alone to the pool deck for the prelims for the 100 ’fly. No one else was there yet. The roar of 15,000 people on one side of the crowd and all the other teams and media on the other side had me grinning ear to ear. I was still nervous, but it blew my mind. I proceeded to jump in, over-swam the first half of the race, and almost didn’t make semifinals. I just had so much adrenaline from the roar of the crowd.
You’re self-aware, introspective. So contrast your last answer with your experience in Beijing in 2008.
Going into that summer, I wanted to make sure I enjoyed that experience. I realized I’m not getting any younger, I’ve been to three Olympics, and who knows if I’ll go for the London Olympics after that? It can be really stressful and overwhelming, and it’s hard to remind yourself to enjoy it. After swimming for 8 days in competition, you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. So I found a hotel with really good food and a massage spa and just kind of crashed. But I made sure to see Tiananmen Square, and I went to an Olympic basketball game.
This is really Chapter 2 for you, right?
For the last few years, I’ve been curious about what I wanted to do when I was done swimming competitively. After the Beijing Games, I decided I’d focus on that more.
I’m opening up a swim school here in Austin. The clientele will be young children, infants, and toddlers who need to get water-safe. We’ll also prepare kids for competition and help them prepare for the mental aspects of the sport.
Where’s the money coming from?
Over my swimming career, I tried saving as much as I could so I could start my own business. So far, it’s been out of my, and my other two business partners’, pockets. I swam with both Neil Walker and James Fike at University of Texas. Neil was an Olympian in 2000 and 2004, and James went into investment banking. He’s our business- smarts guy. We’re still raising funds for the facilities. Meanwhile, we’re using pools in Austin.
Why not start a swim school up here?
Right now, living in Austin has more of a year-round need for water safety. But I would definitely like to branch out and start a school up in Maine.
Tell us about your eating habits, in Beijing and now.
As a swimmer, you try to get as much fuel in your body as you can. You are constantly trying to find good quality foods. Whether it’s before or after a workout, there are very important times in the day to get your food. It’s more about trying to find a lot of food.
I can’t do that anymore, though. I’ve always been pretty good about getting a good balance of the food groups. I like healthy food, and I like good food. I also like food in general. If you’re a foodie, you like butter and everything butter goes on. Basically, you try to eat in moderation the things you know aren’t that good for you.
How has your body reacted to the physical effects of swimming so intensely for so long? Is there a kind of jet-lag?
I was pretty fortunate about injuries. Toward the end, my shoulders got worse and worse. That was one reason I decided to take a long break after last summer. If I kept training, I’d need to have surgery on my shoulders.
Where do you keep your medals?
In a safe in my closet most of the time. I had one out last week when a buddy of mine was down here, visiting. It’s probably still on my kitchen counter. The only reason I take them out is when I’m going to work with a bunch of kids. Young kids want to see the medals.
What do you want to see when you’re back up here?
I love going to Beale Street. I love eating Memphis-style barbeque and have eaten my fair share, but I still think the best is in South Portland, Maine.
What do you tell young swimmers hoping to make it big?
Make sure you set goals and write them down. Just try and work on refining your technique and having fun at a young age. Don’t get too serious, and don’t work out too hard before you get into high school.
Any romantic interests at the moment?
No girlfriend. It’s been too crazy of a year to be able to.
Tell us about your home in Austin.
I live in a house–well, the bank still owns it, but I paid for it. Unfortunately, it’s one of those newer cookie-cutter homes. I decided to get a newer home still under warranty.
I’d like to be in one of those older bungalows, because Austin is full of neighborhoods with those.
Any pets to keep you company?
I was just talking about them, actually. I collected three cats over the years: Murphy, Hazel, and Dinah. They are good friends.
In Austin, with the big independent film colony, have you ever hung out with Matthew McConaughey?
I’ve seen him at football games and out and about in Austin, but we’ve never hung out.
What was toughest part of training for Beijing?
The coach I had down here, Eddie Reese, is also the head Olympic coach for the men’s swim team. A year before Beijing, he had us running in the football stadium here in Austin–it seats 90,000. [Somewhere in my mind, I think I’m still] running up and down all those stairs of the stadium, over and over.
Ever do any team bonding as part of Team USA? I don’t recall seeing segments like that during the Olympic coverage.
[Laughs] They never encouraged us to do anything super crazy together before or after competitions–nothing beyond mini-golf–because we aren’t too coordinated on land.
Portland has been called the ‘Paris of the northeast’ and Austin the ‘Paris of the southwest.’ What’s the difference?
In Austin, we have a beer to cool off; in Maine, y’all drink to warm up.