Gallagher column: Phelps inspires local swimmers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Michael Phelps has never been to Salisbury, but he has certainly had an effect on every Rowan Aquatic Club swimmer who climbs into the Hurley YMCA pool.
That’s the impact of Phelps’ domination in the recent Summer Olympics. Eight gold medals. Dozens of endorsements. Hosting Saturday Night Live. It’s hard not to know just about everything about him.
Brandon Ralston thinks of Phelps at every RAC practice. Phelps’ signature is on his swim cap.
Will Stokes, a senior at East Rowan, listened to Phelps talk about water filling up his goggles.
“That’s happened to me multiple times,” Stokes said. “He said he didn’t care about it. He just sucked it up. I’ve got some meets coming up so if it happens, I know to keep going.”
RAC coach Matt Hall was impressed at how Phelps helped increase his numbers. When he took over as coach, there were 30 swimmers. After the Olympics, he was expecting the total to grow to about 45.
“Today,” Hall announced proudly at Tuesday’s practice, “we have 84.”

Hall is sure Phelps’ Olympic showing has impacted every youth swim team across the nation, not just his.
“I was hoping he would speak to the kids and tell them the things that are important,” said Hall, a former star swimmer himself. “He got most of that done pretty well. He’s a good representative of the sport.
“Sometimes, the things we say as coaches that are important, the kids take for granted. Then, they hear it on television and see Michael Phelps doing it and we can say, ‘Told you so.’ ”
The average sports fans can’t fathom putting 12,000 calories in their body each day. But none of the RAC swimmers are surprised.
“It really puts into perspective how hard we really work,” Salisbury senior Garrison Stevens said. “My friends say stuff all the time about how much I eat. I say I have to because I burn it all up.”
Hall explained that once you’re at Phelps’ level, you’re swimming 10,000 meters twice a day. Combine that with weight training and running and 12,000 calories seem like a light lunch.
Maybe that’s why Phelps has been seen recently holding a Big Mac or eating cereal. He’s ready to binge.
“The one thing you get upset with as a coach is, you tell them not to eat a lot of sugar,” Hall smiled. “He’s representing Frosted Flakes.”

The goal-oriented swimmers like Taylor Rodenhuis know they must watch what they shove down their throats. And that’s difficult for a 12-year-old.
“You can’t eat cheeseburgers and cookies everyday,” Rodenhuis said sheepishly.
Rodenhuis is obviously eating the right foods for a swimmer. He placed in the top five of 10 races at the state meet.
He credits Phelps for keeping him pumped up.
“He inspired me to work on my goals,” Rodenhuis said. “The butterfly is one of his favorite strokes. It is for me, too.”

Talk to any of the RAC swimmers and they appreciate how Phelps has thrown their sport into the national spotlight.
“His eight gold medals were big because swimming is a sport not many people are familiar with,” Stokes said. “Phelps said, ‘This is swimming. I’m here to promote it around the world.’ ”
“We’ve been watching him for a while, so we knew he’d be good,” Stevens added. “But the way he was breaking world records was crazy.”
Alex Ramdin, who attends Cannon School, said she was screaming while watching Phelps win.
“He’s letting people know how interesting swimming is,” Ramdin said. “They see how competitive it is. I think there’s a lot more interest in it now.”
What Phelps did, Hall points out, is show that swimming creates discipline in and out of the pool.
Stevens is the president of the National Honor Society. Madi Ralston, a Salisbury junior, is at the top of her class. A total of 95 percent of RAC swimmers are on the A or A-B honor roll.
“And 100 percent of the kids on our team go on to college,” Hall said.
Do we point to our Olympic hero as the reason why.
“Absolutely,” Hall said. “It has everything to do with the Olympics. And Michael Phelps is the one to thank.”
Who knows? One day a Rodenhuis or a Ralston or a Stokes might be on the big stage, just like Phelps. And to get there, Hall has just one piece of advice.
For now, lay off the Frosted Flakes.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or