Olympic gold medalist Ian Crocker visited Feelhaver Elementary Friday to tell his story of winning five Olympic medals and deliver a message about kindness.
Crocker told the eager students assembled he had dreamed of being a swimmer since he was 10.
"My goal was to get on the Olympic team for the USA, so I could travel around the world and be on TV," he said. "But I didn't know how to get there. So, I started setting goals."
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Morgan Border, left, and Maggie Conrad, both fifth-graders at St. Edmond Middle School, get to wear some of swimmer Ian Crocker’s Olympic gold medals Friday afternoon after an assembly at Feelhaver Elementary School.
In Portland, Maine, Crocker trained twice a day, up to four hours a day. He participated in his first trial when he was 17, for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. He qualified for three different events: the 200-meter and 100-meter freestyle, and the 100-meter butterfly.
"You have to be one of the top two swimmers in the country to go on to the Olympics, from the Olympic trials," he explained.
Hoping to make the team, in his first trial Crocker ranked 65th place.
"My hometown newspaper, after I failed to qualify in my favorite event, said, 'Crocker blows his chances,'" he said. "Even though that wasn't very kind, it kind of motivated me."
Crocker ranked ninth at his next trial, he said. At his final trial, he persevered and got to join the gold-medal-winning Olympic 400-meter relay team.
"Relay is my favorite because you get to get up there with your teammates and fight for your country," he said. "You have the American flag on your calf. We are a group of four people that are working as one."
Crocker passed his gold medals around to the students, letting them all see and touch each one. He pointed out the image of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, on his 2000 medal.
Four years later, Crocker, attending the University of Texas, again joined the U.S. Olympic swimming team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
"My main competition was a guy named Michael Phelps," he said. "He was only 15 years old, very young to be on the Olympic team. He was kind of like everybody's younger brother."
Crocker had set the world record for the 100-meter butterfly at 50.76 seconds, holding the title from 2003 to 2009. He was defeated by Phelps in the event at the Olympics by .04 seconds, though. This earned Phelps the spot in the relay event.
"He did the most kind thing," Crocker said. "He said, 'Ian, I know I was faster than you, but I'm going to allow you to swim all the relays instead of me.'"
The team won the gold medal in the event, Crocker said.
"Four years later, after the first medal, I got another one. And that was all because of one of the kindest things someone has ever done for me," he said. "The time that we went, for all four people added up, was a world record. That was also cool."
Crocker next participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. It was his last. He returned home with another gold medal, a ring of Chinese jade on its back.
"I swam for 18 years competitively, and I got to win three gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal at the Olympic games," he said. "I also got to play in seven different events, some relay events and some individual events. And, I got to break world records."
Crocker, speaking again of his 2004 gold medal, encouraged the students to be kind and be good sports.
"When you're kind to the people who are around you, a lot of times that kindness comes right back to you," he said, "and you get opportunities that you didn't think you could ever have."