View Full Version : Aaron Peirsol swims for Olympic medals and ocean health

July 31st, 2007, 03:03 PM
What do y'all think of Aaron and this article?


Aaron Peirsol swims for Olympic medals and ocean health

Austin backstroker launches nonprofit to raise money for ocean conservation
Monday, July 30, 2007

A plastic dinner tray from McDonald's doesn't belong on the beach. But when Aaron Peirsol found a tray in the sand at Newport Beach, Calif., a few years ago, he picked it up and put it to new use. Plunging into the surf, the world's fastest backstroker used it as a kickboard, paddling into the ocean waters alongside the city where he grew up. As he swam, he thought about how he had explored the back bays of Newport Beach as a kid, poking at ocean creatures and contemplating the never-ending blue. About how this ocean he once knew as a junior lifeguard was changing. How the first rains each spring now bring runoff and bacterial growth that temporarily close the beach.

"That moment sticks with me," says Peirsol, who moved to Austin in 2002 to swim for the University of Texas. "It's a beautiful beach, but there's so much stuff there that shouldn't be there — cups, Styrofoam, random things."

Peirsol, 24, who collected three gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and hopes to do the same at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, wants to do something to help clean up the world's oceans. He's now teamed with Oceana, an environmental advocacy group dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's seas, and with Oceana's help has created his own nonprofit, Race for the Oceans.

It doesn't matter if you live on the beach or in Austin, he says. "I just think it's a certain level of respect we all should have for the environment."

Child of the ocean

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface. They provide our food, regulate our climate and generate oxygen. But growing human populations are straining marine ecosystems and depleting coastal resources. Coral reefs and the sea creatures that live there are threatened.

Peirsol learned to swim in salt water. He once swam with dolphins in the Bahamas, marveling at how they mimicked his movements, flipping and twisting whenever he did. A beach bum at heart who epitomizes California surfer dude cool, he's building a house in Costa Rica. He's drawn to the sea, where his love of swimming was born.

About a year ago, Peirsol realized he could use his prominence in the swimming world to push for healthier oceans, and contacted Oceana. The group supports an in-house staff of scientists who trace changes in the seas, studying fishing methods, the rate fish are taken out of the sea and how that impacts the health of the world's oceans. Oceana opposes bottom trawling and shark fishing, and its Web site includes a printable pocket guide that tells consumers what fish supplies are sustainable and best to eat.

As a spokesman for Oceana, Peirsol reaches a different audience — the swimming community, says the agency's communications director, Juliana Stein.

Race for the Oceans was launched by Peirsol earlier this year. Through his Web site, racefortheoceans.com, supporters can pledge money for every mile Peirsol swims leading up to the Beijing Olympics. He swims about 100 miles a month, so a pledge of one-tenth of a cent per mile would cost about $10 per month. Proceeds will benefit Oceana's scientific research and lobbying efforts.

He's also planning an open-water swim race, with the help of Oceana and another of his sponsors, Toyota's Engines of Change program. No date has been set, but the 5-kilometer swim probably will take place in Southern California. That race will put Peirsol back in the ocean, where his whole swimming career began.

Student of the pool

Peirsol swam at his first Olympic games when he was just 17, collecting a silver in the 200-meter backstroke in 2000. Four years later, he swept the backstroke events at the Athens Games, winning gold in the 100- and 200-meter races as well as the 400-meter medley relay. He went pro in 2004 and will graduate this December with a degree in government. He still swims for UT swim coach Eddie Reese as a member of the Longhorn Aquatics club team.

At the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, this spring, Peirsol did something no backstroker had ever done — he swam the 100-meter backstroke race in under 53 seconds, setting a new world record. Another remarkable thing happened at the same meet: Peirsol was beaten in his signature event, the 200-meter backstroke, by Ryan Lochte, who also set a record in the process. Lochte likely will be Peirsol's biggest competition in Beijing, but the Austin swimmer is embracing the challenge.

"It's been a while since I've chased someone's record," he says.

Right now, life is consumed by swimming. Peirsol logs up to four hours a day in the water, and lifts weights, too. At 6 foot, 3 inches, he weighs 200 pounds and eats "as much as I can put down" in five meals a day. "The hard thing for us is keeping weight on," he says. He does his best, though, rattling off a list of favorite local restaurants that includes Foodheads, Austin Land & Cattle Company, NeWorlDeli, Changos, Juan in a Million and Mi Madre's. "I just love food."

He calls Austin his home now, and likes its "green-ness" and the active lifestyle that's so prevalent here. He tries to do what he can to preserve the environment by recycling, avoiding plastic foam products and conserving water. "It's just the little stuff," he says. His attitude is rubbing off on his roommate, another former UT swimmer, Drew Edwards. "He's got this big huge canvas bag," Edwards says. "Anytime I come back from the store and forget to take it, he gives me a hard time. 'You should have come back here and gotten this bag ...' "

Just one small thing, but an easy way to respect the environment.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994


Redbird Alum
July 31st, 2007, 04:42 PM
Very good article, and a very insightful young man. I lived near the Pacific for years and enjoyed the beaches/ocean a great deal. It was already a problem back in the 70's.

Perhaps this would be a reasonable cause for the USMS to take up, although it could/should be expanded to include any watershed in North America. Every year, along the Illinois River, tons of debris from cups to tires and even old cars are pulled out by volunteer groups.

Thanks for sharing the article.

July 31st, 2007, 04:51 PM
Do I really need to weigh in on either Aaron or the article - both of which are fabulous?!

July 31st, 2007, 04:51 PM
Lived in Newport for a year while in HS....living right off of the beach....was a great year for surfing....not so great for education!!!! LOL But hated the days when the beach would be closed due to human stupidity!!!!

August 2nd, 2007, 10:58 AM
We're very excited to be working with Aaron, and this article is a perfect illustration of his dedication to a cause that we at Oceana (http://www.oceana.org/international-home-nao/) believe so strongly in. Aaron is actively involved in his Race for the Oceans campaign, which is admirable since he's got such a hectic schedule with the Olympics coming up as well as his graduation from U of T this winter.

Peirsol fans and ocean lovers alike should visit his Race for the Oceans (http://www.racefortheoceans.org) site, where Aaron maintains a blog and Oceana compiles the latest media updates on his training and competitions.

Nikki and Oceana