Swimming: Olympic champ Dwyer remembers his Lake Forest Swim Club roots
Members of the Lake Forest Swim Club display a flag with the Olympic logo, which was given to them by Conor Dwyer.
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:30PM
LAKE FOREST — In December 2011, Lake Forest Swim Club members were treated to a display by two special visitors: club alumnus Conor Dwyer and his University of Florida teammate, Sebastien Rousseau.
Arriving for morning workouts, the LF club members couldn’t help but watch the show being put on in Lake Forest College’s pool. Dwyer and Rousseau were going through a grueling workout: 100-meter sprints done 60 times, with just 10 seconds of rest between each lap. For an encore, they swam no less than 40 200-meter laps.
“Anybody in swimming can look at that and say, ‘That’s really hard,’ ” said Lake Forest Swim Club coach Michael Lawrence. “Watching them swim for an hour, their jaws were hanging open.”
That particular day, Dwyer’s work rate was already at an Olympic level. But at the time, no one knew that the 23-year-old Loyola Academy graduate would be hoisting a gold medal in London almost eight months later.
What they also didn’t know was that Dwyer, who helped the U.S. 4x200 freestyle relay squad capture a gold medal in London on July 31, would remember his time at Lake Forest Swim Club by sending an autographed flag before the Olympics began. On the flag were the Olympic logo, and the letters “USA.”
It was the perfect way for an Olympic athlete to honor those who had helped him achieve his greatest victory.
“Just one of the coolest things ever,” said Maureen Sheehan, founder and head coach at LFSC. “He’s somebody who’s appreciative of those people who have helped and been supportive of him. Just an awesome, neat thing.”
Sheehan was on her way to London when the flag arrived, and was pool-side for Dwyer’s freestyle final — he finished fifth — on July 28. Sitting in a group that included Dwyer’s father, Pat, his mother, Jeanne, and dozens of other relatives, Sheehan was awed not only by the familial support — each person fitted with red “Dwyer 2012” T-shirts — but by how far Dwyer had come as a swimmer.
“He didn’t blossom in high school,” Sheehan said. “As he started physically maturing, he got on the fast track. If there’s any way you can get to a competition like that, as a coach you don’t want to miss it.”
Not possessing the freakish genetics of relay teammate Michael Phelps or the flamboyant greatness of another relay teammate, Ryan Lochte, Dwyer’s ascension strikes a more authentic chord. A classic late bloomer, Dwyer was a diminutive 5-foot-7 when he first started swimming at LFSC as a Loyola sophomore. He placed no higher than 10th in the state meet in his senior year.
It wasn’t until after his transfer from the University of Iowa to Florida — and growing into his current 6-5, 194-pound frame — that Dwyer began to distinguish himself, winning NCAA titles in both the 200 and 500 freestyles in 2010, and being named NCAA Division I Male Swimmer of the Year.
Well before Dwyer’s electric performance at the Olympic Trials earned him a spot on the U.S. team, and a coveted second position in the 800-meter relay, his work ethic was unrivaled, a mark of consistency which made his Olympic success not entirely unexpected.
“He looks across at the training pool and says, ‘I want to be as faster or better than that guy and competes on a daily basis,’ ” Lawrence said. “That’s what carried him the last few years — the desire to be a champion.”
What makes Dwyer’s story so endearing is how he combines that dogged competitiveness with a graceful humility, revealed by his Olympic flag gift.
Standing on the podium next to glamour boys Phelps and Lochte on July 31, a gold medal dangling from his neck, Dwyer was instantly an international rock star. Back in Lake Forest, he’s still a star, but one whom young swimmers believe they can reach out and touch.
“The great thing is we all want to be part of celebrating his accomplishments,” Sheehan said. “There’s a storybook element to Conor Dwyer that is so fun and exciting, and gives a lot kids a lot of hope.”