Garrett Weber-Gale shares swimming, nutrition tips
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EL CAMPO - For Garrett Weber-Gale, the dream almost ended before it had a chance to begin.
The native of Stevens Point, Wis. had been working all his life to make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team and have a shot at a gold medal.
But in 2005, the then 20-year-old University of Texas swimmer was diagnosed with high blood pressure.
This condition didn't detract Weber-Gale. He took cooking classes in Austin and continued on his path to Olympic gold.
"I was very scared and then I realized I had to figure out how to get better," Weber-Gale said. "I had to figure out how to refine my diet and take control of this."
He went on to win two gold medals at the 2008 games in Beijing. Weber-Gale, 27, shared tips on swimming and nutrition at an Athletic Foodie swim clinic Saturday at the El Campo Aquatic Center.
Weber-Gale was a part of both the men's 400-meter freestyle and 400 medley relay teams that won gold in 2008.
He also was also a part of the American team that won gold at the 2009 World Championships in the 400 freestyle relay after swimming the lead-off leg in the preliminaries.
Although he gave the 50 registered swimmers tips on their form and technique, for El Campo Red Wave swim team secretary Ronda Espinoza, what he taught the kids out of the pool was valuable.
"That's the reason it attracted us to Garrett and his clinics," Espinoza said. "Not only does he get in the water and help kids with their strokes, but it's a big process. It's the nutrition side of it."
Eating healthy and and watching your diet can be difficult at a college campus like Texas where there's plenty of fast food options. "I had a goal and I knew what I wanted to do and why I was doing it," Weber-Gale said. "It's easier when you have some definitive reason why."
Weber-Gale majored in corporate communication with a minor in business and graduated from Texas in 2008.
After returning from the Olympic games, Weber-Gale started Athletic Foodie, an Austin-based company aimed at helping people eat and live healthier.
The aspiring swimmers at the clinic eagerly asked questions about the Olympic experience.
But Weber-Gale's mother, Diane Weber, is more interested in stressing the importance of the nutritional side of swimming.
"Eating healthy and being a swimmer, or an athlete at a young level is something new to people," she said. "Three years ago they didn't do it, five-years ago they didn't do it. Nobody talked about it."
Weber-Clinic talked to the swimmers before getting into the pool and giving them tips on their techniques.
Diane Weber gave the parents tips on nutrition at the center's outdoor bench.
Former Bay City and current Austin Bowie swim coach Bob Button was on hand to assist in the swim instruction.
He said getting kids to think about their technique in the pool and motivating them helps them reach a higher peak in the sport when they get older.
"The biggest difference I see isn't how hard they work, it isn't how big they are, it isn't how strong they are, it's their technique," Button said. "The (NCAA) Division I kids tend to have better technique than the Division II and that makes all the difference in the world when you get older."
Button's son Bobby is currently a junior on the Texas swimming team.
The campers left the clinic with a backpack tag with a list of healthy snacks and got autographs and posed with Weber-Gale for photographs.
He brought one of his gold medals to show off to the crowd during the event.
Weber-Gale lives in Austin and is training for the FINA World Championships in Istanbul in December.
He is working on a book and said his long-term goal is to open a healthy fast food restaurant in Austin and eventually expand it nationwide.
The clinics give Weber-Gale a chance to connect with young swimmers and pass on the knowledge he's gained form competing at the sport's highest level.
"I love doing clinics like this," said Weber-Gale. "Working with the kids is a blast, they always get excited and their energy gets me excited. It's really a pleasure to work with them and see how they're getting better."
Button said the parents got a chance to learn as much as their children.
"The care and feeding of an Olympian I guess is what you can call it and it works for everybody," Button said with a smile. "It'll make all these kids better. And to come to little old El Campo is pretty cool."