CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Olympian Sheila Taormina gives Clovis High School freshman Caitlin Myers advice on how to move her arms Tuesday at the Aquatic Center.
The Clovis High School swim team swarmed tables at the Clovis Community Center Tuesday afternoon to write thank you notes to Olympic gold medalist Sheila Taormina.
Taormina, 43, won a gold medal in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay at the 1996 Olympic games. She was the smallest swimmer to win Olympic gold since the 1920 Olympics.
She spent four days with the CHS swim team, teaching them a freestyle swim technique she calls the key to success in swimming.
Swim team coach Vincent deMaio said he met Taormina at a triathlon in Austin.
“She was one of those people when you meet them, you feel like you know them,” deMaio said.
He asked that she come to Clovis if she could and she found time on her cross-country trip from Detroit to California for the winter.
Taormina said now that she’s retired from competition, she has a passion for teaching children.
“This group is great. I can see they’re hungry to be good,” she said.
Taormina said she works with children nationwide. She began swimming at age 6 but didn’t get serious about it until high school because she wanted to swim in college.
“It was always one step at a time,” she said. “I got more serious about it my last year in college. Seeing people I know do it is what got me thinking about the Olympics. That’s why it’s great to meet kids. If they get to know me, then I’m someone they know who did it.”
Taormina said what she enjoyed most about the Olympics was finding an appreciation for all the different sports.
“What I really enjoyed was sitting down and having a cup of coffee with an athlete from a different sport and you talk to them about it and they can instill some of the essence of their sport with you,” she said. “It’s great.”
Taormina said most of the athletes speak English.
On a more personal note, Taormina said she enjoyed having her family come together to see her compete. Her family attended all four of the Olympic games she competed in. Taormina said the family’s community rallied and helped pay for the family to attend.
Taormina said she enjoyed her time in Clovis. She’ll be heading out today.
“I’m loving it (Clovis),” she said. “It’s the people that I love the most. People are authentic and sweet.”
DeMaio said working with Taormina is a big opportunity for the team.
“She’s a great role model,” he said. “She’s teaching them more than swimming propulsion, she’s teaching them what it takes to be a professionl athlete and what its like as an professional athlete. Those things are almost as valuable as the swimming itself.”
DeMaio said Taormina taught the students that there are obstacles to overcome and what it takes to ultimately achieve that goal.