Olympic Gold Medalist “Sheila T” Comes to Bishop Dunne
Olympic athlete Sheila Taormina spoke to the Bishop Dunne student body in an assembly on February 17, 2015.
“Sheila T” is the only woman to compete in three different sports in four different Olympics. She brought with her the gold medal--won in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay in swimming at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta--to pass around to all the students in the audience. “It’s heavy and dented because it’s been dropped a few times,” she explained, “but I’d rather share it with you than keep it in a glass case.”
She talked to the students about how she was told she was too slow and too small to compete. “I was from Detroit and the youngest of eight. My twin brother and I swam for our high school team. When I was 15, my parents took me and my brother to see the Olympic trials in Indianapolis. I noticed that all the swimmers were tall and tan. I was short, and from Michigan.” She laughed at the memory. “I figured you had to be from a sunny state to compete like California, Florida, or Texas.”
She attended the University of Georgia on a swimming scholarship and each year she got a little bit faster. At 19, as a freshman at the University, she made the qualifying time to try out for the Olympics, but at the actual trials Olympian Janet Evans won. “She just crushed me,” Sheila said, “so I thought there was no way I could ever be an Olympian.” But each season after that she grew stronger and faster, and by the time she received her diploma, the Olympic trials were just two years away. “I figured that I’d keep practicing and if one of the ten girls on the team got sick, I could swim in their place,” she explained to laughter from her audience. But all the Olympians made it that next year, so she didn’t get to go.
By this time she received advice to use the last of her scholarship money to obtain her Master’s in Business Administration and go home and get a job. Her college coach told her she could still train before and after school, but Sheila knew that wasn’t ideal. She contacted the new Olympic training facility in Colorado and hoped to be accepted into the program, only to be turned down.
Back home in Michigan she went to the little pool she trained in as a child and talked to her former coach who said, “You have a dream – and I’m willing to coach you to make it come true.” So she began training with him again and admitted she worked hard, but when it came time to try out she was so scared that she didn’t want to go. “These little kids at the pool kept asking me every day, ‘Did you make the Olympic team yet?’ I didn’t want to disappoint them,” she explained. Right next to her at the trials was Olympic Gold Medalist Janet Evans again, and Sheila tried to talk herself into believing she could make the team, saying, “I figured if I could think of five great things about myself, I’d be OK.” But she heard the official call out, “Swimmers, get into your starting blocks!” so all Sheila could think was, “My swim suit fits great!”
She made the team, and at the Olympics, her relay team won a gold medal.
To be successful, Sheila told the students “You have to show up. You have to give your best. You have to take what you’ve been given and work with that. My little pool back home had water in it, and that’s what I needed to swim – to train in – for the Olympics.”
She returned to three more Olympics. In the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, she placed 6th in the Triathlon. Four years later she was the World Games Triathlon Champion, and in the 2004 Olympics Games held in Athens, she placed 23rd in the Triathlon. In the 2008 Games she placed 19th in the Pentathlon, winning first place in two of the five events: swimming and equestrian show jumping.
She’s taking her Bachelor's and Master's in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Georgia with her to Florida, where she’s moving this year. “Always get your education first,” she told her audience. “And know that things don’t go well all the time. But you must work with what you’re given. When we have done our best, we can await the results in Peace.”
For more information on Bishop Dunne see the school's website: www.bdcs.org or www.Dunnesports.com. For information on the swim team, contact Coach Zeske at email@example.com