Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Swimmers inspired by Phelps, team

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Chris Rossi/The Gazette
Antonio Deshields, 16, of Rockville takes a swim at the Wheaton Woods Pool on Monday afternoon. A member of the Wheaton Woods swim team, the Tigers, Deshields is impressed with eight-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and his teammate, Cullen Jones, a member of the gold-medal freestyle relay team.

The Wheaton Woods Pool in Aspen Hill is swimming with excitement these days as youngsters and their parents celebrate the gold-medal victories of Maryland's own Michael Phelps and his teammates in the Summer Olympics.

Children and adults alike say they are excited and inspired by the way the United States swim teams have performed in Beijing.

"It's a very exciting time," said Shelley Malusky, an Aspen Hill resident and a pool board member. "It's all anyone talks about around here."

Alex Wasel, a member of the Wheaton Woods swim team along with her four siblings, has been glued to the television.

"We've been watching all the swimming events and the medal ceremonies," the 11-year-old Aspen Hill resident said. "It's really exciting to see."

Like many on the pool's swim team, the Tigers, Wasel said her favorite male swimmer is Phelps. She also admires Katie Hoff, a female swimmer for Team USA.

"He's just a good swimmer and he makes me want to swim harder for the swim team next year," Wasel said, adding she is considering swimming in the winter to improve her speed.

Chrissy Wasel, Alex's 10-year-old sister and a swim team member, said Phelps is "the best swimmer in the world."

"I want to be just like him," she said, smiling shyly.

Phelps, a 23-year-old Towson native, has won eight gold medals in this year's Olympic Games. According to published reports, Team USA has won 31 medals for swimming — 12 gold, nine silver and 10 bronze.

While taking a break from swimming laps in the pool Monday afternoon, 16-year-old Antonio Deshields said he was amazed by Phelps' performance, but also admires 24-year-old Cullen Jones.

The New Brunswick, N.J., native helped the men's team win a gold medal and break a world record for its performance in a freestyle relay Aug. 10. The team beat out France, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Canada, South Africa and Great Britain for the gold.

"It's just an inspiration to watch how they're achieving so many things," he said.

Deshields, a Rockville resident who has been swimming for the Tigers for 10 years, said he has been following Phelps' and Jones' careers.

"I admire Phelps for all the things he's achieved," Deshields said. "Winning eight gold medals in Beijing is amazing and he's pretty much made history by doing that. And the fact that he's from around here is pretty cool."

The Georgetown Preparatory School junior said he also is impressed to see Jones giving back to the community.

"He's one of my favorite swimmers because he's achieved many things and he's the first African-American to have shared a record," the teenager said. "He's also been starting programs to help African-American and Hispanic children learn to swim because, according to statistics, they are more likely to drown."

Deshields said he has his eye on the Olympics and is training hard to get there.

"It would just be a dream come true to be in the Olympics," he said.

Carol Trigonoplos, whose 15-year-old son, Paul, swims alongside Deshields, said it is important for children to start on a summer swim team because it encourages them to swim year-round.

"Michael Phelps started out just like these kids," she said. "I think he even started out on a summer swim team."

Trigonoplos added her son, Paul, is in the national training group for the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club and hopes to qualify for the Olympics one day.

Malusky's 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, said she also wants to swim in the games. Phelps is the lifeguard's favorite swimmer.

"I think it has to be his endurance, strength and courage," the Rockville High School junior said. "I aspire to be like him every day."