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Created on 28/9/2008

My American grand kids called me from their mum’s car. They were excited because they had both made a giant step forward in the Lenny Krayzelburg swim school of Los Angeles.

Krayzelburg was born to Jewish parents in Odessa (then part of the Soviet Union, now the Ukraine). He and his family left the Soviet Union in 1989 for the United States. They settled in Los Angeles.

Krayzelburg's family was dirt poor. He took the bus and then walked 45 minutes each way to his swimming practice, and didn't arrive home until 9:30 each night. In addition, he couldn’t initially speak English, which was vital for him to understand his coaches' instructions. Thankfully he managed to adapt quickly.

Lenny attended Santa Monica College where he won both the 100 and 200-yard backstroke junior college titles. His coach at Santa Monica recognized his talent and recommended him to the University of Southern California, which he transferred to.

In 1995, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Four years later, he became the first swimmer since 1986 to sweep the backstroke events, 100 m & 200 m, in the World Championships. Later that same month Krayzelburg broke both the 100 and the 200 m world records respectively and was recognized as the top backstroke swimmer in the world and one of the best in the history of this swimming style. He continued to dominate at the Sydney 2000 Olympics backstroke, shattering the Olympic record .He also played an important role in helping the American team win a gold medal in the 4x100 m relay.

If any story every proved the power of an individual to rise above adversity that would be the story of the man whose swim school now teaches my grandchildren how to do their best.

Soli, my nearly 5-year-old grand son came on the line first, and unusually for him he wasn’t eating, and was actually talking when he was handed the phone. He was hugely proud, having been promoted through the ranks to now be the owner of a blue swim hat, which means he is only a white, silver and gold hat from the competition level. I now call him Soli the fish, but I think he wants to be Soli the shark, but we might compromise on Soli the Dolphin.

Perhaps even more proud was Maya, who will be 8 in December. She has already navigated all those other hats and as she told me, with the lofty knowledge only possessed by the very mature young ladies of California, “I get to try out for the competition team on Monday at 7 in the evening poppa, and I’ve only had a golden swim hat for one month, and the other girl trying out is nearly 12 and she’s been a gold cap for about a year, and she’s really big.”

Of course its obvious knowledge that we shared, poppa to granddaughter, that the entire family is part fish in its history. As she knows from family legend passed down to her from her mummy, I was a competition swimmer. So were many members of our family, and as Mrs. Klinger pointed out somewhat forcefully, so were many members of her family. I said to Maya that it’s no surprise she’s good in the water.

All of which is my long-winded and inelegant way of saying there is nothing more wonderful than families, or listening to the innocent joy of accomplishment of young children. All those who say kids don’t like to compete should listen to those kids who quite clearly enjoy doing their best.

I remember being so proud of winning my swimming races, and the sheer thrill of swimming a couple of miles in the sun blessed pool outside the Pez Espada hotel in southern Spain when I was much the same age as Maya is now. What a gift that was, passed on to me by my wonderful family who understood there is something wonderful, that needs to be treasured in striving for physical excellence, and I am proud that my family was able to pass that pleasure on, in tact, to our children, and now they are doing the same for their children.

I am totally convinced that there are also benefits to people who are stretched to their best physically in that they also thrive to their best mentally. Whatever the reason, its wonderful to see the smiles on small kids faces when they feel fulfilled.

In a perfect ending to this particular story I just heard that Maya won her place onto the Royal Swim Team and starts competing in her section in the next month or so. As they say in the States, “you go girl!”

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