Olympian turns in star performance
Published: Friday, October 1, 2010
Updated: Saturday, October 23, 2010 09:10
Olympic medalist and alumnus of this college Josh Davis sat relaxed behind the borrowed desk of one of the theater professors Thursday just minutes before his lecture.
Leaning back slowly, elbows on the arms of the chair, Davis reached for several issues of The Ranger sporting his face on the cover. The felt tip of his permanent marker squeaked across the front page and Davis looked up with a bright smile.
"Thank you, very much! It was really nice to meet you," he said, handing back the autographed newspaper.
Slowly, faculty eager to meet the Olympian and collect an autograph shuffled out of the office.
In Atlanta in 1996, Davis became the first man in any sport, from any nation, to win three gold medals.
Four years later in 2000, Davis was elected captain of the USA men's swim team. He won two silver medals in the games in Sydney, Australia.
Davis travels to about 80 cities around the country every year to lecture. "I am gone almost every weekend," he said.
With his busy schedule, Davis' usual problem is time taken away from his five kids and his wife of 13 years. But Thursday in his hometown and at his first college, his biggest problem was instead "driving around looking for a parking spot, just like old times."
Despite his experience as a motivational speaker, Davis still gets a little nervous before a lecture. "A little bit, but you don't get any better by worrying. I try to focus on what I can control."
Lecturing has given Davis a new nervous energy akin to that he experienced in Olympic competition.
"I like the feeling of getting nervous. It's what us athletes live for. It's an adrenaline rush," he said.
The enthusiasm quickly rose in Davis' face as he focused on what he could control and turned that nervous feeling into adrenaline.
"In my life of laundry, dishes and diapers ... this is really exciting," Davis said.
Exciting describes Davis' adventures of the past year.
His gold medals were stolen and then returned to him. He earned his degree in 2009 after having dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin to compete in the Olympics. He was short one communications class.
"I left school and I needed one class to graduate," he said. "My wife made me go back just last year to finish up. It's actually very funny. Her degree is from the '90s and mine is from just last year. It's like she's with a younger guy."
Davis said he always tells college students, "Don't give up; chase your dreams."
Finishing his degree was something he felt he needed to do because as Davis put it, "If you work hard enough and long enough, you can accomplish anything. Progress always follows effort."
Waiting for Davis, the small crowd bustled with anticipation as they found seats in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center.
Davis did not disappoint. His wit and affable personality kept everyone engaged and cracking up.
He ranged from the intimate — how he got five children — to the ironic.
At age 12, he said a coach told him, "Son, you're not very good and you'll never be a swimmer."
That pronouncement was at a pool near the site of what is now the Josh Davis Natatorium.
Davis said everyone should live life as a loud thank you.
"You're not going to believe this, but my mom put me in a sport that starts with a B," he said. "Go ahead and guess."
Audience members shouted out suggestions, "Basketball!" "Bingo!" "Baking!"
"It's ballet," he said.
Davis showed a video clip of himself in a 200-meter race. Despite feeling sure of the outcome, audience members felt the tension and cheered him on.
He talked about the pyramid of success a UT coach shared with him, stressing attendance, attitude, technique and integrity.
His message was loud and clear: "Live well, and finish strong."