John W. Donohue

Maine’s secretary of state sponsors a Web page offering lively information about this largest of the six New England states. Maine has an area of 33,215 square miles that include 17 million acres of forest and 31,000 acres of blueberries. It has a human population of 1.2 million and a moose population of 29,000. There are also 71 lighthouses along the state’s 3,500-mile coastline.

What Maine does not have anywhere in that space is a 50-meter, Olympic-size swimming pool. But this shortage did not defeat Ian Crocker of Portland, a powerful, 6-foot-4 swimmer who turned 18 on Aug. 31 of this year. He had his mind and his will set on qualifying for the Olympics 2000 swimming team, and he did so even though he had to do most of his training in a four-lane, 25-yard pool.

At the national Olympic trials in Indianapolis on Aug. 15, Ian Crocker won the 100-meter butterfly and became the first Maine resident to make a U.S. Olympic swimming team. In Sydney on Sept. 23, he and his three teammates, Ed Moses, Lenny Krayzelburg and Gary Hall Jr., won the 4x100-meter medley relay, with Ian Crocker swimming the third, or butterfly, leg. He had been nervous beforehand, he said, but his teammates, all considerably older than himself, were calming me down, telling me to have fun. And I did.

This victory evoked general satisfaction in Maine, where people are not blasé about Olympic gold medals. Until this year, the last Mainer (as the state’s newspapers call its citizens) to win an Olympic gold medal was Joan Benoit Samuelson. She triumphed in the 1984 marathon run, and there is now a statue honoring her in Cape Elizabeth, her home town.

No wonder, then, that Robert Ganley, Portland’s city manager, organized a public ceremony honoring Ian Crocker on Oct. 6. In an editorial The Portland Press Herald concluded that the young swimmer’s performance suggests maturity and a lifetime of support at home, in school and within the community. We can all be proud.

They are certainly justifiably proud at Portland’s Cheverus High School, from which Ian Crocker graduated last June. The school is named after the French-born Jean-Louis Cheverus (1768-1836) who worked as a missionary priest in northern Maine before being named the first bishop of Boston in 1808. It was founded as a diocesan high school in 1917. In 1942 the New England Province of the Society of Jesus was invited to assume responsibility for Cheverus which describes itself today as The Jesuit College Preparatory School of Maine. It has this year become co-ed and enrolls some 426 students, of whom 27 are girls.

A few weeks ago, John W. Keegan, S.J., Cheverus’s president, sent us a sheaf of news clippings about the school’s most famous alumnus and the enthusiasm he has stirred up in Maine. Naturally enough his coach, Sharon Power, who directs the Portland Porpoise Swim Club, and his personal trainer, Joanne Arnold, were exuberant. Ian’s future is great, said Ms. Power, and I hope the future of Maine swimming is great too. Ian showed that you can stay at home and actually learn to swim fast.

You can if you are willing to spend four or five hours a day, as he did, swimming the 15,000 yards that add up to 8.5 miles. It’s a fair guess, though, that Mainers who do not consider competitive swimming one of life’s alluring activities applauded Ian Crocker, because his friends say he is modest and unassuming. His post-victory reflections are unlike those of winners who shout and pump their fists. It’s important to remember why we compete, he said in Indianapolis last August. We do it as a celebration of our talent and just go out and do the best we can. Whatever happens is where we’re supposed to be.

He begins college at the University of Texas in Austin this fall, and he told a reporter that the program there is what he needs and I thank God because he’s put me here.

For comments like that, Cheverus might like to give him another gold medal.

John W. Donohue, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

Barbara Smith | 1/22/2007 - 10:33am
I read with interest Of Many Things (10/21), which mentions my native city and tells the story of a “golden boy” by the name of Ian Crocker. I recently heard another amazing story about this ordinary Olympian. It seems he was working before he left for Australia this summer and mentioned to one of his co-workers that he was leaving for vacation time before school started in the fall. “Are you going to do anything special?” he was asked. “Maybe a little swimming,” was the typical Maine laconic response.

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