Paul Moore: Swimmer lives the motto, ‘Once an Olympian, always an Olympian’

In My Father’s House / Paul Thomas Moore

This issue of The Catholic Post lands just a week after the closing ceremonies of the 32nd Summer Olympics. On the morning of the opening ceremonies on July 23, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting with Olympian Kim Linehan (1980 and 1984).

She came to talk with us after I heard her speak at an event where she was a surprise guest and had shared her Olympic story. My wife, Mary Louise — a huge Olympics fan — had missed the event, and Kim graciously agreed to provide a personal encore re-telling.

When we spoke with her, we were reminded of the motto, “Once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Never former, never past.” The way Kim has expressed that motto through the living of her life before and after competitive swimming is something to which anyone can relate.

QUALIFIED FOR 1980 OLYMPICS, THEN . . .

In the beginning, her chances looked strong “for Olympic greatness,” as the TV commentators say (and perhaps, given the cautionary tale of Simone Biles, we should be more careful about weighing down our talented young men and women with the crushing pressure of that word).

1980 and 1984 Olympic swimmer Kim Linehan now works as admissions liaison at the non-profit Snyder Village Retirement Community in Metamora. (Provided photo)

As a 15-year-old at the 1978 World Championships, Kim picked up bronze medals in the 400m and 800m freestyles. In 1979, she shattered the world record in the 1500m by two seconds — a record which stood for eight years.

Unfortunately for Kim and other distance women swimmers, the 1500m did not become an Olympic event for women until this year’s Olympics in Tokyo, when U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky won the pot of gold at the end of the pool (she was born on St. Patrick’s Day, so go figure). Nevertheless, Kim qualified for the Moscow Olympics in the distance events that were offered to women at the time — the 400m and 800m freestyles, as well as the 200m butterfly.

Ah yes . . . Moscow. Afghanistan. Soviet invasion. American boycott. At the peak of her career, after years of early mornings and late suppers, training five hours a day, six days a week, the Moscow Olympics were off the table for Kim and the rest of the team.

COMPETES IN L.A. IN 1984

The U.S. Olympic Trials were held during the same week as the games in Moscow to serve as kind of a “shadow” Olympics. The race times Kim swam that week would have garnered her 1984 Olympic gold medals in the 400m and 800m freestyles, and bronze in the 200m butterfly.

She decided to continue with swimming. However, commenting on the challenges faced by Tokyo’s Olympians in dealing with the one-year COVID delay, she asks, “Can you imagine four years?”

In 1983 she stepped away for a time, but while watching the swimming competition at the Pan American Games later that summer, the competitive bug bit again. Kim resumed training and was one of only six swimmers from the 1980 U.S. Olympic squad to qualify for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Kim gave it her best shot in the 400m freestyle, but finished fourth, just out of the medals. She walked around the Olympic Stadium after the closing ceremonies and met her Dad coming the other way. “I’m done,” she told him.

At the ripe old age of 21, it was time to build a life outside of swimming. As she says today, “You deal with it, and go on.”

FROM COMPETITION TO COMPASSION

She learned from athletics how to win and lose gracefully. Kim earned a bachelor’s degree at Bradley University, and moved from the field of competition to the field of compassion as a social worker and health care administrator.

Her personal experience in making big life transitions has certainly come in handy. Today, Kim works as admissions liaison at the non-profit Snyder Village Retirement Community in Metamora, where the mission statement emphasizes providing for the “. . . needs of others in a loving, dignified and Christian atmosphere.”

Once an Olympian, always an Olympian, only now Kim is helping others to live their best life at the next stage of life. That’s an even worthier goal than “faster, higher, stronger,” or, as St. Paul might say, a less perishable crown.

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Paul Thomas Moore is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at paulthomasmoore@hotmail.com.

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