By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
You might see someone familiar at the White House tomorrow – 2008 Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale. The University Texas alum is back in the pool training for the Maccabiah Games. He tells us about that, his personal business development, and more in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So the White House tomorrow? How did this come about?
Garrett: It is a huge honor to be invited to speak at the White House. I'm on a mission to help people be healthier and realize the incredible difference good nutrition can make on how they feel and perform. This opportunity will help me reach more people, and elevate my platform to a new level. The sky is the limit.
2. With 2012 in the books, have you taken something away from not making the team, what it all means and how it fits into your life and career?
Garrett: It was not a great year. But I’m always going to make the best of it. I pride myself on making the best of almost any situation and growing from things, but last year wasn’t what I wanted swimming wise; I wanted to swim much faster. The cookie crumbled much different than it did in 2008. I still got to go to London and cheer on my teammates. It was a fabulous time. So 2012 was still a good year, though not what I worked so hard for.
3. You are advising, through Athletic Foodie, healthy lifestyles – what’s the advice for swimmers as the season reaches NCAAs?
Garrett: The best thing you can do is get a good plan that doesn’t take away from your mental state, because you want to stay happy. Just don’t eat a ton of (laughs) cheeseburgers or ride your skateboard down a steep hill. Also, as a swimmer, you need to recover from all the work you have done in the winter. Your body does not recover when you stress, so stay relaxed, enjoy what you’re doing each day.
4. So as you approach 30, how do you feel?
Garrett: Well, I am only 27, so let’s clear (laughs) that up. But seeing what my UT teammates Ian Crocker, Aaron Peirsol and Brendan Hansen have been able to do so many times is inspiring. You just have to be excited about all the opportunities you get and don’t let one pass you by without giving your best.
5. I’m down 17 pounds this year but have hit a plateau after a strong start – is there a problem?
Garrett: But that’s good, you don’t want to lose 50 in a year. Those 17 pounds are something you can keep off now, and if you can do that, that’s a big distance from where you were last year. Just keep eating and working out smart, and taking care of yourself with proper rest, and managing stress.
6. Yeah, didn’t enjoy the dieting so much – eating veggie burgers and I came up with a low-fat pizza from your blog that has helped me miss the “good stuff” less – is that a key?
Garrett: What we want to do is switch the mentality; we don’t want to diet, we want to eat. We want to be eating real foods instead of dieting. A diet is something you live, not something you do to lose weight. Eat responsible food. A regular piece of pizza or a cheeseburger once a month, in my eyes, that’s part of eating in general. We are omnivores as humans; it’s just that we are supposed to eat most things in moderation. The best thing we can do is keep a plethora of foods within our system. The best things for humans are plant based foods, but I don’t think you have to give up animal products if you like that, too. I think what’s killing us is the amount of animal products we are eating. But keep that balance: You can’t sustain the low-carb diet, or juicing or Atkins forever. That’s not how we are created. Different things, in moderation – have a good, healthy balance.
7. So it’s not a deal breaker to have something that’s considered a “vice”?
Garrett: There’s nothing wrong with that; if you have one of those once in a while, you will be able to really enjoy what you are eating, instead of starving yourself and not having it at all. Ideally, you’d find that healthy pizza or burger option. Listen, I’ve gone through periods like this, where you don’t let yourself have something and then you crave it. Sometimes a cookie or ice cream when I want something sweet…it’s good to have a little bit of it. The idea that we should starve ourselves is the opposite of good health.
8. So you have stayed in phenomenal shape even though you kind of backed off your training post Olympic Trials a little – how is that possible?
Garrett: it is my lifestyle; I live a “clean” life. I don’t drink really, I have wine once in a while. And I don’t do any drugs. I exercise frequently, obviously very frequently, and I eat foods of the earth that are not very processed. I rest, I stretch, and I take care of my body with physical therapy. I am able to maintain it by doing what you are supposed to be doing to stay healthy, and really there is no rocket science about it.
9. Switching back to swimming, and points beyond, you still love it, don’t you?
Garrett: To be honest, I love swimming. I don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of my career past this year, but I love the swimming lifestyle, and I love the sport of swimming. As you know I am also doing a lot of things outside the pool.
10. This whole advocating for public health – you really enjoy that, don’t you?
Garrett: I am getting to do things that give me the opportunity to make a real difference with people’s health and condition. At some point, that will be more important to me than swimming fast. I want to make a big a difference in the world. At some point, swimming professionally will not allow me to make as big a difference. When that point comes, and I don’t know when that will be – I will move on. Swimming has been a great ride, and continues to be. I am so excited for the Maccabiah Games.
11. That part of your heritage means a lot to you, doesn’t it?
Garrett: Yes, it does. I’m not a super religious person, but I am a cultural Jew for sure. I am extremely proud . I can’t wait to go to Israel and represent the USA . I am proud of my upbringing in the Jewish faith, and I always enjoy learning more about it.
12. How fun has life been for you in Austin?
Garrett: I would have never known Austin could be this incredible as an environment where I could pursue my passion in swimming, food and being an entrepreneur. Austin is a very unique city in that respect. So I am very fortunate. I think of other places where I could have swum as fast, but this place has been the best place for me to pursue that and my other interests.
13. How about you studying business down there – that must have helped with building your own brand?
Garrett: McCombs is one of the top business schools in the nation. And to be honest, I had no idea when I signed here how (laughs) hard this school would be! It was so hard for me going through school, though I did all As and Bs, with the exceptions of two Cs the first semester of my freshman year. I mean, I studied like crazy. I could not be more proud to have gone to the University of Texas.
14. What was your official major?
Garrett: Corporate communications with a minor in business. It’s about helping people understand that it is not that hard to be healthy and to feel good. I guess what I am trying to do is help them learn the simple things I have learned from nutritionists, and then practically through trial and error, to be healthier. Getting people to understand the difference that eating better food can make on how they feel is part of the dream I am pursuing now.
15. With all the famous chefs you’ve trained with, and all the places you’ve medaled around the world for the U.S., have you considered opening a restaurant abroad?
Garrett: Outside of the U.S.? I don’t know. I’m just focused on the U.S. I really loved Spain this past summer. It was fantastic. But I loved being in London last summer. I spent 2 ½ weeks there, and that place was just fabulous. People could not be nicer, and the city itself was awesome.
16. Things have changed with the suit deals basically gone – how good was your timing to be a pro swimmer?
Garrett: It is over, that is true, for a lot of people. I was very fortunate to be on the stipend in 2005, and I was very fortunate to sign with Speedo in 2008 before the Olympics, and right after I got superhot at Olympic Trials, that the contract I had took me through 2012. Now with going to Israeli, I am again fortunate. Certainly, I did not become rich from all of this, but I have been able to build a really good life outside of swimming – with swimming’s help. This sport has helped me build a future.
17. You have so many things going on, does it help that they all link together so well?
Garrett: Absolutely. Health communication, healthy lifestyle, workout health, that is all connected. With Athletic Foodie, it keeps me busy along with the speaking and I want to write a book. I also make some money with swim clinics. I didn’t want to be one of those professional athletes that you see on TV who all of the sudden their career ends, and they have no idea what is next. That’s why I was always working outside of the pool, so I would have something to go into.
18. The UT men’s and women’s teams are back on track – what is your impression as someone who trains with the club team there?
Garrett: I think they are both going to do really well. (New head coach) Carol (Capitani) has done a great job with the women’s team. The girls love her. The guys’ team is pretty young – I think just five seniors, but they don’t have a pure breaststroker on the team which might hurt them a little bit. But we have a lot of guys who are going to swim really fast and really rip it.
19. So you are back training at full speed now?
Garrett: I am training with an eye toward Maccabiah. I leave for that July 10, though I will compete in Indianapolis before that as a tune up meet. All my focus is on that buildup right now for Israel. I have no idea what will happen beyond that; it depends on how I feel, and what else I have going that I want to do. There’s no way to tell right now beyond that.
20. We’ve been talking for almost a decade now – could you in your wildest dream have imagined these Olympic medals – that iconic image of you and Phelps with biceps flexed to the world in jubilation – the friends you have made, the titles in Texas?
Garrett: I would say it has surprised me, but I don’t know how accurate that would be, because I really do have high expectations with everything I do in life. And frankly, after last year, I’d be lying if I said I did not want more; I always want more, in swimming, business and school. But to answer your question, of course I am very proud of what I have done, and so fortunate to be with these amazing people. My pride goes back to age group records and high school records, and then to NCAA champion, NCAA record holder, U.S. Nationals, the American Record, and the Olympics. I left Beijing with two relay gold medals, but had I gone in Beijing the time I went at Trials, I would have won a silver medal. So there are things that I have attained, but there are things that I have wanted more out of. Maybe that’s why I continue swimming. To be frank, people with high expectations of themselves will go further in life. You talk to a lot of National Teamers all the time, and they always tell you how they are not fully satisfied; even when they do their best, they are not satisfied because they know they can do better. So yes, I am happy, honored and humbled with my career, but I am always looking for more.