Catching Up with Robert Margalis
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
After spending the majority of his days and weekends preparing for the next swim meet for more than 15 years, Robert Margalis’ first “free” weekend following the 2012 Olympic Trials felt like a mini-vacation.
Ever since, he and his wife, Beth, have continued to capitalize on those open weekends by taking short trips and spending more time together.
And while it’s taken Margalis some time to adjust to his slower-paced life, it’s one he’s embracing by trying new things and seeking out opportunities for their future together.
“Life is very different these days,” Margalis said. “Weekends are far longer than they've ever been. My wife and I have tried to take advantage of many of those by taking mini-trips. Especially in the beginning, it seemed like a vacation every week.”
To fill some of the rest of the time gaps left behind, Margalis has taken up work in a brewery for the past year.
He started by cleaning kegs and has worked up to his current position as a brewer. He also teaches a swim lesson every once in a while.
“My wife works in finance, so the nice thing is that I work early mornings at the brewery and she works east coast hours for the market so we get to hang out a lot,” Margalis said. “Even though I have worked my way up to brewing at work, there is so much more for me to learn about beer. I'm still relatively new to making it and I’ve learned a lot, but I look forward to learning much more.”
And while he’s taken ample time off from competing, Margalis isn’t ready to say that he’s officially retired.
It’s simply a partnership that has evolved into something new and different. He said he still has fun with swimming, but he’s now excited to share his experiences with Beth doing 1-to 3-mile ocean races in Southern California.
“My relationship with swimming has changed,” Margalis said. “I am definitely not a competitive professional anymore. But Beth and I swim in as many (ocean races) as we can. We both won the overall series of races for the summer in our age groups.
“Neither of us train much though. A few hours a week most of the year, and more in the summer when we go swim in the ocean once it's warm enough.”
Having swum for the majority of his life, Margalis, who turns 32 in February, is no stranger to the highs and lows over the years that athletes experience.
His outcomes at the past four Olympic Trials were particularly disheartening – heartbreaking, really – considering how close he came to making the Olympic Team.
In 2000, he finished third in the 400 and 1500 freestyles, and in 2008, he placed a close third in the 400 individual medley -- each time coming one spot short of swimming in the Olympics.
At the 2012 Trials, he made the finals of the 400 IM and finished eighth overall – a solid albeit somewhat disappointing conclusion to a long and successful swimming career that included gold and silver medals in two different Pan American Games. (2007 and 2011).
“Trials (in 2012) definitely weren't the meet I wanted them to be,” Margalis said. “I always approach competition wanting to be better than I've ever been. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go best times. At the same time, I was able to look back with my coaches and appreciate the journey.”
A journey that has taken him around the world, earned him a degree from the University of Georgia and ultimately introduced him to Beth.
And despite the somewhat glaring Olympic omission on his swimming resume, Margalis said he looks back proudly knowing he always gave it his all – never holding back – and left the pool knowing he couldn’t have done anything different.
“I hope when I do officially retire and my names comes up in swimming conversations that people will remember me as someone who wouldn't give up,” said Margalis, whose younger sister, Melanie, is making a name for herself to his delight in swimming. “If I was in a race, you knew I was going to give it my all and I did everything I could to prepare for it.
“I'm also really proud to have represented the University of Georgia to the best of my abilities, and I couldn't be happier with my decision to go there. I’m also proud to have held a couple of American records in the 1000 free and 800 free relay short course meters. And it will also stay with me forever to have heard the national anthem played while standing atop the podium at the Pan American Games.”
Now that he’s had some distance and time to reflect since his last swim (remember, he hasn’t officially retired yet), Margalis said he has learned many lessons from the sport.
In many ways, it was the discipline of the swimming along with the guidance – in and out of the pool – he received from his many coaches and mentors over the years that helped shape the man he is today.
“Swimming does a great job of teaching someone to work very hard for a long period of time before realizing the reward,” Margalis said. “I've found that to be a very valuable skill.
“However, the biggest rewards have been the people I've met and how they've shaped me as a person. I was very fortunate to swim for Fred Lewis in St Petersburg growing up, for Harvey (Humphries) and Jack (Bauerle) at Georgia, and Jon Urbanchek (at FAST) for a while at the end. All those people, in their own way, made me a better person. And best of all, I met my wife through swimming”