TERRE HAUTE —
Amid the August battle for medals, a Torpedo is bound for London.
Eight swimmers crashed through the water in Terre Haute South Vigo High School’s pool Thursday evening. Among them, their childhood friend and teammate, Evan Austin, led the pack, continuing his preparations for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
After practice, the 19-year-old swimmer said he’s optimistic about his times heading into the international competition Aug. 29.
“It’s pretty close between the 100 [-meter] butterfly and the 100 [-meter] breaststroke,” he said of his top events. As a member of the U.S. team, Austin plans to compete in both of those, as well as the 100-meter freestyle, the 200-meter individual medley and two relays.
His 100-meter butterfly time was running about 1:07, and he says he’ll need to be under a minute to win it, adding that he’s dropping time fast.
Water as equalizer
Watching from the side of the pool, onlookers can see Evan’s body speed across the water, no different from his peers, four of whom were preparing for upcoming college seasons. But as he climbed out, the effects of his hereditary spastic paraplegia become visible.
Jeff Thompson, Evan’s coach since the sixth grade, agreed that his prodigy looks quite normal while moving in the pool.
“Water is a great equalizer,” he said.
Evan’s condition was first noticed in early childhood. His mother, Nola, and her brother both share the genetic disease, which damages nerves and muscles throughout the lower limbs.
“He was actually three,” Nola said, noting she wasn’t impacted until the age of 47. “It can onset at any age.”
Evan’s father, Eric, said his son has a wheelchair for use in places such as shopping malls, where extensive walking would be required.
But aside from that, his son has been a competitive athlete all his life, battling his way onto teams ranging from soccer to baseball.
Determination and great hand-eye coordination did their part, but lack of mobility continued to plague him, so when the sixth-grader brought home a flier from the Terre Haute Torpedoes, the family decided to give it a try.
And a swimmer was born.
“Basically, since the middle of the sixth grade, he’s been in the pool year-round,” Eric said of his son.
Evan’s older brother, Adam, played basketball and ran track for the Terre Haute South Braves, graduating in 2009. Both shared the early morning workouts of their respective sports, as well as evening practices and weekend competitions, Eric said, joking at how his kids truly lived at the school while there.
Thompson said most swimmers in the Paralympic Games are double-amputees, in contrast to Evan’s condition. Evan’s legs enable him to jump into the water, which is an advantage, the coach said. But, he has to drag the sizable legs of a 6-foot, 2-inch frame through the pool with only his upper body for power.
“It’s a wash,” Thompson said of the advantages and disadvantages.
Earning the burn
Thompson, who coaches the Terre Haute South swim team in addition to the Terre Haute Torpedoes club, said he treats Evan like any other athlete.
Now in his eighth year with Evan, the mentor’s pride was evident.
All the more reason to keep up the workload.
“His training load right now is pretty busy,” Thompson said, noting that once overseas, Evan will be coached by the U.S. team.
“But we haven’t rested on our laurels, if you would, since the trials.”
In addition to lifting weights and “dry land training,” Evan hits the pool twice a day, ramping up the effort before leaving for Germany next week.
Once overseas, he’ll slow down a bit in preparation for the events beginning Aug. 29.
“He’s training about four hours a day right now,” Thompson said, describing “dry land training” as plyometrics, calisthenics and some weights.
Each workout session burns about 4,000 calories, he said, estimating Evan’s daily caloric intake to be between 8,000 and 10,000 per day.
Evan weighs between 175 and 180 pounds, eating six meals a day, and packing in granola bars and cookies between meals.
“Probably the go-to is Pop Tarts,” he said, remarking that his family buys the pastries by the case. “Anything I can find that tastes good.”
Thompson’s coaching success hit a new peak this summer, as not one, but two of his athletes qualified for the Paralympic trials in June.
Both Evan and fellow Brave alumnus Addison Bray competed for spots on the American team. Addison, Thompson explained, was a classmate and childhood friend of Evan who now swims for the University of Louisville, finishing his freshman year there.
“His time is coming,” Thompson said, predicting Bray will make the U.S. Paralympic team for the 2016 summer games to be hosted by Brazil.
Nola credited Thompson and the local swim club as keys to her son’s success.
“He epitomizes what coaches should be,” she said of the coach who was there with her son that evening — on his own wedding anniversary.
Evan leaves Wednesday for Germany to meet up with the rest of the U.S. team.
The group will train together 12 days before going to London. Evan should be back Sept. 10, and in October will be going to Washington, D.C., with the rest of the U.S. athletes to meet with President Barack Obama.
Evan, who completed his freshman year at Indiana State University, said he’s taking the fall semester off for the competition.
Next year, he hopes to transfer to Lipscomb University, where his brother currently competes in Division I track and field.
Meanwhile, a beard hangs off his face as he and his U.S. teammates have agreed to abstain from shaving until they reunite abroad. The beard has been growing since after the trials in June, he said.
The family has gatherings planned throughout the weekend for friends and teammates, and Evan thanked his “fan club” and followers on Twitter who have been sending messages of support.
“I think I have a pretty good chance,” Evan said, as he aims for striking gold.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or email@example.com.
You can help
• The Terre Haute Torpedoes, a non-profit organization, is raising money to help with the expenses of the trip to London for the 2012 Paralympics.
• To make a donation, visit www.terrehaute
torpedoes.com and click on the “documents” tab.
Check it out
• For more information about the Paralympic Games, visit www.paralympic.org/
• For more information about the Terre Haute Torpedoes, visit www.terrehautetorpedoes.com.