Local Olympians ride in parade

Mary Wayte Bradburne shows off her Olympic medals during the 2012 Summer Celebration Grand Parade on Saturday. This year’s theme was
Mary Wayte Bradburne shows off her Olympic medals during the 2012 Summer Celebration Grand Parade on Saturday. This year’s theme was 'Spirit of the Olympics.'
— image credit: Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

Four former United States Olympic athletes who live in the Seattle area were on hand as part of the Summer Celebration theme, “Spirit of the Olympics.” Mary Wayte Bradburne, Jon Root and Joe McVein each shared a story of their Olympic experiences with the Reporter and where they are now. Samantha Magee, a rower in the 2004 Olympics, also participated in the parade.

Mary Wayte Bradburne grew up on Mercer Island and swam with the Chinook Aquatic Club and Mercer Island High School. She was part of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams, winning gold in the 200-meter freestyle in 1984, and was the country’s top recruit coming out of high school. She reflected on the intense work she put into training, especially during her college years at the University of Florida.

The public pool on Mercer Island is named for the swimmer.

“Practice was basically like the Olympics,” Bradburne said. “There was no room to make mistakes. The water is not forgiving.”

Bradburne knew that Florida was the best place to get both the Olympic training and education she wanted. Nine people from Florida whom she knew went on to swim in the Olympics, including Dara Torres, who continues to compete at age 45. She was coached by Randy Reese, whose innovations proved vital to their success.

“I never want to work that hard again in my life,” Bradburne said. “I am still competitive and intense at times, but I have more balance now.”

She hopes that the things she has learned from being one of the best will positively affect her children.

“I hope my girls will see me work hard, learn what hard work is and bring that to other people,” Bradburne said. “I was blessed to have a unique perspective. Knowing what it takes to get to the top is invaluable in both my professional and personal lives.”

Bradburne, Jim, her husband of 16 years, and their 9- and 11-year-old daughters moved back to Seattle about a year ago. She has attended the Swim Across America events in 2009 and 2010, which benefit the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. This year, she will attend the Olympic Games with her company, Cisco.

“It will be fun to root for Ryan Lochte, since he’s a [Florida] Gator, too,” Bradburne said.

Joe Root, a native of West Los Angeles, played with the gold-medal-winning men’s volleyball team in the 1988 Games in Seoul.

“You’re just kind of jockeying to make a position on the traveling roster,” he said of being selected for the national team. “I had my foot in the door early. Volleyball is very subjective. It’s how you fit in with the team.”

Root previously played baseball, but the volleyball coach recruited him to join the high school team, and he worked his way up to becoming the no. 2 recruit in the nation. He played four years at Stanford University and graduated before joining the national team in 1986.

“It was such a rush for me to just make the team because there were only 2-3 roster openings,” Root said. “Getting to the Olympics, you know, you’re wide-eyed. I didn’t have as much pressure on me because I wasn’t one of the starting six, but we were the no. 1 seed going in, so there was a lot of pressure on the team. When you get there, you try to take it in. The whole experience is amazing.”

Root still keeps track of the sport after retiring in 1994 and hopes to secure a coaching position with student-athletes. He is currently working on a book about performance and transformation after taking time away from the sport for about 10 years and working in sales, real estate and marketing.

“I tried the corporate thing, but it wasn’t really working for me,” he said. “I struggled with the transition after sports. I personally didn’t know what I was all about. It’s hard not to have a group that you’re working and training with every day. I kind of went through an identity crisis for about 10 years.”

Root now lives in West Seattle. He has family in the area and hikes and skis recreationally. As a coach, he looks to bring the same positive effects of sports to other kids that it brought him.

“Sports gave me a place to go,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of wisdom that I can pay forward, not only skills, but a lot of life lessons — how you deal with success and failure. To me, now I think coaching is more about life development. It just happens to be in a sports environment.”

Joe McVein, a former team handball player, grew up in South Carolina and California’s Bay Area playing football and basketball. He picked up handball at Cal State University-Hayward, which had a club team. From there, he quickly moved up to the national team for 10 years and was named to Olympic teams in 1984 and 1988.

“It’s a very unique sport,” McVein said. “It’s the third most popular participation sport in the world. Every country in the world plays it.” While it is rather overlooked in the United States, McVein said that it is of a popularity like soccer in Europe.

Handball is played on a 40-meter by 20-meter court, with seven players for each team on the floor at a time, and a ball a little smaller than a soccer ball. It is similar to water polo in many respects.

“It’s very fast and very physical,” McVein said. “You jump a lot. A lot of power is involved in the game.”

Upon arriving in Los Angeles for the 1984 games, McVein was in for a surprise — he had diabetes.

“I was diagnosed the day after the opening ceremonies,” he said. “I was just hanging out with everyone; it was a big party. The next day, the team physician came up to me and told me I had a blood sugar level over 800. It was a bit of a challenge to start insulin injections and participate in the Olympics.”

McVein continues to keep in touch with his former teammates and follows the sport. He moved to Washington state in 1992, originally to North Bend, and now lives in Newcastle. He attended physical therapy school and works with Evergreen Home Health to help people recover from surgery, strokes and accidents in their homes, including a few on Mercer Island. He also enjoys swimming at Mary Wayte Pool.

His life lessons from being an Olympic athlete?

“Anything of value takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” McVein said.


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