Tonight, the Olympics kick off in all their thrilling, inspiring glory. It’s been a long path filled with hard work and dedication for each athlete competing. And one, swimmer and three-time gold medalist Peter Vanderkaay, started out as a kid on a Y team in Rochester.
From ages 7 to 13, Peter competed at the Y, including at the Y state meet. He progressed through his swimming career, swimming for the University of Michigan and going to the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where he won a gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle in Athens in 2004 and the gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle and the 200m freestyle in Beijing.
Now, he’s reaching back to help kids who have never had the chance to swim learn how. He’s been involved with the Detroit Swims Initiative from the start. “It has always broke my heart when I read about kids drowning because of lack of swimming proficiency skills,” he says. “Everyone should know how to swim. You don’t have to be a competitive swimmer to enjoy the water, especially in Michigan. In my mind, it should be a basic skill that can enrich everyone’s life.”
Detroit Swims Initiative aims to teach all Detroit kids to swim by fifth grade. That’s a big goal; there are 120,000 kids in that age group in the city. With our city bordering a river and so many lakes, ponds and pools everywhere, basic water survival skills are critical to keeping kids safe.
Vanderkaay’s family (two brothers are also swimmers) have created a T-shirt supporting Peter that people can wear during the Olympics. Sales benefit the Detroit Swim Initiative.
Peter hopes to show kids that competitive swimming builds confidence and is fun, whether they’re swimming in a small club meet or on the biggest stage in the world for swimmers, like he is about to do for the third time. “My story can show them that I started off just like everyone else; slowly rising to the top,” he says. “All it takes is a dream and a personal commitment to achieve it. ”
Best of luck to Peter in London!