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article imageMeet Mel Stewart: Olympic gold medalist, Co-founder of SwimSwam Special

By Markos Papadatos     Jun 4, 2019 in Sports
Mel Stewart, three-time Olympic medalist and co-founder of SwimSwam, chatted with Digital Journal about the USA Swimming Foundation, and how technology has changed the sport of swimming.
On serving as an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, Stewart said, "Working with the USA Swimming Foundation is my jam. I love it. They are my swimming family because they connect me to all of my swimming peers going back nearly 70 years."
Stewart continued, "Back in 2008, I started managing the USA National Team Alumni, which falls under the USA Swimming Foundation, USA Swimming's philanthropic arm. By managing, I mean I handle communications and host socials and parties. National Team Alums are any elite swimmer who has represented Team USA in an international competition. That includes Olympians going back to 1952."
"Over the last 10 years, our gatherings and socials have grown. We typically meet-up at the U.S. Nationals and cheer from our own section. Next summer at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, we expect about 300 to 350 former Olympians to attend the reunion, and our anniversary Olympians from 1960, 1980 and the 2000 Olympic Games will be recognized in-house during the U.S. Olympic Trials finals sessions," he elaborated.
At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Stewart earned three medals, which included two gold and one bronze. "Winning back in 1992 feels like a dream. It's been so long, but I can still smell the chlorine and feel the heat of Barcelona's summer sun when I stop and think about it," he said.
Stewart continued, "My gratitude has grown over time, and I like that my daughter, now 19, has matured enough to understand it. It's funny though, the older you get the less you care about the color of your medals, and you value the friendships more. Back in 1992, I was ready to go to war to win. That intensity has waned a bit. I'm still very competitive, but not like I was in my 20s."
Mel Stewart swimming the butterfly race
Mel Stewart swimming the butterfly race
Courtesy of UT Athletics
When asked how SwimSwam came about, he said, "Since I was a child, 10 years old, I wanted to be the TV host or analyst covering swimming competitions like World Champs and the Olympic Games. After the 1992 Olympics, I hosted an adventure show on ESPN2 and I got the ESPN analyst seat covering Men's NCAA DI Championships."
"The job, the best gig, was the analyst seat for NBC's coverage of Olympic swimming. In 1992, Rowdy Gaines got the position. By 1996, it was clear he would keep the position for years and years to come. Knowing that I segued into another career," he said.
"As the Internet developed and digital news became more robust, I came back to swimming working for USA Swimming's News venture. It was called SwimNetwork.com, launched back in 2006 to 2007, and I absolutely loved it. It wasn't NBC's coverage of Olympic swimming. It was looser, even crazier at times, and simply pure fun," he said.
He continued, "USA Swimming ultimately shut SwimNetwork.com down. When they did, they brought a few media contributors from SwimNetwork.com over to USASwimming.org, their main website. They did not bring me, and I was extremely disappointed."
"At SwimNetwork, I had been a top traffic driver," he acknowledged. "I think, perhaps, my fees were too high for them at that time to bring me over to their main site, USASwimming.org. In any event, my wife, Tiffany, sat up in bed one night not long after USA Swimming shut SwimNetwork down, and she said, 'We should just do our own swimming news site.' I was resistant for a long time, over year, but Tiffany kept encouraging the idea."
"By 2012, we launched SwimSwam. Interestingly, Tiffany, a non-swimmer, came up with the name, SwimSwam. It was her first attempt at a name for the site. She said, 'Whether you are a swimmer or a swammer, you need SwimSwam news.' Again, I was resistant. We went through hundreds of different ideas for the name, but we always came back to her first thought: SwimSwam."
"We got lucky along the way. Garrett McCaffrey had been a video reporter for another swimming news site, and he was about done with them, just exhausted by the work. It was clear he wanted to be more creative, and he had his own ideas about managing and producing swimming news. Garrett, perhaps the most respected reporter in swimming at that time, came on board as a co-founder, and we partnered with Braden Keith, also known as The Machine," he elaborated.
"Braden had been producing more swimming news for his site, TheSwimmersCircle, than anyone I had ever witnessed. Braden truly was an unstoppable machine producing swimming news. Between Tiffany, Braden, Garrett and I, we had a lot of muscle and grit. We are all grinders. You cannot make it in digital news unless you're prepared to work ungodly hours. So, we did, and SwimSwam took-off," he said.
He noted that the future of SwimSwam is "international news and data." "While we're still seeing growth in the U.S. market, our international news division has grown extremely fast. We currently report original news in six languages. This fact humbles everyone on our team, but it is clear SwimSwam is a global brand in swimming," he said.
When he swam competitively, he was motivated by his drive to win. "I wasn't afraid of hard work. I felt like I could outwork my competition if anyone talented came along. Swimming is probably the best sport for that type of mindset. Talent can take you far, but in swimming, you have to suffer to see results," he said.
"It's a tough sport, and it's lonely, your head down, submerged in the water," he admitted. "I have a great deal of respect for swimmers who can keep the workload going for one, two, three, four or even five Olympics. Michael Phelps blows my mind. 2000 to 2016, five Olympic Games? That's insane, not because he was so fast, but because of his sacrifice. I only went to two Olympics. I am a wimp in comparison. Phelps inspires me. I think about his work ethic daily."
Digital transformation of aquatics
He shared that technology has changed the sport of swimming "enormously." "Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian, just to name a few, professionalized the way swimmers train and approach the sport. They used all of the latest technology to their advantage," he said.
"Beyond nutrition, I think the biggest leap is their focus in training, their mind-body connection. They didn't need technology to evolve their mind-body connection, but tech allowed them to get there faster. I think we will see a lot of great swimmers over the next generation, those who wow us all over again," he said.
"I test a lot of new technology that's about to hit the market, and there are few industry transformers about to be released. All great tech in sport does one thing--keep your mind engaged and focused every millisecond you are moving through the water. Makes me a little jealous I'm not competing now," he said.
On his use of technology in his daily routine, he said, "Regarding SwimSwam, all tech is for speed and organization. For us, it's software to manage SwimSwam's team, from content production to ad partner delivery. I would like to note that in digital news, tech doesn't solve all problems."
"At the end of the day, someone has to research and report a story, and they have to be creative in the process. Creativity is the greatest asset, what we are always searching for in a team member," he added.
For young and aspiring swimmers, Stewart offered the following advice: "Write your goals down. Say them out loud. Say them out loud and give thanks as if they have already happened. Live and embody gratitude as your one and only feeling for the gift of achieving your goals."
"Do that every day, three times a day, then visualize yourself achieving your goals, smells the smells, feel the award in your hand, smile as if you have already done it all. The secret sauce is accepting success as if it is a part of your history," he said.
Stewart defined the word success as "process." "Living in the sweet process of striving for mastery. In swimming, this came naturally. It was easy for me. In other areas, I struggle, but I love the process of the struggle," he said.
The two-time Olympian continued, "I've been practicing yoga for about 10 years. I'm not great at yoga. My body doesn't twist and move like some of my peers who have been practicing for decades, but I'm striving for my own personal mastery. Being curious and striving for mastery matters. To me, always being in that process is a success."
For his fans and supporters, he concluded, "Love you." "You're my family," he said.
More about Mel Stewart, swimswam, Olympic, Gold, medalist
 
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