Tony Azevedo grew up close to the Olympic Games, and the Games had a big impact on him.
Now the Olympic silver medalist and captain of the U.S. men’s water polo team hopes to inspire others by sharing his love for the Games.
“When I was younger I was fascinated with the sport,” Azevedo said. “I loved water polo and I loved the Olympics. It really made a difference to me knowing at a young age what the Olympics were and that I wanted to be a part of it somehow.”
Azevedo’s father, Ricardo Azevedo, was a former Brazilian water polo player and one-time U.S. national team coach. And Tony Azevedo was a ball boy at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, giving him the chance to meet Olympians years before he became one.
Now the kids at the Conejo Valley YMCA Childcare Site in Thousand Oaks, Calif., can say they’ve met an Olympian, too.
Azevedo, one of 10 athlete ambassadors for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Team for Tomorrow program, spoke at the YMCA about water polo, his first trip to the Olympic Games and his preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Started in 2008, Team for Tomorrow is a humanitarian relief fund through which America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes participate in efforts to give back to local communities as well as people in need throughout the world.
“It was a great experience,” Azevedo said of his trip to the YMCA on Thursday. “I talked to them about the fun things that come with being an Olympian as well as the sacrifices.”
The children were interested in the food served at the Olympic Village and asked if Azevedo ever got a bloody nose while playing.
He was also asked if he had a six-pack.
“And one of the kids said, ‘I have a six pack of pudding,’ ” Azevedo said with a laugh.
Azevedo also showed off his silver medal from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and did some drills with the children, including throwing and catching a water polo ball.
“They loved the medal,” he said. “They were looking at it in awe, and I had to tell them to pass the medal (to the next child).”
Azevedo asked Mikasa Sports to donate some water polo balls to the Conejo Valley YMCA so the kids can practice in the pool.
The Team for Tomorrow athlete ambassadors have been taking time out of their Olympic preparations to speak to various young organizations about the importance of healthy and active lifestyles while spreading the Olympic Values of excellence, friendship and respect.
Swimmer Jessica Hardy visited a YMCA this week and field hockey player Rachel Dawson will be at another YMCA on Tuesday. Olympic bronze medalist hurdler David Oliver will make an appearance June 1 in Eugene, Ore., where the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field will be held later this summer. Anjali Forber-Pratt, a Paralympic track and field medalist, will be at a YMCA in Champaign, Ill., on June 5.
Azevedo touched on both topics during his talk.
“I told them I can’t eat fast food because I have to have energy and need to stay healthy,” he said. “I explained that we train eight hours a day and that my hands don’t get pruned (in the water) anymore.”
Azevedo hopes his visit with the children will get them excited for this summer’s Olympic Games, where Azevedo will look to lead Team USA to gold.
“I’m just making sure I keep my body as fit as possible, stay healthy, just looking forward to leading some of the younger guys and be back there and see if we can do what we did last time except win that last game, win that gold,” Azevedo said.
Team USA is hosting Hungary — in a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal match — and Croatia in exhibition games in California this weekend (and the games will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network) before heading to the FINA Men’s World League Super Finals in Kazakhstan in June.
The team will then return home for its final preparations before London.
“Right now we’re just in training mode and trying to get ourselves as perfectly prepped as possible,” Azevedo said.
When the Games begin in July, Azevedo hopes the children from the Conejo Valley YMCA remember him.
“The more I can share about my sport and my story and about the Olympics and get people excited about it, it’s something I’m so proud that I can do,” he said.
“When (the children) hear the Olympic Games, they’ll say I know an Olympian. Maybe they’ll look for me and get excited or they’ll see another sport and fall in love with it. That’s really the idea.”