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Gold medalist Olympic swimmer Sheila Taormina brought her message of empowerment to Walter Reed Bethesda Feb. 4 while conducting a swim clinic for wounded warriors, families and staff.

Drawing on her on experience, traveling the globe, teaching swimming techniques and speaking to students, youth organizations and non-profit groups, Taormina encourages people of all ages to persevere and believe in themselves.

As she began swimming at the early age 6, Taormina looked up to her older siblings who were always in the pool and good swimmers. After nearly two decades of long workouts, hours in the water and two attempts to qualify for the Olympics, Taormina made it to the 1996 games in Atlanta, where she achieved gold in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay.

“I made my first Olympic team at age 27. I [swam] 21 years before I made it to the Olympics, so I like to encourage people about being patient,” Taormina said. “You don’t have to see results on day one.”

During two, three -hour sessions at the Olympic-size pool in the Fitness Center on base, Taormina told participants the same is true for anything in life: if you don’t get it off the bat, don’t give up.

The swimmer started the clinic working with attendees on the timing of their breathing between strokes, and the importance of maximizing the surface area, which can be done by flattening the hand as much as possible to glide through the water.

Taormina also told participants that swimming relies heavily on a strong core, and strength training outside the pool to help improve technique. She also videotaped the swimmers underwater as they swam, and played the tape back in slow motion so they could watch themselves, and better understand where they might need to make correction. She said she also wanted to praise them on the skills they had right.

“I want to encourage them in all the things they’re doing correctly, and then also say, ‘Here’s where you have room for improvement,’” she said.

Taormina went on to explain she believes in making sports a “healthy stress,” working toward a goal in a wholesome way.

“When I do these clinics, or camps, I can only introduce [swimming] to the people who attend. I don’t have any expectations that they’re going to fall in love with swimming, and want to do it every week,” she said.

If they do, she hopes it can become a part of an individual’s conditioning. She added, “When you’re more competent at something, you’re more likely to do it and enjoy it, and that’s so important.”

The swimmer said she was thrilled to be invited to Walter Reed Bethesda, having worked with wounded warriors in the past through the Paralympics. She especially enjoys working with people who are reconditioning, and also has an appreciation for the military. She said the visit was an opportunity to see a part of the country - the military - that makes up such a large part of this nation.

“I just can’t believe how amazing the U.S. military is. I’m just so impressed with our service men and women, in general,” she said.

Taormina said she values every opportunity to work with people of various backgrounds, to learn about life and, more importantly, “It’s about having fun.”

Those who participated in the clinic also seemed equally pleased about the chance to work with an Olympic gold medal swimmer.

A retired Soldier and patient at Walter Reed Bethesda, Rina Shah said the unique opportunity appealed to her, even though swimming isn’t a part of her normal workout regimen - she believes it is a good form of exercise.

“It’s neat to be able to not have to worry about different injuries, and be able to be in the water,” Shah said.

Shari Mahoney and her son Howie, who swims for his high school team, also participated in the swim clinic. Shari’s husband is a Walter Reed Bethesda surgeon, currently on deployment.

“This was a great opportunity for me to take my child, and allow him to benefit, [working] with this gold medal swimmer,” she said. “He’s fully learned from her today something we couldn’t have done otherwise.”

While it can be challenging at times, raising three children with her husband deployed, Mahoney believes the military does so much to help families.

“We have lots of benefits here, and I try to take advantage of them,” she said.

Last week’s clinic was organized by the Military Adaptive Sports Program (MASP), under the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The program offers events and activities year-round, geared toward wounded warriors, including strength training, spinning, shadow boxing, yoga, kayaking, as well as creative writing and photography. Each month, MASP holds a special clinic, such as the swim clinic. The program is planning a kayak clinic March 19 and a kayak football tournament March 23 in the pool at the Fitness Center. Prior to participation, medical clearance and an initial assessment are required. For more information, email Amanda Kelly at