Swimming the Dream

Lenny Krazyzelburg receiving the Honor Swimmer Award with 2005 Honor Swimmer David Berkoff

Lenny’s Swim Right Method, is revolutionizing the way swimming is taught around the country.

By Jessica Kavana Dornbusch
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Aaron Peirsol (three-time Olympian medalist with five gold and two silver). As part of the American team, he holds the world record in the 4×100-meter long course medley relay. Individually, he currently holds the world record in the 100 and 200-meter long course backstroke.
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Aaron Peirsol (three-time Olympian medalist with five gold and two silver). As part of the American team, he holds the world record in the 4×100-meter long course medley relay. Individually, he currently holds the world record in the 100 and 200-meter long course backstroke.

Looking back, Lenny Krayzelburg’s success looks predestined, but for many years in between it could almost be called a statistical improbability. His natural talent for swimming was discovered early on; at nine years old he was already a part of the Soviet Empire’s elite Olympic machine, training up to five hours a day. But, like thousands of other Jewish parents, Lenny’s parents were worried about the deteriorating Soviet system, and thought that Lenny would have a far greater chance for success in America than in the Soviet Union, so they applied for exit visas.

“My parents knew that because I was a Jew, my opportunities would be limited there–in sports especially.”

In America, the Krayzelburgs found a home in Los Angeles, and Lenny found his aquatic refuge at the Westside Jewish Community Center where he practiced and worked thirty hours a week to help support his family. “It was only two weeks after I arrived in the United States that I was back in the water”, he said. But the JCC did not provide him with the challenges he needed, and for the first time in his life, in what should have been the beginning of the peak in his career, Krayzelburg was not swimming.

It would be until 1993 when Krayzelburg resumed his training at Santa Monica City College. “So this kid shows up one day and says he’d like to work out with our team,” says Stu Blumkin, who was the head coach at the time.“I was skeptical”, he says. “There aren’t many kids who just show up who can swim fast.” But the potential was obvious from that first swim. He also worked harder than anyone else on the team, “He was the first one here, last to leave. The more I watched him, the more I thought this kid’s potential was unlimited.” Krayzelburg enrolled at Santa Monica City College and soon became Blumkin’s best swimmer, but the coach knew that his star pupil would soon need more than he could provide. So in what many consider the epitome of unselfish coaching, Blumkin called The University of Southern California’s head coach Mark Schubert and told him about Lenny. “In all the time I’ve been coaching, this might have been the most unselfish act I’ve ever seen…Lenny had another year of eligibility at Santa Monica, but Stu was looking for what was best for him.”

Rogers B. “Tiger” Holmes, Donna deVarona, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Guy Harvey
Rogers B. “Tiger” Holmes, Donna deVarona, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Guy Harvey

Yet, just as Stu Blumkin had been initially, Schubert too was skeptical as to Lenny’s talent; potential Olympic swimmers don’t just show up. But after one practice Schubert was a convert and immediately offered him a scholarship. By the time Krayzelburg finished his sophomore year at USC, his rise was becoming meteoric. In 1996 he went to the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis and shocked everybody when he had the second-best time in the 200-meter heats. Nobody had ever even heard the name Krayzelburg, and there he was, surpassing some of the most sought after athletes of his generation. Although physically he was far superior to some of the swimmers he was racing against, mentally, he just wasn’t ready; but he would be soon enough. It would be two years in fact. Only two years later, in 1998 Krayzelburg became the first swimmer since 1986 to sweep the backstroke events, the 100m and 200m in the World Championships. He then continued his streak at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, shattering the Olympic record in backstroke and nearing his own record in the 100m, and breaking another Olympic record in the 200m.

After the Olympics, Lenny decided to skip the 2001 World Championships in order to join other Jewish athletes and compete at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He also wanted to fulfill a childhood dream of visiting the holy land, and carry the American flag for the United States during the games’ opening ceremony. He earned gold once again, and set a new Maccabiah record.

In 2001, he was inducted in to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and USC Hall of Fame. He is a member of the International Jewish Hall of Fame, and in May 2011, Lenny’s swimming career was truly complete when he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. But it was after his second Olympics in Athens that he began to think about the next chapter in his life. Having always talked about starting a swim school, he reached out to two Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in the Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley areas, and told them he had an idea.

Lenny´s idea is known today as the Swim Right Method, and slowly it is revolutionizing the way swimming is taught around the country. He has now partnered with many other JCC’s across the country, and they are all embracing Lenny’s method. In a nutshell, Lenny teaches babies how to turn around and float in order to survive in water. He focuses on the child’s upper body strength, and he has started training infants as young as four months in this survival method. But what distinguishes Lenny from many other programs that teach a similar method is that they don’t stop there, his program continues for a total of six steps until the child can swim each of the four strokes and is ready for any swim team. On a larger scale, Lenny and his team go to the particular JCC they are working with, set up the program, train the staff, and then turn the program over to them. Lenny’s goal is to continue the lightning speed expansion they’ve been on, and to one day see every JCC in the country with its own Swim Right Method program.

On May 2011, the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) honored Lenny Krayzelburg with 8 more legends from the world of Aquatics at the Honoree Induction Ceremony. NBC’s Trina Robinson joined Olympic medalist and world record holder Aaron Wells Peirsol as the MCs for the evening. Broward County Mayor Suzanne Gunzburger presented the key to the County to Prince Albert of Monaco II and the City of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, Vice Mayor Bobby DuBose, Commissioner Romney Rogers, and Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom presented the key to the City. Aquatic greats from over twenty different nations along with other special guests such as Illusionist David Blaine, Guy Harvey, and others attended.

So what does it take for an ex-Soviet boy to turn into an American Olympic champion and a successful entrepreneur? Lenny would probably say it was a mix of Soviet work ethic, American dreams, a lot of luck, and unbelievable parents.

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