HomeGrown: Davis Tarwater, Gold Medalist

11:49 PM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
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"I've dreamed of the Olympics my entire life. It's been something that was worth fighting for, a dream that was worth having."

Despite not having a swimming pedigree, Davis Tarwater started swim lessons at age four and was competing at seven.

"I even remember that, jumping in feet first and swimming a lap of freestyle and thinking it was like the greatest thing I'd ever done in my whole life."

Davis had found his passion.

"I was a super hyper kid, but I was also a really driven kid."

Swimming proved to be great therapy for his childhood epilepsy and good for his grades.

"I was always a better student when I was an athlete and I was always a better athlete when I was a student. By the time I got to high school I was training twice a day."

He was training at the UT Aquatic Center year-round.

"I mean the blood, sweat and tears of my career happened out here. It was hard work."

But it paid off. In '99, he won Junior Nationals 800 and 1500 freestyle events, beating out Michael Phelps for the top spot.

In 2001, we won a bronze medal at the Goodwill Games.

And, his senior year at Webb School, Davis not only won state, but broke records.

At the University of Michigan, he became teammates with long-time competitor Michael Phelps. Davis was a three-time NCAA National Champion and 13 time All American. He also qualified for the Olympic trials.

"It was .36 seconds I think I missed the Athens Olympic team by."

So, he regrouped, graduated and focused completely on training for the Beijing Olympics.

"I was training with Michael Phelps at Michigan. We swam the same event. We knocked heads everyday. And, I kind of became the next guy in line."

Yet again, he came up short.

"I got third which you know is one spot away, and my life kind of came crashing down."

Devastated, he came home.

"And I was just kind of like floating around."

Lady Vols Head Swim Coach Matt Kredich gave him some direction and let him train with his team.

"He made me believe again. And, he brought me back into the sport. You know, here I was, back in Knoxville being with 30 women," laughs Davis. "There was a redemptive element to that year and I ended up making the world championship team."

But Davis needed a new direction outside swimming, so he applied to Oxford Graduate School and got in.

"I just retired and put like two suitcases together, moved to England and went to graduate school. And, that was the end of swimming for me."

After an incredible year, and a Masters degree from Oxford, he started his job search, but couldn't get swimming out of his head.

"It was like a loud and clear voice, 'swimming is your platform.'"

Forty pounds overweight, Davis decided to make one more run. He moved to Charlotte and began preparing mentally and physically for the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

"It really has been the site of the most traumatic and most painful experience of my life to that point."

In the preliminaries, Davis was struggling.

"But I ended up 7th by .12 seconds, and it was such a hard thing to swallow."

Davis had missed the Olympics a third time.

"I walked out of Omaha and I really did feel good about what I'd done. I had worked on being a man of faith, on being a man of character and being a man of principle. And, I knew that I had taken the risk and had gone the distance."

He left the trials early.

"I landed in Charlotte. I got like a big pile of Wendy's and I was just going to sit by myself in my house and eat the Wendy's."

And then, his phone rang. It was his coach.

"He said, 'We've got a thing happening over here.'"

Michael Phelps was pulling out of the 200 freestyle.

"All he (coach) could get out was, 'Davis Tarwater is an Olympian.' I just melted."

Davis was London bound, but first, a pit stop in Knoxville with his Olympic team.

"I was absolutely floored when I came to the pool and I saw the line around the building. That was probably the highlight of the games for me."

Across the pond, Davis swam the qualifying round of the relay and watched the finals from the stands.

"I knew they were going to win gold as soon as Phelps got in."

Finally, a medal that seemed out of reach for so long.

"Its nickname is 'The Precious' from Lord of the Rings."

It's a shining reflection of his come from behind journey.

Davis Tarwater, born in Knoxville.

"At every low point, I've come to Knoxville and I found my way back.

HomeGrown in Tennessee.

Davis is still trying to determine his next step, but he will compete in the U.S. National Short Course Championships in December.

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