Sandeno speaks on swimming life & the sweetness of silver

Women and Girls in Sports Luncheon

Olympic swimmer Kaitlin Sandeno, middle left, stands with local swimmers at Monday’s luncheon. From Left to Right: UCSB’s Emma Hunt, Cate’s Maddie Schrager, Sandeno, Carpinteria’s Maddie Brooks, San Marcos’ Annaka Avelar, Dos Pueblos’ Paige Pighetti.

Kaitlin Sandeno missed gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic games in the 400 Individual Medley by 0.12 seconds.

While she won gold later in those Olympic Games, the silver has always been her favorite. Her reasons were part of the keynote speech given at Monday’s Women & Girls in Sports Luncheon at Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table and Community West Bank, over 400 female student-athletes listened to Sandeno’s story of struggle and triumph.

“This is my Gold,” Sandeno said when referring to the 400 IM silver medal.

To her it represents a lifetime of hard work, dedication and life lessons.

Sandeno’s time of 4:34.83 set a new American record.

“When I look back on my swimming career and I think of the moment that I’m most proud of, this is the moment that I think of,” Sandeno said.

The crowd was able to watch the race on the big screen. Sure enough, Sandeno was all smiles after the race even though she had just missed out on gold.

It was a far different reaction than after a loss four years earlier in Sydney, while just 17 years old, Sandeno took a fourth-place finish poorly. Four-time Olympian Amanda Beard gave some advice that stuck.

After that first Olympic experience and still in high school, Sandeno came home and chose USC for college. While swimming for the Trojans, Sandeno dealt with debilitating injuries that threatened to derail her second Olympics.

It was hard for her competitive spirit.

“It was really depressing. I love my parents but all I had was my family,” Sandeno said. “It was baby steps. It literally was like starting all over. My physical therapist would take me to a pool, with a snorkel, and I would swim 100, there and back, and that was a big day.”

But recovery came slowly and by her junior year Sandeno was gaining momentum towards Athens. Earlier in 2004 she won two NCAA titles with USC and qualified for four events at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Long Beach.

“My goal was just to make it to Trials,” Sandeno said. “Honestly, deeply, I wanted to make another Olympic team, but with everything I’d gone through, I said, let’s just make it to the Trials.”

She outdid herself by creating a busy schedule in Athens.

Even then, she knew she had to work harder to improve on her time in the 400 IM that she could never seem to get under four minutes and forty seconds.

She focused on improving her weakness in the breaststroke and saw the hard work pay off.

After Athens Sandeno retired from swimming after 20 years of being in the pool.

Like most in the crowd, Sandeno grew up and went to high school in Southern California.

The Women & Girls in Sports Luncheon, meant to honor the importance of Title IX, comes every year on the first Monday of February.