I can think of few better gifts than the gift of being comfortable in the water; that’s where it all starts.
A native of Orange County, I know the roads far and wide that lead to all the pools.The impact the culture of swimming in Orange County, and Southern California in general, had on me as a youth reaches not only to values and ideals learned, but to the myriad incredible people that instilled and perpetuated those ideals along the way. In what swimming encompassed, I would come to find a community and purpose that to this day exerts an unmistakable influence on the way I live my life. In turn, I feel I cannot help but reciprocate, if not in some small measure, the gifts and opportunities this community instilled in me. If I have my own things to pass on, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that those are only there through the foundation that those I will continue to look up to built.
My first swim team was the YMCA in Costa Mesa just off the Back Bay. Stacy Zapolski, a Pepperdine Swimming grad, taught me how to flip turn properly; my Dad taught me the best he could. Hayley, my sister, and I were frequently baby-sat by Stacy, and a relationship grew between her and my family that exists to this day. There, my mother also met my stepfather, the man who would help raise Hayley and me with his two kids, Erin and Greg. From the Y I went to Summer League in Corona del Mar for a couple of wonderful years, all the while playing other sports, loving Baseball and schoolyard football. I started playing water polo at the age of eight at Corona del Mar under a staple of local aquatic sports, Ted Bandaruk (he taught my mother to swim at OCC).
At ten, I entered Junior Lifeguards in Newport Beach. I would be remiss to overlook these impactful four years of my life. It was there that I learned to love and respect the water in ways that would influence a swimming career that would last nearly two decades. It was around the time I began JG’s that I decided to make the move to Irvine’s Novaquatics and was coached under Brian Pajer, a 25 year old breaststroker aiming for an Olympic birth of his own at the time, and who now coaches another local Club team. I would stay at Nova through high school, eventually training with Dave Salo, who now coaches at USC. At Nova, we developed a great culture that continues to perpetuate itself to this day as evidenced by a few of those, by no mere coincidence, involved with Evolution.
It was at Nova, at around the age of 12, that I hit my stride. Funny that it should be so young, but I was lucky to find something I remember being so interested in while in a culture that promoted and helped foster it. I would sit at home with the Southern California record book and study it. Those were my goals, even if they were quite unattainable at times. I learned where the limits were and what those that came before me laid as groundwork to build upon. My influences from around the age of 13 typically consisted of the outliers; the Australians, Kieren Perkins and Dan Kowalski were both admired because of the way they pushed the limits in distance events, and I was not a distance swimmer like that.
Being in Southern California proved a positive advantage as many great swimmers were so close by. Brad Bridgewater, the 1996 gold medalist in the 200 back and Lenny Krayzelburg, who would go on to sweep the backstroke events in the 2000 Olympics, both swam at USC. Bridgewater even swam at NOVA for a brief stint with me. Other local swimmers from Mission Viejo, Bart Kizierowski and Bart Sikora, a backstroke specialist, would make an impression on me. My own team had a plethora of talent, as did the rest of the region, and no shortage of backstroke specialist to not only look up to, but to reeve.
Under the tutelage of Salo, I would train for nearly every event, from the 200 to the mile, and aim to compete at a high level in them all. My first Junior Nationals was qualified for when I was 13, and I would go on to make Senior Nationals at the Juniors when I was 14. My first National Team was qualified for at my first Seniors when I was 15, and I was off to Winnipeg, Canada. During this time, I swam for my high school, Newport Harbor, and returned a bit to the friendships I had growing up with Junior Lifeguards by those who both played Water Polo and swam.
Through this progression, I had a hopeful goal to qualify for the 2000 Olympic Games that truly started when I entered the senior group of NOVA under Salo. Though my improvement was quick, it was steady, and by the time I turned 17, I had the second fastest time in the USA going into Olympic Trials. I would go on to qualify for, and win a silver medal, in the 200 backstroke at the Sydney Games at the age of 17. This experience would prove invaluable, as I would try and soak up everything I could, being told by many not to take it for granted.
I did not. And I would leave that Olympics with new goals, namely to improve and see how far I could take it. In 2002 I broke my first world record in the 200 backstroke. Shortly thereafter I attended the University of Texas where I would remain for the rest of my career. I would go on to swim in two more Olympic Games, 2004 and 2008, winning three gold medals in 2004 and two gold’s and one silver in 2008. My career on the US National Team lasted until 2010, where my last swim meet was an international one, the Pan Pacific Games, in the Irvine pool I grew up in; few things in my career made me feel so lucky.
The crux of my relationship with swimming feels to have been and come from Southern California. It is a special place for this sport. And if I can express the very personal relationship I have with the water, like so many others in this region, then I feel I will have given back to something that has given me so much. I do not remember what it was like not to know how to swim; it was one of the first things I did. I eventually made it my own. I can think of few better gifts than the gift of being comfortable in the water; that’s where it all starts.
Gabe would then take his talents to USC where he was a 3x All American and captain of the men’s swim team.
Gabe had major success in high school, where he was a 4 x CIF Champion. Gabe would then take his talents to USC where he was a 3x All American and captain of the men’s swim team. Upon completing his four years of swim at USC, Gabe retired from the sport due to a pinched nerve in his shoulder. He attended The Master’s College for a year in Valencia where he met and married his wife, Staci. With a year before the 2004 Olympic Games and with his shoulder healing faster than expected, Gabe and Staci moved to Aliso Viejo to train with Jason Lezak in an attempt to make the 2004 USA Olympic Team. His dream came true a year later when he earned the lead off spot on the prestigious 4 x 100 Freestyle relay. Team USA would go on to win a bronze medal.
Gabe and Staci now live in Bakersfield and have 4 young children. Gabe is a dedicated husband and father and works as a Financial Advisor
Larsen Jensen is a decorated Olympian and Navy SEAL who has excelled in service of his country in multiple capacities.
Despite retiring from competitive swimming in 2008, Jensen remains the American record holder in both the 400m and 1500m freestyle events. Known as one of the greatest American distance swimmers in history, Jensen’s 2004 Olympic silver medal in the 1500m was the highest finish for an American swimmer in that event since 1984.
Jensen’s competitive swimming began at the age of 12 at the urging of his mother – an elite swimmer in her own right. At the start of his final year of high school, Jensen and his parents arranged for him to move to Mission Viejo, California. For that year, Jensen lived with a host family and attended Mission Viejo High School. Upon completing high school, Jensen decided to stay in the area for college. He attended the University of Southern California where he was a seven time All-American and three-time NCAA champion. Jensen graduated from USC in 2007 and remained with Trojan Swim Club in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
In addition to his success at the collegiate level, Jensen remains one the most internationally decorated American distance swimmers. Not only did Jensen win a silver medal (1500m freestyle) at the 2004 Olympic Games and a bronze medal (400m freestyle) at the 2008 Olympic Games, he also is a two-time 2005 World Championship silver medalist, and six-time U.S. National Champion. Jensen remains the American Record holder in the 400m and 1500m freestyle events, both of which are the longest standing American swimming records, male or female.
After the conclusion of the 2008 Olympics games, Jensen retired from competitive swimming at the age of 23 to pursue a service career in the U.S. Navy. In 2011, Jensen graduated from the US Navy SEAL BUD/S training program at the top of his class. Over the next three years Jensen completed several deployments and training missions. Despite many inquiries about his experience as a Navy SEAL, Jensen consistently responds by saying, “Some things are better left unsaid and remain between the people who are part of that. But I’m tremendously proud of what I’m doing. Obviously, it’s a very difficult thing to get into. To be in the presence of those who made it through … and proven themselves by doing tremendous, brave things. It’s a humbling experience.”
After concluding his service with the Navy in early 2015, Jensen will matriculate in the Fall of 2015 at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Larsen is a welcomed addition to Evolution Swim Academy and our ownership group. Larsen will be able to share from his life and sports experience to better improve our overall business operations and our learn-to-swim curriculum.
There were many moments in my swimming career when I thought, “How is it that a very normal girl like me can step up on a racing block and turn into a gold medal swimmer who broke a world record?” If I can do it, anyone can do it!
There were many moments in my swimming career when I thought, “How is it that a very normal girl like me can step up on a racing block and turn into a gold medal swimmer who broke a world record?” If I can do it, anyone can do it!I grew up swimming in New Jersey, and my career started at the age of 10. By the age of 13, I was attending my very first Senior National competition out in California—a Jersey-girls’ dream come true! I was always drawn to the West Coast, and when looking for colleges, the move to USC in Los Angeles seemed only natural. I loved the weather, the people, and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. There’s something very special about Southern Californian’s and to their innate connection to the water.
It was here, at USC, that I found my groove as an athlete. I racked up a couple of NCAA titles throughout my 4-years competing for the University. The college and swim team environment was where I learned how to work as a team—holding my teammates up and allowing them to do the same for me. I learned how to approach a competition more invested in my team and teammates than in my own outcome. It was here that I trained with the best coaches and teammates who came from all around the world to train under Dave Salo. Southern California was the place I called home after my 2 trips to the Olympics in 2008 & 2012.
My swimming career was a great one, and I look back on it fondly! I’m very proud of the medals and great moments, both in the pool and out. Beyond that, I’m happy for all that swimming brought into my life. Though I am no longer competing, you can still find me in the water—adventuring the ocean and soaking up all its majesty. Swimming is not just a sport, it’s a total lifestyle—one that I would never want to be without!