Only when she no longer had to maintain her eligibility to compete as an amateur was Babashoff free to accept a four-year promotional contract of $20,000 a year from Arena, a swimsuit manufacturer. "I was 20," she says. "All I wanted was a Corvette. My folks said, 'Buy a house.' I bought a Chevette and...this."
She has pulled up at a modest yellow frame house with a bright-green lawn and a new chain link fence. "I've owned it since '77," she says. "I thought my folks were so dumb. Now, boy, were they smart. I lived here for years. Lately I've had it rented out, but now we're fixing it up to move back in."
While giving a quick tour of the carpentry, plumbing and painting she and her father have done on the house, Babashoff hears a splash in the backyard. She finds Adam playing in a muddy crater from which Jack Sr. has triumphantly pried an impressive peach tree stump. Seeing her, Adam starts tearing petals from a camellia blossom, saying, "She loves me, she loves me not...."
"Who is she?" he is asked.
"Mom," he says. "She loves me...."
"After '76 I taught swimming a lot," says Shirley, gently lifting Adam to dry land. "I rode my bike 10 miles a day to Seal Beach and to Golden West Community College, where I was coaching. I also coached at Newport Harbor High and at the Huntington Aquatic Club. It was not high-income coaching."
In 1985 she accepted an offer to help coach the South Korean team. "Depressing year," she says. "Pay was great, but it turned my stomach the way some of their coaches tortured swimmers they felt had an attitude. I saw coaches burn swimmers with a cigarette lighter. I didn't feel comfortable being any part of that."
Babashoff happily returned to introducing California kids to swimming basics. "Adam is the only one I wasn't able to teach," she says. "He finally got so sick of hearing me tell people that he screams when he gets his face wet that he got in the pool, put his arms out, plopped his face down and kicked over to me. And then he said"—Adam elaborately lip-synchs his now celebrated phrase—" 'I can't believe I'm still alive!' "
Which is what Babashoff said on Feb. 4, 1986, when Adam at last issued forth from her. "They said my being an athlete would help me pop him out and go right home," says Shirley, sounding betrayed. "But noooo. I was in labor 16 hours. I'm tough. But that was the only day in my life I wished I was dead.' "
Turning back to Ender, Babashoff says she has never brooded about her former rival. "I'm not a bit curious about her," she says. "I guess that sounds awful. But I've been busy. She's the farthest thing from my mind."