Dr. Terry Schroeder's chiropractic office is on the second floor of a business and professional building in Westlake Village, Calif., down the hall from a Taco Bell training center. He has a pink kissing gourami in his waiting-room aquarium, and his handshake and demeanor are gentle to the point of tenderness. His tone is consistently one of wry good humor. So if you chat with him about the sport in which he captains the U.S. Olympic team, there will come a discordant moment, a jolt that makes you realize what his words, his soft words, are in fact describing.
"The Russian's tooth came off in my arm," Schroeder is saying, examining a scar on his right wrist. "I shot over him and hit him in the face. In water polo there is unlimited fouling. The position I play, two-meter man, is the quarterback of the offense. The ball comes to me, and I'm fouled. That can happen 75 times a game. I've had a total of 100 stitches in my face, but it's funny, I've never broken my nose. A former teammate, Doug Burke, had his nose broken at least 12 times. The Hungarians are all over 6'4". I'm 6'3", 210.1 have to be able to wrestle the heavyweights, take blows and keep focused on the game. That's my strength, to take a beating and hold my own, to not start thinking how I'm going to get this guy back but to keep alert for the next pass. You sometimes see kids with Olympic-caliber talent who can't control their emotions when two guys are pushing them underwater. It's tough. It's great. I love it."
As he speaks, Schroeder's large, strong hands, trained to soothe and align and heal, are revealed to be able also to gouge, to dislocate, to strangle. "The sport combines so much," he says. "You wrestle constantly for position, and then on the fast break you need pure swimming speed. All six guys have to go. If one man pulls out, his defender is freed and the attack collapses. You can't touch the wall until the quarter's over, so you learn to hang on other guys."
And you get very, very fit. "Wrestlers, cross-country skiers and water polo players are the top strength-endurance athletes on the tests," says Schroeder. "We lift weights, we do eggbeater kick drills carrying bricks, we do up to 6,000 meters a day of lap swimming. We eat a ton. Training twice a day, you eat 12,000 to 15,000 calories a day—and go to bed hungry. Burke, of the broken noses, was always so hungry that he learned to bake. He married Candy Costie, the synchronized swimming champion, and started The Oatmeal Original Baking Company in Portland, Oregon."
Piled in Schroeder's waiting room are scrapbooks containing Olympic photos, notes from U.S. presidents and certificates of merit from an extraordinary number of civic groups. But the picture that stays in the mind is one of Schroeder in the pool,-blood gushing out of his right eye. He looks rather bemused.
"The world of water polo is run by the referees, like the judges run figure skating and gymnastics," says Craig Wilson, the U.S.'s all-star goalie since 1981. "You kiss their bazoongas all the way down the aisle, because if one doesn't like you, you'll be plagued for the rest of your career. Generally, refs notice the retaliation more often than the offense that caused it. So the more you hit back or the more you're seen to dishonor a refs calls, even with a dirty look, the worse it is for you and your team. I've never, ever, seen Terry lose his temper. A look of wonderment is as far as he'll go."
In this Christian manner, always turning the other check (or bazoonga), Schroeder carried the U.S. to Olympic silver medals in 1984 and '88. Here is how important he is: Without him in '90 the Americans finished eighth in the men's water polo world cup. With him in '91 they won, beating Yugoslavia 7-6 in two overtimes. They made that final by scraping past Spain 6-5 on a miraculous Schroeder goal with two seconds to play.
Schroeder grew up in Santa Barbara, in a remarkable microclimate of family and profession. "My dad was a chiropractor," he says. "His dad was a chiropractor. One of my dad's brothers had seven kids. They are all chiropractors. I have a brother, Lance, and a sister, Tammy, who are chiropractors. Tammy married a chiropractor. I married one." Terry's wife of 5½ years, Dr. Lori Schroeder, is one of three doctors in their clinic. "We have a grand total," Terry continues, "of 59 chiropractors in the family."
Chiropractic is only now being accepted by the mainstream medical community. Schroeder's early life, which exposed him both to his family calling and its stigma, induced in him a certain clarity, the kind that lets you go with what you know is good, even if it strikes the larger world as eccentric. "I grew up seeing people arrive at my dad's office in pain," says Schroeder, "and then watching them come out with a smile. I've never taken an aspirin or had a shot. I've always had chiropractic care as primary care, and I believe I'm in balance, that my immune system is the better for it. I'm not saying there's no place for surgery, but the body can take care of itself if you let it."
As a boy Schroeder was always in the water or tending tropical fish in the family's garage. "My dad was athletic," he says. "When he got us in the YMCA swimming program, it was apparent I had some talent." By the time Schroeder was nine, he was ranked second nationally in his age group in the backstroke. "But I felt myself being pushed by my parents to succeed at swimming," he says. "I got out of the pool and started playing Little League baseball and basketball. I didn't enjoy swimming, because it didn't have the dynamics of a team. I love it when it takes a group of guys together to reach a goal."