AUGUST 4, 1975
Nearly 30 years after his reign as the world's best swimmer, two-time Olympian and Sullivan Award winner Tim Shaw is winning in the pool again. Since 2000 Shaw, 46, has served as a physical education instructor for the Newport Beach-Mesa unified school district in California, teaching students with disabilities the nuances of basketball, soccer, softball and, most fitting, swimming. He has batters wear backpacks with buckets in them, so fielders can grasp the concept of tagging runners by placing balls in the buckets. For students who don't know which base to run to, he has bells on each bag and rings them to provide guidance. He takes particular joy in seeing children gain confidence from being in the water. "Some of them who have difficulty walking want to relegate themselves to their chairs," he says. "But when they get into the pool, they're not as heavy and they have free range of motion, no limitations on balance, total freedom. Seeing them open up is the most rewarding thing I can think of."
Shaw has always had an affinity for the water. He broke nine world records between 1974 and 75 and is only the second swimmer to have simultaneously held world marks in four freestyle events, from 200 to 1,500 meters. As a 17-year-old, he won three gold medals at the '75 world championships in Cali, Colombia; he received that year's Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in the U.S., beating out the likes of Bruce Jenner, then the world-record holder in the decathlon. But in '76 he developed anemia from overtraining and took home only one medal from the Montreal Olympics, a silver in the 400-meter freestyle. After the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, Shaw switched to water polo and played on the '84 squad, which went undefeated and won silver at the Los Angeles Olympics.
A father of three (Christina, 14, Jennifer, 11, and Thomas, 9) who lives in Newport Beach with Joanne, his wife of 18 years, Shaw says he has no regrets over never winning Olympic gold. "My coach, Dick Jochums, believed in Greek philosophy," says Shaw. "He always felt true victories were won by battles with yourself. That no matter how you've mastered the moment, the [laurel] wreath dies. He convinced me that you can leave the past behind, rather than continue to grasp at something you tried to accomplish."
After the L.A. Games, Shaw, a Long Beach State grad with a degree in psychology, coached swimming at his alma mater for five years, then taught for eight years in the Hesperia, Calif., school district, including a stint as a special education teacher. He was teaching phys ed at a Long Beach middle school when he decided to resume working with students with disabilities. "Over the years I'd get called on to present medals to Special Olympians," says Shaw, "but I had a desire to do more than take photos with them."
Now he's fulfilling his goals by teaching others how to reach for theirs.