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Troy has reached this point in his athletic career by first surprising himself with his ability and then deciding to take advantage of it. The son of an Indianapolis coal dealer, he was 3 when his father died. His mother—Helen of Troy, he calls her—raised him and his older brother by working as a secretary.
"When I was 12," Mike said to his dinner host recently, while looking with zest at a haddock fillet, "there was only one word to describe me—fat. I was 5 feet 5 inches and weighed 175. That year I started swimming at an Indianapolis public pool. We had a team that swam against other city pools and I got on it, just to kid around, really. I didn't want to race. But our coach said race or quit.
"My first race I finished second. What a surprise! I won a red ribbon. There's never been a redder ribbon. It was my biggest thrill. Then I found out you could win medals, too. It seemed like a real deal. I've been at it ever since."
"His kick was lousy"
Within three years Troy was the best young swimmer in swim-struck Indianapolis. His speed brought him what amounted to an athletic scholarship to the exclusive up-tone downtown Indianapolis Athletic Club. "I can't afford a Coke there," he observed, "but the swimming is great.'
"Troy had beautiful form with his arm pull," Counsilman recalls, "but his arms were weak and his kick was lousy. These were simply mechanics, and easily fixed. What he really had was a feel for the water, plus desire. He'd turn red, white and blue for you. He had been swimming freestyle, not butterfly, but we soon changed that."
"I remember that," Mike said, across his dinner. "I didn't much like the butterfly. Doc gave me a calisthenic program to strengthen my arms. Exercises I could do just once two years ago, I can do 40 times today. He straightened out my kick and he taught me how to breathe."
In three months Troy was able to win his first major butterfly race, the 100-meter in the 1958 men's nationals. He also finished third in the 200-meter and decided he could make the Olympic team in 1960. "Since then," he said, "everything else has been secondary."
Troy dipped a spoon into the whipped-cream-covered frozen �clair (a replacement for the habitual milk shake) that had followed the haddock, and considered his future.