On Route 4 near the Cortland, Ohio home of the swimming Job family—Stephen, 21, Brenda, 17, Lisa, 14 (all retired), and Brian, 18—stands a sign that says HIDDEN DRIVES. The sign refers to adjoining driveways, not to anything secret that might explain all the swimming titles the Jobs have racked up over the last decade, or the world breaststroke record that Brian is almost bound to set—quite possibly in the Nationals at Los Angeles this weekend—if, as his coach, George Haines, says, "he doesn't break his neck again."
Granted, Brian Job has such a flair for accidents as to make one wonder. But that may be accounted for by his being so venturesome, which has helped make him something of a whiz with computers, and his being so loose in the knees and ankles, which has helped make him that rare thing, a great American breaststroker.
The breaststroke is one stroke that Russians, rather than Americans, have long dominated. It requires a strong kick. "Brian is built like a frog," says Haines. "Catch a bullfrog some time and look at it. Short upper body and long legs—and Brian walks with his feet out all the time. He can stand with his feet at 180° angles to each other and do knee bends without his knees coming apart."
Brian says, "I remember once my Mom said, 'Your knees will be your downfall.' I don't know why she said it. It may have been after I found out how loose-jointed I was and I had my leg wrapped all the way around my head. Anyway, I always remembered that, especially whenever I hurt my knee. It stayed with me, like it was a curse."
Another strange thing: when Stephen was first set down in the family's newly built house on Mosquito Lake at the age of 3, he made a beeline to the living-room wall and started digging his fingers into the hardening plaster. And before his father Glenn could smooth out the first set of scratch marks with a trowel, Stephen had gouged more scratches (still visible today) in another wall. Then he picked up a hammer and began pounding nails into the basement steps.
Perhaps this was just childish energy, fired by the excitement of a new home in the country. The Job boys were always full of energy. Once they realized the all-American boy's dream of binding their baby-sitter hand and foot. On another occasion Brian hit Brenda over the head with a hammer when she appeared to be beating him at jacks. Then there was the time Stephen chased Brian into the shower stall, held the doors shut on him and yelled, "I've got you now!" "No you don't!" yelled Brian, and he burst right through the heavy glass doors, shattering them. "We were really unmanageable little kids," says Stephen. "All that energy, nobody around to play with but each other and never enough to do with ourselves."
Still another strange thing: when Brian was a toddler he came down with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, which disintegrated the ball of his hip joint. Then something quite unexplained caused him to achieve 18 months of bone regeneration in six weeks. Maybe it was a natural athlete's flair for recuperation, spurred on by the terrible dreams he had in his body cast at night.
"I was in a cast that covered my whole body up to the ribs," Brian remembers. "I'd go to sleep on my back and be unable to turn over, and I'd have terrible nightmares. One night I woke up and just had to go to the bathroom. I pulled myself out of bed and crawled along the floor to where I could see the light coming under the door—but when I got there the door disappeared. Then I looked over and saw the light coming through on the other side of the room. So I crawled across the floor and when I got there the door disappeared again. It was on another side of the room. And I had to go to the bathroom. So I crawled again. It must have been partly a dream, but I was crawling on the floor when I finally lost all control and I started screaming bloody murder."
The next time he went in for a progress check the doctor came running to Mary Job shouting, "It's a miracle!" Brian was taken out of the cast and put into a brace and a built-up shoe on his good leg so that the rebuilding leg could swing free. "Stephen would tease me," Brian says, "and I couldn't catch him, and I'd get so mad that I'd put my weight on the bad leg and swing that big wooden shoe against the wall. I busted up moldings, and one time I kicked the telephone to pieces."
Whatever might have been the key to those dynamics, there is no question what finally gave all four Job kids something to do with themselves. It was the entirely unhidden drive of their mother Mary—without whose original pushing, concedes Olympic medalist and Stanford student Brian, "I would be just a nobody nobody today."