Thirty-five years ago, Blanca Manzano Bosquet went for a swim in the ocean off Cuba and almost drowned. "I was 10 years old," she recalls, "and my friends were going to swim out to a raft near the shark nets off a Havana beach, so I decided I would, too. I knew how to swim, but I didn't know I didn't have the stamina for a long swim." Halfway to the raft the exhausted Blanca sank, came up, sank again. Blanca has told this story many times, but even now, as she tells it once again, her accent grows more pronounced, her "r"s begin to roll richly in the excitement of reliving that awful moment. "There was a kind of bridge that separated our beach club from the one next door," she says, "and I saw all these people walking around alive and happy, and I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to die.' I don't know where I got the strength, but I swam back to the beach all by myself. At that moment I decided that if I ever had kids, they were going to know how to swim."
Today, Blanca Manzano Bosquet Morales' only son, 20-year-old Stanford sophomore Pedro Pablo Morales Jr., not only knows how to swim, he's a former world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, a three-medal winner at the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles and, according to Swimming World magazine, "the next Mark Spitz." Though Morales' medal haul (gold in the medley relay, silvers in the 100-meter butterfly and 200 individual medley) from his first Olympics falls short of the seven golds Spitz won in 1972, in his second Games, U.S. Olympic coach Don Gambril says, "Pablo has just scratched the potential of his ability."
Next week at the NCAAs in Austin, Morales is favored to win three individual events—the 100- and 200-yard flies and the 200-yard IM—the maximum number a swimmer can enter. He'll also be competing in three relay events. "I feel he's got three American records coming in the NCAAs," says Mitch Ivey, Morales' club coach for eight years. "I think he'll go so fast in the 200 fly that he's not going to break the record, he's going to destroy it. What's the record—1:44? I think he's 1:42."
The similarities between Spitz and Morales are strictly physical. Both are dark and handsome, and both have lean bodies. That's it. It would be hard to imagine the soft-spoken, introspective Pablo wearing a cocky grin or throwing out his chest to display his medals on a poster designed to raise the temperature of every teenage girl in America. Morales is constantly trying to improve himself. He strives—no, he is driven—to lower his swimming times, to raise his grade-point average, to be a better person, to improve the world. He spends five hours a day training, another four studying, has done volunteer work at hospitals, gives speeches and pep talks at local swim clubs. Last year Morales' good deeds, in and out of the pool, were featured in a story in the San Jose Mercury News under the headline STUDY IN GOODNESS. Says Stanford coach Skip Kenney, "You'd just be a nicer person if you hung around him all the time. I know when I'm around him, I'm careful with my language."
"I guess I would describe myself as wanting to be a perfectionist," says Morales. "I think goals are always obtainable if you have the patience and the desire."
"I don't know how he got to be so mature," says Blanca, somewhat at a loss. "I only wanted him to learn to swim so he wouldn't drown."
Pedro Pablo Morales Sr. and Blanca Manzano Bosquet grew up together in the Havana suburb of Luyano, he the son of a policeman, she the daughter of a truck driver. In 1955, when Blanca was at Havana University, and Pablo Sr. was working as an auto mechanic, they decided to get married. That was four years before Fidel Castro came to power, a time of unrest and high unemployment in Cuba. Pablo Sr., a solid, quiet man, says, "Almost nobody had a job, and even if you did, you weren't making much money. I was making $5 a day, that was $30 a week, when I was working every day. But sometimes I only worked four days. Still, I was lucky because I had something to do."
Blanca, a 5'6 bundle of energy who laughingly describes herself as the "baby" of the family, says of those days in Havana, "If you didn't have money, you couldn't get married."
And so in the time-honored tradition, Pablo Sr. emigrated to the U.S. to seek his fortune. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 speaking very little English and went about looking for work, any kind of work. "I finally got a job unloading railroad cars for 60 cents an hour," he says. "I ate tuna fish and saltine crackers for three months, day after day after day, to save money."
In September of that year Blanca and Pablo were married in Havana, by proxy. Three months later Pablo returned to Cuba, collected his bride and brought her back to Chicago. Their first child, Helena, was born in 1962 and was followed almost three years later by Pablo Jr. True to the vow she had made to herself after her near-fatal encounter with the sea, Blanca enrolled her children for swimming lessons at the community pool. "Those kids were in the water before they were walking," she says.