Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - October 5, 2012

Stanford Olympians have their day as life (sort of) returns to normal

by Rick Eymer

Roy Perkins learned how to swim when he was 12 years old. He was setting American records by the time he was 13. Five years later he became a Paralympic medalist.

Perkins, born without hands and feet, exemplifies the devotion to a sport and to the leading of an extraordinary life. At age 22, the Stanford junior won four medals at the 2012 London Parlympic Games. He won two medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Those are in addition to his six World Championship and Pan Am medals won in 2006 and 2010. This is no ordinary athlete.

"I've met a lot of kids over the years who swim," Perkins said. "I enjoy following them, seeing how they are doing. I'd like to see more people recruited for the Paralympics."

Perkins, born in Washington D.C., attended The Bishop's School in San Diego, where he competed for the school's swimming team for a short time.

Since becoming a swimmer, Perkins works out about two hours a day, usually with a club team. He has worked out with Stanford on occasion, but normally sticks with the Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics club team, working under the direction of Scott Shea.

There were 4,294 Paralympic athletes in London over the summer, the largest contingent yet in the 14th such Games. Perkins finished with two silver medals and a bronze medal. He won a gold medal in 2008.

"I think the attention it brings to kids is a good thing," Perkins said. "I was influenced by Melanie Bend, who had a similar disability."

There's no question Perkins has influenced others. He gets to see kids wherever he goes.

"The exposure is great and it has drawn a lot of attention to the Paralympics," Perkins said of athletes such as Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee who competed in both the Olympics and Paralympics in track and field. "It's a great story."

Perkins took a year off from school to focus on his training for London. He recently declared his major as Earth Systems, which can be a lot of things beside environmental.

He's looking forward to the next World Championship meet and a chance to add a few more medals to his collection at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Perkins was one of several Olympic athletes who returned to normal student life last week at Stanford and took part in an Olympic Day. He'll join a large contingent of Stanford Olympians to be honored during halftime at Saturday's Stanford-Arizona football game at Stanford Stadium.

Maggie Steffens, Annika Dries and Melissa Seidemann each returned with a gold medal after helping the United States women's water polo team win the top prize in London for the first time ever.

Steffens is currently the greatest offensive player in the world after leading all Olympians in goals (21) in London. She set an Olympic record with seven goals in one match.

Synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva returned for her final year at Stanford, gymnast Kristina Vaculik returns for her sophomore year, while track athlete Steven Solomon and Steffens are making their collegiate debuts.

Solomon competed for Australia, making the finals in the men's 400 meters, and Vaculik helped Canada to a surprising fifth-place finish in team competition.

The water polo players drew thousands of fans when making appearances in the U.S., and that included a sold out Avery Aquatic Center over the summer in an exhibition game against Hungary.

East Bay residents Steffens and Seidemann, in particular, get noticed when walking around town.

"Some kids, and parents, will run up and say 'are you Maggie Steffens?' and get so excited," Steffens said. "That's a lot of fun."

Added Seidemann: "We can relate to the process. We went to the same schools and played for the same teams. That connects the water polo community and that's cool for sure."

While Steffens and Dries have their gold medals safely locked up, Seidemann brought hers to school (briefly) so USA coach Adam Krikorian could show it off to friends during a recent Stanford-UCLA charity golf event.

Stanford grad Brenda Villa, who retired following the Olympics but remains coaching the Castilleja water polo team, helped make it all special for the current Stanford players.

"I stood on the podium between her and Heather Petri (who also retired after four Olympics) and I could feel their energy," Seidemann said. "All the hard work the past 20 years ended in a gold medal and I can't think of anything cooler."

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