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Colorado Springs man recognized for leadership at USA Swimming

Mike and Lisa Unger with their children Nicole and NatalieUSA SWIMMING and Speedo named Mike Unger one of the 30 most influential people in swimming over the past 30 years.

The award recognizes leaders for their significant influence on the growth of American swimming through innovation, participation in the sport and increasing its reputatio.

“I love my job and I’m passionate about what I do for USA Swimming,” Unger says.

“I love the people with whom I work. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work not only at the national level but the international level.”

Unger, who has worked for USA Swimming at its headquarters in Colorado Springs since 1993, is now assistant executive director.

Unger oversees all major events, including the US Olympic Trials, the Golden Goggle Awards dinner, the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool and the Pan Pacific Championships.

He also supervises information technology, member services, the times and performance departments, and is involved with USA Swimming’s international relations efforts.

Unger is a top liaison with FINA, the international swimming federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

He has been instrumental in making the US Olympic Trials an elite sporting event and was the architect behind the Golden Goggle Awards.

Unger has won three Emmy Awards with NBC sports and has been involved with all of USA Swimming’s television broadcasts, combining his passions for journalism and athletics.

Unger recently traveled to Austria with the League of European Swimming Congress, where delegates from over 50 countries participate in a wide variety of aquatic sports.

“International relations are an important aspect of our work at USA Swimming,” he says. “Since these nations represent Europe, the political, financial and sports governance issues are complex and challenging.”

ON A national level, Unger has spearheaded new initiatives and events in the swimming world. “One event is called Duel in the Pool, which features Team USA’s top swimmers competing against the best swimmers in Europe,” he says.

“USA Swimming started Duel in the Pool in 2003.

“The two-day event includes the top ranked men and women selected from various countries. The event is held every other year, drawing over 3,000 attendees. This event is comparable to the Ryder’s Cup in golf.”

Duel in the Pool is comprised of 15 events for male and female athletes and offers over $120,000 in prize money.

Held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2013, Duel in the Pool will be held in Indianapolis at the Indiana University Natatorium in December, featuring Olympic medal-winning swimmers such as Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte.

“SWIMMING ISN’T a sport where you practice just a little and expect to excel,” he says.

“For parents of young athletes in school, the demands of swimming are apparent at all levels. Training, lessons and coaching are requirements for this sport where practice is typically daily amid the pressures of academic schedules.”

Endurance athletes at very high levels typically train 10 times each week, burning extremely high amounts of calories, along with core workouts such as Pilates.

At Olympic levels, this training reaches a daily rigor, despite the fact that Olympic athletes “have the chance once every four years to make their mark, so it’s challenging both physically and mentally,” Unger says.

Olympic swimmers often have longer careers than other high-level sportsmen, according to Unger.

Dara Torres, a Jewish American athlete, is a 12-time Olympic medalist and former world record holder in three events.

She is the first and only swimmer to represent the US in five Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008). At age 41 she was the oldest swimmer ever to earn a place on the US Olympic team.

In 2005, Torres was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The upcoming Summer Olympics will be held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in August, 2016. Swimmers and athletes competing in track and field dominate the American medal-winning count, earning approximately 60% of medals won by American Olympians.

“This summer, it will be exciting to watch American swimmer Katie Ledecky compete,” Unger says.

“When Katie was 15, she won the Olympic gold medal in 2012 in the 800-meter freestyle event in what was the second fastest performance ever.

“Ledecky’s grandfather came to the US from Czechoslovakia in 1947 and her mother swam for the University of New Mexico. Ledecky plans to attend Stanford University and compete on the swim team.”

MIKE UNGER grew up in a sports family and started swimming at a young age. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the highest scoring swimmer his senior year.

“When I left college, I loved swimming and thought it would be great to work for USA Swimming someday,” he says.

“Little did I know that I would fulfill that dream by moving to Colorado Springs later in life with my family.”

Unger met his wife Lisa during college when he was the assistant swim coach on campus. He completed an MS in sports management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and relocated to Colorado Springs in 1993.

Lisa, who has worked for Colorado Springs Utilities, is a civil and environmental engineer. She designed their new home in Gleneagle. Their daughters Natalie and Nicole celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs at Temple Shalom.

Unger was board secretary at the synagogue and was a member of the religious practices committee. Nicole is president of the BBYO chapter of Colorado Springs

Unger is an avid swimmer himself and encourages kids to consider swimming while in school, as he did growing up.

COLORADO SPRINGS Doherty High School graduate Alex Raphael, 19, is now a member of the Lewis and Clark Pioneers swim team in Portland, Ore.

“Swimming in college was one of the best decisions I ever made,” says Raphael, a sophomore and Colorado Springs native.

At Lewis and Clark, Raphael competes in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke and sprint freestyle, and competed in the butterfly and individual medley in high school.

She remembers taking lessons during elementary school, swimming in the summer club team at age six, and despite the typical schedule of a busy student found herself returning to swimming every year.

As the 2016 Summer Olympics near, Unger looks forward to combining athletics and journalism. During the Games, he is on loan from USA Swimming to NBC, serving as an associate producer.

“This is one of my niches since TV producers don’t always know the sport well, especially swimming,” he says.

“I’m so fortunate to do this type of work in my professional life. I tell my daughters that you make the most of your opportunities — that’s my mantra.”

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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