Local Olympians gather for a good cause | SierraSun.com

Local Olympians gather for a good cause

Alex Close/Sierra SunOlympians " including Debbie Meyer, Ricardo Klenk, Daron Rahlves, Marco Sullivan, Nate Holland and Shannon Bahrke " sign autographs for a throng of children at 'A Night of Olympians,' a fundraiser for the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team.

The second-floor banquet rooms at Gar Woods Grill and Pier Restaurant were crawling with young swimmers eager to fill a poster with signatures Tuesday night.

They had no trouble, as it was “A Night of Olympians,” a fundraising event featuring 10 big-name local athletes assembled in support of the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team.

Olympians Shannon Bahrke, Nate Holland, Glenn Jobe, Kristin Krone, Ricardo Klenk, Tamara McKinney, Debbie Meyer, Oswaldo Ancinas, Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan ” all of whom have strong local ties ” sat behind a long booth table smiling and signing away as about 30 swimmers between the ages of 6 and 15 lined up to catch a word from the local heroes.

After the autograph portion of the evening, dinner was served, followed by a five-minute speech from each of the athletes in attendance.

Lydia Percin, organizer of the event, estimated that “A Night of Olympians” raised about $5,000, thanks in large part to the support of local businesses.

“The number of donations we got was real generous,” Percin said in praise of local businesses that donated everything from free nights at local resorts to rounds of golf.

The money earned will help TTST transition from a recreational program to a more competitive one, Percin said. The first step was to hire a full-time coach, which TTST did with Mike Hoppe. Former head coach Betsy Hansen will remain with the team as an assistant coach, Percin said.

“We’re stepping it up to have a coach put in more hours so we don’t lose our swimmers to Reno,” Percin said. In recent years, TTST has sent several swimmers to the Sierra Nevada Division Junior Olympics, Far Western and Western Zone swim meets. “We want to keep them here, keep them local.”

While most of the young swimmers seemed more enamored with faces like Rahlves and Sullivan, it was Meyer ” a three-time gold medal winner in the 200 freestyle and the only Summer Olympics athlete at the event ” who connected with many of the athletes.

Meyer brought along her three gold medals from the 1968 Mexico City Games. She rotated the three medallions from young neck to neck, allowing the children to feel the weight of her Olympic gold medals for a time. Other Olympians made the same offer with their medals later in the night.

Between the world-class athletes who showed up in support of the cause and the youths excited to meet those local heroes, the event was a success to everyone involved.

“I knew it would be amazing, and it was every bit amazing as I thought and more,” Percin said.”

Several of the Olympians have ties to the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team. Krone, an Olympic Alpine skier, swam for the team as a youngster, and Klenk, an Olympian from Argentina, has a niece, Erika, who competes for TTST. Tamara McKinney’s daughter Francesca also swims with TTST.

Mike Hoppe has coached swimming and water polo for more than 20 years. Throughout his coaching career, he has developed many high-caliber swimmers and water polo players. These swimmers include national age-group champions, Far Western champions and high-point award winners, junior and senior national qualifiers, state champions, high school and junior college All-Americans and Pan American and Olympic Games qualifiers. His mission statement is “better people through better swimming”. He is a Level 3 “Life Plus” member of the American Swimming Coaches Association and a silver level U.S. water polo coach.

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