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Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Keegan: Family pool of talent

June 25, 2008

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When a mother goes into labor, a father has one job.

He hurries.

The Guinness Book of World Records doesn't track the quickest trips to the maternity ward, but a Lawrence father of three has iron-clad proof of just how swiftly he hurried when the time arrived.

Twenty-one years and 26 days ago, Tony Portela was on the block, ready to dive into the pool for the 50-meter freestyle at the Pan-American Games trials in Salinas, Puerto Rico, when a meet official stopped the race before it started to inform Portela that his wife, Dorie, had gone into labor.

Portela asked his parents to take Dorie to the hospital and told them he would be right behind them, just as soon as he finished the race. He hurried as no swimmer from Puerto Rico ever had hurried.

"Broke the Puerto Rican record," Portela remembered like it was yesterday.

The ultra-motivated swimmer then headed to the hospital in Santurce. How long a drive?

"Probably a half hour, 45 minutes," he said. "My wife will tell you two hours and that the car took every single bump in the road."

As so often seems the case with the first born, it was a case of hurry up and wait.

"It ended up being a really long labor for my poor wife," Portela said. "Our son was born the next day."

Born to swim. Anthony Portela, 21 and a citizen of the United States and Puerto Rico, will spend his Fourth of July trying to swim his way into the Olympics. He qualified to swim at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., in the 100-meter butterfly.

"Right now I'm seeded about 40th and it's a goal of mine to make it to the finals, the top 16," said Anthony, who swims for the University of Minnesota.

His father, who swam for Puerto Rico in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and his mother, who swam in the U.S. Olympic trials the same year, will be watching. So will his sister Chloe, 15, who starred for the Free State High team that took second in the state this past spring. Anthony also swam for Annette McDonald while at Free State, leading his team to the 2004 state title. Jordan, 9, who swims for the Lawrence Aquahawks, also will be at Qwest Center, cheering on his brother.

For more than a week, Anthony thought he would be following in his father's wake and swimming for Puerto Rico in the Olympics. Shortly before the qualifying deadline - Puerto Rico uses time standards, rather than having swimmers compete at Olympic trials - Doug Lennox, who swims for Princeton, logged a faster time.

Anthony is spending the summer in Minneapolis. His typical day: Swim from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., work an internship for Target's dotcom distribution center from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. He saves all his bragging for his sister Chloe's feats.

"She's doing great," he said.

That she is. Chloe qualified to represent Puerto Rico in the FINA World Championships in Monterrey, Mexico, where the family will fly one day after Anthony competes in Omaha.

"I'm sure genes have a little to do with it," Tony said of the swimming success of their children. "At the same time, they're very competitive, dedicated. They work very hard."

It seems as if every member of this friendly Lawrence family was born to swim.

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