Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy returns to Ponte Vedra roots

Swimmer shares tips and technique with YMCA First Coast Flyers

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Ponte Vedra native Ryan Murphy may be a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a world record-holder, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. As a favor to his first ever swim coaches, Jennifer Salles-Cunha and daughter Monique Salles-Cunha, the 23-year-old swimmer and Bolles graduate stopped by the Ponte Vedra YMCA last Friday, Sept. 7 to share some valuable tips with the First Coast Flyers swim team.

“Embrace the racing,” Murphy encouraged the young group of swimmers. “That’s what I always loved about the sport.”

After performing a demonstration of proper form and technique for the team, Murphy fielded questions on how he mentally and physically prepares for a race.

“I’ll figure out my race plan like three months before my big meet,” he said. “And I don’t expect you guys to be able do it — you’re still really young, so everything is moving around so fast for you — but for me, that’s what I do. I like to plan it out so far in advance so that I can put it in the training.”

Murphy also added that his typical pre-race routine includes eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a cup of Chobani yogurt and a banana, as well as listening to music to help him get in the right mindset.

And that method seems to have worked well for Murphy. In August, he came close to breaking his own world record of 51.85 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2018 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Tokyo, clocking in at 51.94 seconds and breaking the meet record for the event. His time also tied that of the previous record-holder, Aaron Peirsol, whom Murphy said he had always looked up to as a young swimmer.

“I just liked his vibe,” he said. “Literally, the guy would walk out, and he’d sit down in the chair behind his box and he wouldn’t have his cap or goggles on, and I thought that was just the coolest thing ever. He looked like he didn’t care that he was about to swim in a minute.”

While Murphy’s record-shattering success may have shocked the world, it was no surprise to his former coaches, who began training the future Olympian when he was just 4 years old. Now, having helped him to achieve his dream, they are just grateful to have been a part of it and to be able to help him share his wisdom with the next generation of Olympic hopefuls.

“He’s doing this out of the kindness of his heart,” said Jennifer Salles-Cunha, Ponte Vedra head coach for the First Coast Flyers. “And of course, for the kids, this is why they swim. They see somebody, and then that gives them the motivation to continue to work hard — because it’s hard to work hard every day, but they see where they can go.”

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