C.J.: Swimmer still showing her mettle

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2012 - 4:55 PM

Minnesota holds a soft spot in the heart of Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders, because she was here "a few times for meets when I was a swimmer, back in the day." Of course, her signature accomplishment was winning two golds, a silver and a bronze in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Protecting the heads of kids recently brought Sanders back to the metro. The mother of two gave away helmets at Richard Green Central School in her role as Schwinn Bikes brand ambassador for the "Helmets on Heads" campaign. Schwinn's partner in the initiative is ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation.

Using a cantaloupe as a visual aid, Hennepin County Medical Center trauma prevention specialist Julie Philbook vividly demonstrated to the school kids how a soft noggin responds to violent contact with a hard surface, shown in my startribune.com/video.

Sanders is a gentle spirit who pulled no punches about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who may be stripped of his Olympic medal this week. On a more playful note, Sanders explained how her children got their names.

Q One of your medals was missing earlier, but we won't get into that because it turned up. You don't mind people putting their fingers all over your medals?

A You know what's so funny? Where my medals are right now, I actually had to do a double take because I didn't know. Somehow they always turn up. I LOVE when I bring my medals out and I have people touch them. Because I think that's what it was all about -- seeing the reaction of people, how the Olympics touch the lives of everyone.

Q Which sport has the nicest athletes?

A I'm biased but I'm going to say swimming.

Q Which sports has the most jerks?

A Oooooooh. I have not met a sport with the most jerks. I really haven't. I've worked for the NBA for 10 years. I do stuff for the NFL. I just meet kind athletes. So maybe I just don't hang out with those jerks.

Q Now, you never used performance enhancement drugs?

A Right. Never did, never saw them. I didn't know anybody who ever used them. It just was not around at all. I'm sure that other countries did, but we didn't.

Q Speaking of other countries, were the East German swimmers really women?

A OK! So this has come out. They were really women, but they had a little something extra. A vitamin of some sort. That is known now and it's a bummer. I love sport. I love that it's pure. That's one of the things the Olympics had that set them apart from other professional sports.

Q Do you have any sympathy for Lance Armstrong?

A I don't. It's such an awful thing for sport. And yet he's such a hero when it comes to cancer and the strength he had to survive cancer. But I just don't put up with people who lie. I think it's pretty plain that's what happened.

Q It's inconceivable to me that someone who was treated for cancer would mess around with performance enhancement drugs.

A You know what? My life is too complicated and busy, trying to raise two kids [who] are healthy and upstanding and thoughtful and kind, and provide for my family and take care of myself, that I just don't have enough time to think about why Lance would do it. I just get bummed when people don't make good decisions. Similar to why I'm here, talking about "Helmets on Heads." I want these kids to make good decisions, wearing the helmets when they're biking, just like I would want Lance Armstrong to make a good decision when it comes to representing himself, his country and his sport.

Q What's the main difference between being married to a championship swimmer vs. a champion skier.

A Ooooooh. Well, my husband [Erik Schlopy] is that champion skier. Three-time Olympic downhill skier. Let me put it this way: [As] an Alpine skier, he has an incredible amount of guts. He has no fear. And I'm a girl [who] spent my whole life in a pool of water where the worst thing I could do is hit my head in the end and just go out. He would break bones. So it's fun to have somebody who kind of pushes you in that way.

Q Let's talk about these names you've given your kids.

A Skye Bella. With the last name Schlopy we all decided we wanted to give her a very short but beautiful first name. My mom came up with Skye and then our friend came up with Bella -- beautiful. Now, when it comes to my son's name, Charles Robert Spider Schlopy -- Charles for my grandpa Charlie, one of my favorite people ever; Robert for my dad; Spider for a guy named Spider Sabich, [an Alpine ski racer] from the '70s. Spider really fits my son. He's a bit wild. He has a bit of his dad in him, that gutsy side. But just the other day he said to me, "Mom, how do you spell Charlie? Can I write that on my papers at school?"

Interviews are edited for space. Reach the columnist at cj@startribune.com and watch her on Fox 9.

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