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Sarasota police officer who saved boat during storm is Olympic gold medalist

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SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – One of the most memorable images from Tropical Storm Colin was a video clip of a Sarasota Police Department officer struggling to hang on while saving a boat in the choppy waters.

People throughout the country viewed the video, many without realizing just how special that officer really is. His name is Tripp Schwenk. On most days you can Officer Schwenk on a boat. It’s his office.

News Channel 8 spent a day with him. During that interview, he spotted a sailboat that had sunk overnight. “Oh, this is not good,” Schwenk said.

This is his day job, patrolling the water, doing safety inspections on boats and keeping a tight lid on crime. But on Monday, the officer had his work cut out for him.

When Tropical Storm Colin whipped through, it knocked vessels loose. It was Schwenk’s job to save them. “When I got on that little sailboat, it got a little bit hairy,” he said.

Thankfully, he’s a good swimmer, although he won’t really admit it. “Ah, I’m OK. I’m OK,” the officer said.

“Once upon a time I got to enjoy the great honor of being a representative of the United States for two Olympic teams,” he then added.

Schwenk is a former world-class Olympic swimmer. He competed in the backstroke. But it was an arduous journey. Schwenk just barely missed being a part of the 1988 Olympic swim team. “In 1988, I missed the Olympic team by 23 one-hundredths of a second,” he said.

He didn’t give up. He kept training. Even after a horrifying water skiing accident injured his arm, Schwenk kept going and became part of the 1992 team.

He came in fifth place in the Men’s 200m backstroke. It’s nothing to sneeze at, being the fifth best in the world. But, it wasn’t what Schwenk wanted.

“I was mad,” he said. “When I came home I felt like a failure. And the greatest thing about failure is usually you have other opportunities to make up for that.”

He wanted a medal. So he trained hard and made the 1996 US Olympic team. Schwenk won a silver medal in the 200 m backstroke and a gold in the 4 x 100m medley relay.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “Other than my children being born it’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Each and every one one of us have those Olympic moments in their lives, and when I talk to kids I try to convey that; all of you kids have Olympic moments every day, you just don’t realize it,” Schwenk said.

He wanted to compete further but was sidelined because of health issues. Just before the 1996 games, he learned he had a rare disorder. He received a kidney transplant.

At the urging of relatives, Schwenk joined the Sarasota Police Department. It satisfies the itch to compete, he said.

“It was the only career that I could find where I could still get that adrenaline high from chasing people down,” he said. “Still haven’t had anybody jump in the water to try and swim away from me yet …Sixteen years of doing this, I’ve been waiting for that moment.”

Schwenk also coaches part-time. In addition, his children are swimmers.WHAT OTHERS ARE CLICKING ON

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