As it was, Burke’s Ed Moses had traveled about as far away from his Olympic swimming career as a person can go in four years.
When he left the sport after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2005, Moses stuffed his golf clubs in the trunk of his car and drove to Orlando, where he secured membership at Arnold Palmer’s private club and began chasing a brand-new goal: becoming a professional golfer.
He’d already reached his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal despite not swimming seriously until his junior year in high school. Why, he figured, shouldn’t he be able to make the PGA Tour, too?
As Moses immersed himself in “all golf, all the time,” as he put it, competing on the U.S. Pro Golf Tour, Hooters Tour and Pepsi Tour, his 100- and 200-meter breaststroke world records in short-course provided his only connection to his star-studded swimming career. The 100 mark fell last year, but the 200 record stood season after season, offering an unbroken link to his previous life.
Until, that is, just over two weeks ago.
Moses, 29, learned via text message that his name had been finally erased from the sport’s record books on Aug. 10 when Australian Christian Sprenger, wearing a high-tech suit not available when Moses competed, obliterated Moses’s longstanding mark by nearly a second.
Moses had held that record for nine years, last lowering it in 2004.
Despite his distance from the sport, the news hurt.
“When I found out my last world record had been broken, obviously it was a very emotional period,” Moses said by phone. I thought, “Where am I in the sport of swimming right now? But all good things come to an end.”
That’s not to say there Moses is certain he has reached the end. About the only thing that keeps him away from the pool is the daunting pile of challenges he has stacked up, and his steadfast refusal to allow himself to swim so much as a stroke. He went, after all, from an average, uncommitted sophomore swimmer at Lake Braddock High to a world-class star under Curl-Burke’s Pete Morgan in just two years. He doesn’t doubt his ability to make another such leap.
“I don’t get in the pool,” he said. “I won’t get in the pool. It’s tough. It’s very, very tough for me, for many, many reasons … Could I get back in the water and swim? There is no doubt in my mind. The problem for me is, if I get in that pool, I know what’s going to happen, and I’m kind of scared of that.
“I don’t swim. It’s zero. If I get in the water my knees and feet are getting in the water. I don’t do goggles and a cap … If I get in, I’m in shorts.”
As Moses pushes his urges to swim to the deepest corners of his mind, a professional golf career isn’t the only pie-in-the-sky goal he has put smack in front of him.
Though he has played golf with everyone from Palmer to Tiger Woods to Sergio Garcia, Moses last month decided to take a six- to 12-month break from that quest to tackle an entirely new venture. He moved to Burbank, Calif., and joined Los Angeles-based attorney Melanie Joy Young-Stephenson to help launch an entertainment company designed to encourage charitable giving and social consciousness. The plan for the company, Mojo Marketing and Media, was conceived with Stephenson during a charity golf outing.
Though Moses viewed the start-up as too tantalizing to pass up; he said he is by no means giving up his goals in golf.
“I want to get to the top, make the PGA Tour,” Moses said. “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Where swimming fits in the whole picture is at once nowhere and everywhere. Though he doesn’t swim at the moment, he doesn’t stop thinking about it, wondering about the possibility of a return. Moses said he would consider giving swimming another chance, but only after he achieved his other goals.
And only if he could find a new motivation in the sport in which he won an Olympic gold in the 4×100 medley relay and a silver in the 100 breast stroke at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.
“I don’t have the ‘why I should do it’ [yet],” Moses said. “I know I would love it, to be back in the same position … [But] what’s my goal? To win a gold medal again? I don’t know.”
When Moses left swimming, he wrote a letter to Palmer asking for admission to his famed Bay Hill Country Club. After Palmer said yes, Moses bought himself a house in Orlando and immersed himself in the game for hours daily, taking lessons from the sport’s finest technicians and playing daily practice runs with well-known pros. He has gone to “Q-School,” the qualifying school for the PGA Tour.
“I’m really good at disciplining myself,” he said. “I felt like that was a huge advantage. I felt like I could outwork people.”
So what’s next for Moses? An easier question, perhaps, is what isn’t.
“I just like to break barriers,” Moses said. “I didn’t start golf because I loved golf. I didn’t always think I would be in the entertainment business … I just want that challenge in front of me that’s unconquerable.”