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Board Profile: David Berkoff

7/6/2011

By Mike Watkins//Correspondent

Even though he doesn't swim much these days, Olympic champion David Berkoff is rarely far from the water.

Not only does he coach part-time at the Missoula (Mont.) Aquatic Club, but his children – son, Cale, 12, and David Berkoff (medium)daughter, Katherine, 10 – have followed in their famous father's footsteps as backstrokers for Missoula.

Spending that time at the pool with the kids has helped reconnect Berkoff – well-known in the swimming world for his "Berkoff Blastoff" that revolutionized the backstroke and set numerous world records in the late 1980s and early 90s – to his own swimming roots.

Last September, at the nomination of a friend in the USA Swimming membership, Berkoff took an even bigger step back toward the sport that defined his youth when he accepted a spot on the USA Swimming Board of Directors.

Now that he's approaching his year anniversary on his two-year term, Berkoff is glad he's involved with swimming on a national and international level again, and he largely credits his kids – both biological and swimming – for helping bring him back.

"It's been a lot of work, but I have really enjoyed being on the board," said Berkoff, a practicing lawyer and partner who has decreased his workload at his law firm in Missoula to fully embrace his role and responsibilities on the board.

"Swimming has given me so much in my life that it feels great to be able to give back. With coaching, work and home, it gets difficult sometimes to juggle everything, but when you are passionate, you make time for everything."

Prior to joining the board last fall, aside from coaching, Berkoff's last involvement with USA Swimming was as an athlete representative from 1992-93.

For the last 17-plus years since then, he has earned his masters in environmental studies as well as a law degree from the University of Montana, gotten married and had kids, become a partner in his law firm and engaged his community as a volunteer and pro bono lawyer for several organizations and causes. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even before he became a father, Berkoff was interested in protecting the lives and rights of children, and for several years, has done work for the Watson Children's Shelter in Missoula. The home provides emergency shelter and care for kids whose parents are arrested for severe neglect or have abandoned the children.

He also started the Upper Rattlesnake Neighborhood Committee to help preserve a wildlife watershed along Rattlesnake Creek in Montana and continues to sit on the board and provide direction and legal advice.

His passion for protecting children is one of the reasons he first entertained thoughts about becoming a board member for USA Swimming.

"Events last year with the ban list really got me interested in what was happening with USA Swimming clubs," said Berkoff, winner of two Olympic relay gold medals along with silver and bronze medals in the 100 backstroke at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

"I think USA Swimming has handled the situation very well and is an example for other Olympic NGBs (National Governing Bodies) about the benefit of being transparent. My hope is that the mechanisms and educational awareness instituted last year as a result pay off in many different ways."

Berkoff said the USA Swimming board meets two to three times a year, but the work doesn't begin and end with these meetings. He sits on 10 different committees, including age group development, club development, emergency planning, National Team review and sports medicine, among others.

As part of the group of swimmers – led by Matt Biondi and Tom Jager – in the 80s and 90s who saw their competitive swimming careers end after college due to lack of financial support and sponsorships ("before swimmers became professionals"), Berkoff is thrilled that today's post-collegiate swimmers have the resources and opportunities to continue to train and compete.

As someone who has continued to follow the sport on national and international levels since his own retirement, he said he hopes current and future swimmers value the opportunities they have to continue to swim and compete – opportunities his generation didn't have but championed.

"I just don't want to see professional swimmers go the route of other professional athletes. I want to see them embrace what they have rather than take it for granted and expect more and more," said Berkoff, who admits he would have continued to compete and train for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics had he had the same financial and competitive opportunities.

"Last year was a tough year for the sport and the organization because of the abuse scandals and the death of a great swimmer (Fran Crippen), but it's a wonderful organization made up of really good people. I'm a swimming junkie – always have been and always will be – and I am proud to be a part of USA Swimming and where swimming is headed in the United States."