Trials and Tribulations: Joe Pascale, Part 1
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Each month, as part of our “Trials and Tribulations” series, we’ll give you an inside look at an Olympic Trials qualifier. If you have a story to share, please email Trials.Tribulations.firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have seen him walking the pool decks. He’s become part myth, part legend. The only creature with perhaps better facial hair on the planet would be Bigfoot – and Bigfoot’s not real (allegedly). Joe Pascale, however, most definitely is real. Standing at a large-and-in-charge 6’ 6’’, 230 lbs, and with a beard that is reminiscent of Abe Lincoln, Pascale is hard to miss.
The Curl-Burke swimmer and occasional MMA warrior is chasing his Olympic Trials dream, and he does so with perhaps the greatest beard in swimming. You might have seen him walking around at the Missouri Grand Prix. If you were there, you probably said, “Oh my, who is the guy with the massively oversized beard?” I didn’t know Joe before he tweeted a picture of his beard. I knew then that I had to interview him. Not only about the beard, but about his journey. As expected, Joe Pascale did not disappoint.
What is the growth rate on that beard?
Every time I take a photo of it myself, it doesn’t do it justice. I was like, “Holy cow. That’s what I see in the mirror.”
Before we get to the beard (Part Two uploaded next week) – what is your swimming background?
It’s almost none. I swam summer league since I can remember. I swam for PWSL (Prince William Swim League) for the Sudley Club, and it was a great time, but I never took swimming seriously. I always played basketball and football and lacrosse. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I started swimming with Curl Burke. From there, that was the start of getting serious and competing.
How fast were you out of high school?
I was garbage. It’s funny how I was even recruited by Auburn. I had local schools like UVA and GMU – all Virginia schools were hollering at me. My dad sat me down and put in front of me a questioner and said, “Maybe you should fill this out for Auburn.” I was like, “Where the hell is Auburn?” Dave Durden flew in and saw me practice, and I know he only recruited me for my size and my potential. I graduated with a 21.5 shaved and tapered and a 48-something in the 100. I went on a recruiting trip and fell in love with [Auburn]. First time I stepped on campus.
What happened from there?
Everyone was an Olympian on that team. It was hard to keep up. I swam my first year on the club. Then two years on the team. Then it just didn’t work out. The guys I got in contact with those three years – Cesar Cielo, George Bovell, Fred Bousquet, Adam Klein. When I stepped on the pool deck freshmen year, I stood next to George Bovell, and I was like, “This guy has a bronze medal.” I was like who was I? This guy was a medalist. It was probably the most humbling experience. I was at the bottom.
If you could do it again – attending Auburn -- would you?
Absolutely. With what I know now, I would do it in a heartbeat. Part of the reason of quitting was, I don’t think I was mature enough to be a student athlete at that level. I didn’t get it, you understand? I remember Dave Marsh saying, “You have to eat, breath, and live swimming to be successful.” I was thinking, “Gross.” [Laughs.] I wanted to have hobbies and experience college. We butted heads. But he was right.
So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m training harder and smarter than I ever did before in college. I never took advantage of the training at Auburn. And I regret quitting to this day. Every time I think about it, I get pretty irate. I quit for 6 years and got back into it a year and a half ago. Part of the reason was, “This was my apology to guys like Dave Durden and Dave Marsh.” It was an apology. I understand what they are trying to teach me.
When did you quit college swimming?
I came in at 2002 and quit 2005.
So you came back to fulfill your potential?
Well, then I took that fight and got my face mulled in.
Yeah. [Laughs.] My cage fight.
When I quit swimming, [Laughs] I ended up in California. I was training in Hollywood. Just got sucked into mixed martial arts. I was scheduled to fight a guy from Newnan, Georgia. But he couldn’t do it. So then I had to fight this guy who is #2 in the world in welterweight. The embarrassing part of it was, all my friends were there. And he just took it to me. Broke my jaw. Was embarrassing. After that, I got back into the pool to do cardio. I ended up going home for a weekend and talked to Pete Morgan at Curl Burke, and he convinced me to get back into swimming. So I decided to go back home and train.
The guy who ran the gym in Hollywood was Chris Reilly, the gym was called Legends. He wanted me to stay out there. I just couldn’t. I was broke. I was living off Ramen noodles and PB&J every day. I just couldn’t do it. He was like, “We’ll give you this, please stay.” The first day I walked into that gym, they were like, “You have the body for a fighter, please train.” And I did.
Were you nervous for your fight?
Hell yeah. I remember them shutting the cage door, and I was like, “What am I doing right now?” Apparently he had a 25-0 record in Brazil. I was like, “No way, this guy is an animal.” If you look him up in Bloodyelbow.com, he is undefeated. I was like, “I hate that promoter for putting me up against that guy.” If I could do it all over again, I would. Nothing will beat an adrenaline rush like being stuck in a cage with an undefeated Brazilian.
Who are you training with right now?
I’m training with the high school kids. And I’m training with Zach Hayden. He just picked up with Britain to swim at the Olympic Trials.
How’s it going training with the young kids?
These aren’t usual youngsters. These are quick kids. I enjoy it. Granted I would love to be part of a team like Ford or FAST or Club Wolverine Elite or SwimMAC Elite, but to be honest with you, I like being relatively by myself, and I got my own routine going. I would hate to ruin that routine. I don’t think a lot of coaches would be MMA training as a supplement to swim training. I have so much support in my home town in the masses, that alone is an awesome drive to do what I do. Here, I get the separation and I train with Pete Morgan and it’s fantastic. But again, when I get away from the pool, I can go to the MMA gym and separate myself from being in the water. I can chum it up with those guys and talk about other stuff rather than swimming, which is refreshing.
Do you want to get in another cage fight?
Absolutely. I would do a Muay-Thai fight first before I got into the cage again. My brother, he’s the total opposite of me – lawyer, conservative guy -- and he just laughs at me and says, “Where is your mind right now?” It’s controlled violence, and I totally get it. But I hate brawls and bar fights. They are total idiots. I’m not like that.
After the Trials, are you going to keep going?
It depends how fast I go at Trials. I want to be fast. I feel like I’m going to be fast. I want to train for Rio. I would love to be 36 and keep going. I get support from friends and family. I was coaching Curl-Burke, but now, it’s just training full time.