By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Micha (Burden) Shaw was a World Championship open water swimmer for the U.S. as the sport made its big gains in exposure in the U.S., and she had a chance of making the Olympic team in both 2008 – and in 2012, before retiring. Her male counterpart at the time was Fran Crippen, and she talks about what he was like as a teammate, and what she likes in her friends and coach from Cal, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Pretty excited to see your Cal friends swim at Trials?
Micha: Definitely. I don’t know Dana (Vollmer) that well, but I have met her at swim meets and she is incredible. Natalie (Coughlin) is one of my best friends and I am always excited to watch her swim. I am really excited for Trials. I’m also rooting for (former Mission Viejo teammate) Chad LaTourette even though he’s from (laughs) Stanford. I’m still excited to see how well (Cal’s) Madison Kennedy does.
2. I remember seeing, I think, wedding pics of Natalie from your wedding – where was that?
Micha: It was in Bali, Indonesia. Natalie was the first person to buy a ticket. I sent out the invites, and she called me, “Okay, we booked our tickets,” so I told Logan, “Well, now we have to get married!”
3. You go from struggling to continue to swim financially to Miss International wedding, pretty cool?
Micha: (Laughs) I know! We were really lucky. My husband’s uncle lives in Bali. It sounds very extravagant, but once you get there, it’s very inexpensive and it was much cheaper than getting married here in southern California.
4. The start of Chloe’s career, Fran, Chad – what a group you trained with at Mission, right?
Micha: It was amazing. I look back with a lot of fond memories. I am still very close to Coach (Bill) Rose, and he is someone who will always be a special part of my life. I am in contact with Chad, and Fran was one of my best friends ever. We had a small, close group of people. It was a pretty unique experience.
5. You go from Cal and pool swimming to open water – how hard was that?
Micha: You know, when I look back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into – I was totally delusional, training at the beach every day, and living the beach lifestyle, becoming this ocean athlete and surfer. I thought I’d be an Olympian and it would be awesome. But we trained (laughs) in the pool every day. And the races were not in the surf, but in the ocean!
6. Did you see the talent in Chloe even back then?
Micha: Everyone could see it. Chloe is an incredibly hard worker, day in and day out, and she has phenomenal workouts back to back, which I am envious of! So I am not surprised at all by the success she had in open water, and I’m not surprised she’s now excelling in the pool.
7. So how did you end up moving to open water and having all that success at 2007 Worlds?
Micha: I graduated in 2004 and I thought I was done swimming. I started swimming in 2006 with Bill Rose at Mission Viejo, and he was very sweet to let me swim there. I don’t think he really expected me (laughs) to make it through the summer there!
8. Didn’t Fran move out there about then, too?
Micha: Fran and I started swimming at Mission Viejo the same time. For the first few World Cups it was just Fran and I on the road together. We bought plane tickets, showed up in these foreign countries, and made so many friends – I had so many amazing (laughs) adventures with Fran! As the years progressed, more people started coming with us. I remember my first race in Brazil, I showed up and I was so terrified, but Fran showed up a few hours later, and I knew I’d be okay. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into for races like that! We weren’t prepared for the races, we had to find gels and we had no one to feed us on the boats! But it was a unique experience, and we got each other through it.
9. So Fran was a good travel buddy?
Micha: I know that you already are aware that he was the best! He really was. In fact, I don’t think my family would have let me go on trips if Fran wasn’t with me. He wasn’t afraid of anything, and he was always very protective of his friends – he was the best teammate you could ever ask for. Fran always put things at ease for me. He was a bit of a slow walker (laughs),which annoyed me at times! But as far as travel buddies go, we were a pretty good match.
10. I do believe you were one of the first non-relatives he used the term “little buddy” to describe – does that ring true?
Micha: He did use that for me, and he did for you, too. he used to always make fun of me on the trips because it seemed like I always got hurt, and he’d take care of me, and help me out. He liked to be there for his friends, and no one was better at it. We had some trips – the first time to Dubai, we road camels! We had a great time exploring London. Our trip to Argentina, we had heard we were being taken on this private jet, and it was a rickety old plane! It was always exciting. But nothing ever bothered Fran, it was always an adventure, something exciting to take in and make the most of.
11. I always miss him, but leading up to Trials, I’ve been thinking about him more – you too?
Micha: It was a really unique friendship we had, and we started off with the same goal training for open water. We grew together in the sport, and I hung out more with him than anybody else traveling and training. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything, but we were always there for each other. I don’t think I would have made it (2007 Worlds) without him…(pause) I still miss him a lot.
12. Hey, how about the great memories of swimming for Bill Rose?
Micha: I loved swimming for Coach Rose. When I first called about swimming for him, I said, “Hi, I want to be an open water swimmer, can I come swim with you?” He hadn’t responded to my emails, so I just showed up. I wasn’t really a distance swimmer in college, but I wanted to do open water. When I got in the pool for Coach Rose, I didn’t make the interval for the entire first summer I was there! But slowly, I worked my way into his heart. Sometimes you work so hard for a relationship, and you have that trust, and I knew Coach Rose believed in me, which made me feel special.
13. Cal keeps winning titles – getting old?
Micha: I don’t think it will ever (laughs) get old. I didn’t get any of the special Cal gear – I have been mostly buying Cal stuff for our baby, so I definitely need to upgrade my Cal wardrobe! The first time the women won the championship, I was at a birthday party, I burst into tears because I was so excited; you don’t realize until you graduate how proud you are to have represented and been a part of that incredible school. I don’t even know any of the girls (laughs) on the team now, but I am so proud of them!
14. How amazing is Teri McKeever, and the way she has built that program and been an innovator in training?
Micha: She deserves everything she has earned. She is such a dedicated coach. I feel fortunate I got to swim for her. She really nurtures you as a person, not just as an athlete. She is so supportive. She did so many sweet things for us when we would be going to Pac 10s and NCAAs, and it really made us realize how much she believed in us as people as well as athletes.
15. Even though you do not have an ounce of baby weight left, I still have to ask -- tell me about this little guy you and Logan look so happy in pictures with?
Micha: Zane is 10 months old already – time goes by so fast! He doesn’t want to cuddle with me anymore – (laughs) the baby, I mean. I just love being a Mom. I could never have imagined that I would love it so much. It’s so much more than you could ever expect. He’s getting pretty good in the water; we took him for his first swim lesson at two months. We have this pool at Fountain Valley, and I am swimming there; I invited myself to join a master’s group. So Zane goes to daycare, then after I swim he comes and plays in the pool and then we both go home for – hopefully – a good, long nap. There is no pressure on him to be a swimmer, but it’s important to me that my child be comfortable in the water.
16. How amazing has it been seeing from up close how incredible Natalie Coughlin’s career, both in and out of the water, has been?
Micha: Yes! I admire Natalie for always sticking to what she believes in. She only promotes projects she believes in or products she would use. I don’t know the endorsement world, but she and her agent sure do. She has made smart choices. She has obviously had a long and successful career. She is amazing. When I was training at FAST and she started swimming again (after the 2008 Olympics), we went to Australia – I went for a short competition, and she wanted to come. I said, “You have to realize, we’re not traveling in style, and we’re staying at surf clubs, and eating at tiny restaurants – think of it more like camping,” and she was completely up for it. What a great friend. We had the best time. She was up for anything, and we went swimming and played in the ocean. I also admire her as a trainer; she gets more out of a 100 than most people could get out of 10,000.
17. Your name is pronounced Meeka – do people still say it wrong?
Micha: Oh, all the time! You know, yeah, I have a hard time correcting (laughs) people on it, because it happens on a daily basis, but it’s not something that bothers me at all, of course.
18. What a job Bill Rose did with everything, but also growing the sport of open water, didn’t he? And now he has Chloe, Twichell, Jennings, Chad – he’s just meant a lot to the open water sport as well as the amazing job he has done with pool swimmers, hasn’t he?
Micha: I think Coach Rose should get a lot of credit for that because he got us to all the races and he really maybe pushed some of us into racing who didn’t want to. Chad would tell you he didn’t want to do every race, but he did. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this or not, but Coach Rose can be (laughs) persuasive. It’s so intimidating when you first meet him, but he’s really just a big teddy bear.
19. Obviously getting married and having a beautiful, healthy baby trumps all, but why did you retire when you did because you were really making a lot of progress?
Micha: Definitely. I think after (not making the team in 2008) I was pretty depressed. I was just obsessed with swimming again. I thought I had so much to prove, and all I could do was focus on how fast I was going. I went to training at FAST again, and it took me a while to realize I wasn’t happy. The day I retired, I actually stopped in the middle of practice, burst into tears, and told Jon Urbachek I was done. My husband was supportive but he said, “Let’s see how you feel tomorrow.” But I never looked back after that day. I was done. It was not the way I wanted to end it (retire), but it was when I chose to do it, so it was done. I still try to swim a couple of days each week now, and I love it. Swimming will always be in my life. When I was pregnant, swimming was the best thing I did. Now, I am a lot more at peace with things. I’m still way (laughs) too competitive.
20. Even though we all miss Fran, how great is Alex Meyer going to be repping us at the Olympics?
Micha: You know, in regard to the previous question (pause)…when I retired, I wrote Fran this long email because driving home I didn’t want to call him (pause)… while I was crying. So I emailed him a couple of days later. That was the trip where he died, and I never heard back of course. I think everybody should enjoy Fran’s spirit and I know we will all think about him at the Olympics. I know in my heart if he were still alive, he’d be an Olympian. But Alex is a wonderful representation of Fran – Fran just loved him. We are never going to “get past” losing Fran, and we shouldn’t, because he lives on in all of us; I am just so excited Alex is going to be in the Olympics representing our country, the United States, and a person we all love – and always will – Fran Crippen.