By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, November 30, 2017
In many ways, Bobby Brewer was destined to be involved with swimming even after his competitive career ended.
A former competitive athlete who became an agent, Brewer now owns and operates his own swim-centric company – The Triton Collective – to remain a vital, active participant in the sport in many different ways.
And he accomplishes it all from his rural home in Cape Girardeau, Mo. – although he admits he still does his fair share of traveling for events, camps and meetings.
“Swimming encompasses my whole life, from my businesses to meeting my wife to competing, etc.,” he said. “It’s been very good to me, and even though I don’t get to swim as much as I would like these days, it’s obviously a very integral part of my life and has been for many years.”
A National Champion and Olympic favorite during his competitive years, Brewer got his start in the sport when he was 7.
He followed his older sister to the pool, and with his mother operating her own swim school, he was swimming before he was walking.
“I spent all day, every day, with my mom during her swim school, so she taught me all the strokes, and I had a lot of fun,” he said. “It only made sense that I would eventually join a competitive swim team.”
By the time he was 13, Brewer qualified for the Junior National Team and broke his first National Age Group record, and it wasn’t long before he was traveling the world with the team – competing in Paris and Germany.
“One of the coolest things was we were in Germany in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was coming down, and for a few bucks, we were able to swing a sledgehammer and help tear it down,” he said. “I still have a piece of the wall somewhere in my attic.”
Once he swam year-round, it didn’t take long for him to learn and excel at backstroke. By 1998, he earned a National title in the 100 back and was a 10-time U.S. National Team member by the end of his career.
At the 2000 Olympic Trials, he came into the meet as one of the top backstrokes in the world and United States – second only to American Lenny Krayzelburg. He was a sure favorite to earn a spot on the team heading to Sydney.
Unfortunately, a couple of evenings before his event preliminaries, he injured his leg at the hotel – severely hurting his chances of making the team.
He swam through the pain – making it to the event semifinals – but without two functioning legs, he came up short of making the finals and earning a spot on the team.
“I swam through the pain, and it was painful, but I was nowhere near where I would have been otherwise,” Brewer said. “I made it to the semis, but just didn’t have enough to pull through to the finals in a very deep, loaded field. It was very disappointing, but sometimes things happen the way they do to change your life.”
What that Trials experience did for Brewer was give him a different perspective about the sport.
On that team was a 15-year-old named Michael Phelps, who within a couple of years, would transform the sport.
Phelps brought notoriety and flash to swimming – as well as tremendous talent and accomplishments – and raised interest and opportunity for other top athletes.
At the same time, this created opportunities for agents to represent these athletes – Dara Torres, Krayzelburg, Natalie Coughlin, Brendan Hansen and Aaron Peirsol, among them – to gain sponsorships and endorsements so they could continue training and swimming.
“It was great timing and opportunity for me – just finishing my competitive career and ready for the next phase of my life,” he said. “I knew I wanted to stay involved with swimming, and becoming an agent and representing former teammates and friends became a great way for me to do that.
“No one was really tapping into these opportunities for the swimming stars, but Evan (Morgenstein) at PMG Sports saw and capitalized on them. It was an exciting time to be part of it all.”
In addition to Phelps bringing more notoriety to swimming a few other things and events culminated in an explosion of opportunities for swimmers to earn a good living – some becoming millionaires, according to Brewer – namely the rise of tech suits and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
When the suits were banned and the Olympics successfully concluded with Phelps’ earning 8 gold medals – and the Great Recession occurred later that year – the demand for swimming stars lessened and Brewer recognized it was time to move on to something else.
He moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, to coach the Iolani Swim Club for a few years before returning to the mainland and his wife’s family’s 300 acres in Missouri.
From there, he became the head coach of the Air Force Adaptive Swim Program – which works with wounded active military in seven different sports.
They hold camps throughout the United States, and these camps help them recover and ultimately land them on the U.S. team that competes annually in the Invictus Games – where wounded athletes from all military services come together to compete.
Brewer said swimming is one of the best ways for the wounded to rehab because of its lack of stress on the body and it being a great equalizer.
“It’s really been an honor to be part of this whole thing, because despite them having injuries and wounds that eventually heal, their spirit burns strong and the Invictus Games gives them an opportunity to compete and keeps them going,” Brewer said.
“It’s amazing to watch their transformation and gain in confidence no matter what their level of swimming experience. Some people are afraid to put their faces in the water, but it doesn’t take long for them to adapt. By the end, they’re swimming laps with everyone else.”
The other two prongs of his business include Open Water Planet, a business that organizes and operates open water competitions throughout the world, and being a co-founder with three-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard at her Beard Swim Company near Seattle.
“I’m really enjoying what I’m doing, knowing that I continue to impact the sport because it gave me so much for so many years,” he said. “I’m excited every day to do what I do, and I really can’t imagine doing anything else.”