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The Road to Sydney

Weber Finally Can Breathe Easier

Swimmer from Thousand Oaks heads to Olympic trials two years after undergoing surgery for lung disorder.

August 04, 2000|LAUREN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — Jason Weber doesn't mind laying flat on his back, as long as he's in a pool and not a hospital bed.

The opportunity to swim the 200-meter backstroke in the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis next week is nothing short of a breath of fresh air for the Brown University junior, who vividly recalls a scary episode during his freshman season.

After going to swim practice, the Westlake High graduate was walking back to his room when he began having trouble breathing.

"At first, I thought I was just under the weather, that it was a cold coming on or something," Weber said.

The next day, Weber went to practice and lifted weights. Suddenly, the breathing problems worsened.

"I felt like there was this huge weight on my chest," he said. "Then we got in the pool and I couldn't do one lap. That's when I knew something was really wrong."

Weber went to a hospital and discovered his right lung was 44% collapsed. Doctors attributed the problem in part to friction caused by Weber's rib cage rubbing against a blister on his lung.

"They just said it's something that happens sometimes to tall, thin males," said Weber, who was 6 feet 1 and weighed about 155 pounds at the time. "I still have no idea what actually happened. It's something in the way you're built, the way your insides go together."

The incident occurred days before an Eastern Intercollegiate Swim League meet against Harvard and interrupted a solid freshman year for Weber, who lives in Thousand Oaks.

"I was doing great, and then that happened," he said. "I thought my swimming career was over."

Weber underwent surgery, forcing him to miss three meets and three weeks of the 1999 season.

In his first meet back--the EISL championships--he recorded personal-best times of 1:50.1 in the 200-yard backstroke and 51.1 in the 100 backstroke, setting a freshman school record in the latter event.

"It was a pretty amazing performance, considering what he went through," Brown Coach Matt Kredich said.

Weber, 20, improved his times in those events during his sophomore season, clocking 1:47.78 in the 200 backstroke and 50.40 in the 100 back in the EISL championships in March.

"It was a great season for him," Kredich said. "He's developed more quickly than I thought he would. He just has such a great attitude and he's very focused. He's got above-average talent, but the thing that really does it for him is his intensity."

Weber, who trains with the Conejo Simi Aquatics club team, has qualified for the Olympic trials in the 200-meter backstroke, an event that includes world-record holder Lenny Krayzelburg, 1996 gold medalist Brad Bridgewater and 16-year-old Aaron Peirsol of Newport Harbor High.

Weber hopes to place among the top 16, a finish that probably would require him cutting at least four seconds off his best time of 2:06.86, recorded at the 1999 Junior Championships West meet in Bakersfield.

"It's a tall order," said Coach Paul Davidson of Conejo Simi Aquatics. "But Jason's a determined guy and he's been just off his best times. He's definitely in the ballpark."

He performed well in the Irvine Novaquatics/Southern California Swimming Southwest Conference Championships two weeks ago, clocking winning times of 2:09.48 in the 200 backstroke and 1:00.65 in the 100 back.

Those times were significantly off his bests. With shaving and tapering of his workouts, Weber hopes for a breakout performance in the trials.

"I can't wait for trials," he said. "It's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

His participation in the trials will be the culmination of 12 years of club swimming. Kathie Duncan, an age-group coach for Conejo Simi Aquatics, remembers when Weber started training at age 8. "He couldn't get comfortable and he'd get winded swimming freestyle, so I turned him over," Duncan said.

It has taken more than talent for Weber to continue improving. He has added 15 pounds of muscle and gained plenty of perspective since he suffered a collapsed lung.

"I appreciate everything a lot more than I used to," Weber said.

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