TERRE HAUTE – Terre Haute’s first gold medalist swimmer visited the Vigo County Aquatic Center on Tuesday, hoping to inspire one or two future medalists while speaking to the Terre Haute Torpedoes and the three high school teams that practice and are celebrated there by the city and the Vigo County School Society.
Mayor Duke Bennett read a proclamation announcing Nov. 2 as “Evan Austin Day,” and VCSC Superintendent Rob Haworth announced that a plaque recognizing Austin’s accomplishments will be permanently displayed in the center lobby.
âThis is our home,â Austin told the Tribune-Star. “Coach [Mike] Williams [of Terre Haute North] heard I was at home and asked if I would be willing to make an appearance.
“An opportunity to help support the community and the swimmers? I’ll jump on it any day.”
Austin, a graduate of Terre Haute Sud, has competed in three Paralympic Games, although he returned without a medal in 2012 and 2016. He made his first try for the US team in 2008, after his freshman year at South.
In 2021 in Tokyo, Austin won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle, then won gold in the 50-meter butterfly.
âIt was a stressful trip,â Austin said Tuesday, after being teased for a few patches of gray in his hair, âbut I loved every minute of it. And I wouldn’t be here without it. [a long list of supporters]. They believed in me even when I gave up on myself.
“They say the third time is the charm,” Austin continued with a smile. “I felt like I wasn’t done, that I hadn’t done what I had planned to do.”
The competition for the third time brought “a wave of emotions,” he said. “I knew I had a chance [at a medal] in the 400.. . and I had my best time, and an American record [in addition to the bronze medal]. “
It gave him a boost for his second race.
âI was one of the favorites in the 50 butterfly,â said Austin, âand I was in a good position mentally after winning that first medal.
“I knew I had a lot left in the tank, and about two decades of training paid off and I got my hands on the wall first.”
Austin described his message to young swimmers on Tuesday as âa brief message of resilience and conviction. If a kid like me can come out of Terre Haute and win a gold medal, who can say that one of these kids can’t do the same? Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that they believe in you. “
The Terre Haute native described his visit to his parents’ home as part of a “reset” after all the training and competitions scheduled a few months ago.
âI’m on autopilot right now,â Austin said. “You get so used to always moving and you get so caught up in it, it’s almost uncomfortable to relax.”
Regarding future competition, he said, “I’m evaluating this right now, but for now I’m allowing myself to eat pizza and Mexican food.”
Austin currently lives in Indianapolis and travels to Purdue, where he is on the coaching staff for the Boilermakers swim team. âI like to give back a little bit to the sport I love,â he said.
Otherwise? “I’ve never been one to rush life,” he said, and leaves all his options open.
One of the possibilities, Austin said, could be a motivational speech. “Who knows more about Evan Austin’s story than I do?” He joked.
A reporter who spoke to Austin in 2008, when he described familial spastic paraparesis that affects his gait and makes him eligible to be a Paralympian as “a blessing,” thinks the motivational speech would be a wonderful idea.