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Roots run deep, fast

July 26, 2005|By: Chris Yemma

His nickname could be "Aqua Lung."

His slogan could be: Banker by day, world-class swimmer by night.

He is Richard Saeger, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist who has

recently delved, or dived, back into the pool, breaking records all

over again.

Saeger, 41, who regularly trains at Newport Harbor and Corona del

Mar High school pools, is fresh off a world-record performance in the

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100-meter freestyle in the 40-44 age division at the Mission Viejo

Masters Meet July 3.

An Irvine resident since 1999, Saeger got back into competitive

swimming in 2000 after taking a 14-year hiatus to focus on his career

-- banking, basically.

Now he is breaking records left and right.

He combined with friends Brad Hibbard, Mike Ruffner and Dan Wegner

to form a 400 freestyle relay team that broke an American record in

the 40-44 division at the same Mission Viejo meet.

Banker by day, world-class swimmer by weekend.

"For me, it's a release," he said. "It's fun and I stay in better

shape. It's a full-body workout."

Saeger, who swam the preliminary races on the 8,000 free relay

team at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, earned a gold medal

when the final team of Michael Heath, David Larson, Jeffrey Float and

Lawrence Hayes sprinted to first.

From 1982 to 1985, he trained under current USC men's swimming

coach Mark Schubert in Mission Viejo for the Nadadores, and made

trips to the Pan American Games and world championships.

But around 1986, he began to realize the sport wasn't a career.

"I went to the 1986 world trials and didn't make the team," he

said. "At that point, I had been on both sides, so I said I was done

for a while. I didn't want to hang on for too long. I wanted to get

on with my life.

"Now I can look back and realize it was just a quick moment in

time."

During Saeger's swimming days he had earned a bachelor's degree

from Southern Methodist University, but he decided to take it a step

further.

He eventually earned an MBA from USC and met his future wife. He

later took a job as a relationship group manager at Western Financial

Bank in Irvine, and has been there since.

Saeger went from world-class swimmer to career man, but the lure

of the pool wouldn't permanently escape him.

Banker by day, world-renown swimmer by weekend.

"I always had a drive to do it," Saeger said. "I've always enjoyed

the time aspect of it where you can set a goal and you either make it

or you don't."

In 2000, he started swimming at local meets under the umbrella

organization Southern Pacific Masters Association, a swimming program

for adults. Just one year later, he had a record.

Saeger set the 200 free world record in the 35-39 age division in

2001 and was well on his way to picking up his roots again.

Two weeks ago, he collected his other world record, swimming for

Team TYR, a local company that provides his gear.

"I've always kind of stayed in it for general fitness," he said.

"I never really got burned out."

Now, Saeger has the best of both worlds.

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