Catching Up With Summer Sanders: ISHOF Honoree and Olympic Champ Staying Busy, But Family Always Comes First


by DAN D’ADDONA — SWIMMING WORLD MANAGING EDITOR

28 December 2023, 07:23am

Catching Up With Summer Sanders: Olympic Champ Staying Busy, But Family Always Comes First

Summer Sanders was only 19 years old when she won Olympic gold in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics. Now 51, she recently shared some of her memories of her stellar swimming career with Swimming World…as well as the new memories made since then as a television personality, her involvement with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation and the importance of family with her husband, Olympic skier Erik Schlopy, and two teenage kids.

It has been three decades since Summer Sanders triumphantly became an Olympic champion.

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But Sanders (Schlopy), now 51, is never far from the water for long.

Whether it’s swimming an alumni practice at Stanford or surfing with her family, water is still an important part of her life.

When she married Olympic skier Erik Schlopy, the slopes were part of that routine as well.

“My kids liked swimming, but we never pushed that. But we made sure they were on the swim team. We surfed and skied as a family, and we needed the kids to be able to handle that (as swimmers),” Summer told Swimming World. “They are sports where there are great times for conversation. There is the lift and waiting for the next set of waves. It is a bonding experience. The joy my kids have on the ski hill versus the joy of looking at a black line, it couldn’t compare.”

Sanders remains close to the sport as well, but in a different way. She helps run the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, and she joined Elizabeth Beisel to host the Golden Goggles.

“It has been very exciting for me to learn about fundraising through the lens of the Olympic movement,” she said. “We are the only country not funded by their government. Every dollar counts, and 80% goes to actual sports and training and mental health. Hosting Golden Goggles with Elizabeth Beisel was so cool to have two women hosting an event like that.”

A CAREER IN TELEVISION

 Summer also does plenty of other things outside the world of swimming.

After her competitive swimming career was over, she became a television fixture, first as a commentator at the Olympics, then moving to jobs with “NBA Inside Stuff,” “Good Morning America,” “Today,” CNN, MTV, the Pac-12 Network, Nickelodeon and more.

She has interviewed people such as Michelle ObamaJoe TorreBilly Crystal and Robin Williams, not to mention a slew of Olympians and NBA stars. She even got to “slime” Julius Erving and Joe Namath on her Nickelodeon show, “Figure It Out.”

Now in her 31st year of television, she is still a fixture on CBS’ “We Need to Talk,” and is a team-building speaker with Teamraderie.

“Swimming gave me a good education in time management. When you turn 50, you have a better understanding of your limitations. There is an authentic forgiveness to give yourself grace. You feel that at 50. I am good at being present with whatever I am doing at that time. I feel the need for balance to be complete,” she said.

ALL ABOUT FAMILY

But family is her driving force. Whether it is on the slopes, on the waves or spending a year in Spain, the bonding continues to grow.

Summer-Sanders-And-Family

Photo Courtesy: Summer Sanders

“We lived in Spain for a year. It was the greatest decision of our lives. We had freedom and the means to do it, but we rented our house and trusted we could create jobs for us when we got back. It was such a beautiful family time,” she said.

Summer and Erik have a daughter, Skye, who is a senior in high school, and a son, Charles “Spider,” who is 15. Skye plays rugby and is looking into colleges, while Spider is an avid skier. Erik runs a real estate company.

It keeps the family busy, but close.

As the 2024 Olympics approach, Summer is learning more about her great-great-uncle, Myron T. Herrick, who was governor of Ohio, then the U.S. ambassador to France from 1912-14 and 1921-29, including during the 1924 Paris Olympics.

“My great-great-uncle was the U.S. ambassador to France the last time the Olympics were in Paris. I visited the embassy, and the historian who had researched him said he was on the shores when Charles Lindbergh made the trip (across the Atlantic). It was remarkable. My grandmother’s maiden name was Herrick. The Olympics are always special to me. I think it is extraordinary to have a family member in diplomacy. He was there in very important times, war and conflict. He was an important figure during the War. He had incredible positive influence. What an interesting tie for the Olympics.”

INTERNATIONAL GLORY

And, of course, thinking about the upcoming Olympics makes Summer think of her own Olympic-glory moment, winning the 200 butterfly in Barcelona in 1992. She finished the meet with four medals, capturing another gold in the medley relay and earning a silver in the 200 IM and a bronze in the 400 IM.

“So much of an Olympian’s pressure comes from within. I had four individual races with a relay. The last person to do that before me was Shirley Babashoff,” Summer said.

“I didn’t start swimming the 200 butterfly until I was 15 when they changed the order of events. I choked on water one of the first times I swam it, and I couldn’t catch a breath for three strokes. So I decided I was going to breathe every stroke.”

The year before Barcelona, Sanders won three medals at the 1991 World Championships in Perth: gold in the 200 fly, silver in the 200 IM and bronze in the 400 IM. “I was expected to win (the 200 fly), but I was drained emotionally and physically.”

At the Olympics, Sanders admits, “It was just pure grit. None of it came easy. It was a matter of wanting it so badly. It was just going back to your stroke and not tighten up. I embraced the pain. It was desperation and a relief. I was 19. It was a lot. But I loved it. That moment was beautiful. Relief can be a beautiful emotion!”

HER “GOLD MEDAL” MOMENT

Surprisingly, when asked what her favorite memory of swimming was, it was not her Olympic gold medal in the 200 fly. That race earned “a silver medal” when remembering her swimming career.

Instead, Summer answered: “Winning the NCAA championship in 1992 as a team (with Stanford)—it is by far my greatest achievement.

“I love my gold medal…but I was a team swimmer and loved every minute of team swimming. That team was amazing. We started with a false start in our first relay, and we just rose up.” She finished her career with the Cardinal as a nine-time NCAA champion.

Now Summer’s “favorite team” is her family…and, of course, her hometown Sacramento Kings and her husband’s hometown Buffalo Bills!

“My husband is from Hamburg, N.Y. When I met him, I was working for the NBA and was in love with the Sacramento Kings. I grew up a 49ers football fan, but I wasn’t all in. It can be so fun and miserable at the same time.”

In fact, Summer and Erik often joke about when they were taking their wedding vows, they were actually asked, “Do you, Summer, take Erik…and the Buffalo Bills? And do you, Erik, take Summer…and the Sacramento Kings?”

It is yet another way her family comes together and bonds. Whether it be in Spain, on the ski slopes, in the water or cheering on their “teams,” the Schlopys put family first.

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