Got His Feet Wet
Thorpe first took to the water as an eight-year-old, out of frustration from sitting on the pool deck and waiting for his sister, Christina, who was then a competitive
swimmer. Eventually he jumped into the water spontaneously. A special buoyancy to Thorpe's body was evident very quickly; he had an innate feel for the water, so it seemed. Although he was hampered initially by an allergy to the chlorine in the pool, he outgrew the condition within a few years.
Swimming casually at first, at the Padstow swim club, Thorpe's talent was obvious to Doug Frost, the owner of the club and a professional coach. Frost identified Thorpe's talent and offered him a spot on the club's training squad.
Thorpe went into training at the age of nine, swimming initially less than two miles per week. He doubled his workouts at age ten, and added a third weekly session at age eleven. By age twelve, Thorpe was practicing five times weekly, and swimming between 9.5-11 miles every week. That year he began participating in the Australian junior national competition where he won an impressive nine gold medals at the championships in 1996.
After increasing his practice schedule to include daily workouts, at age thirteen Thorpe was swimming as much as eighteen miles per week. An all-A student at East Hills Boys Technology High School, in 1998 Thorpe was forced to choose between swimming and formal academics. Swimming then became the center of his life. He added intensive aerobics and endurance training to his regimen and at age fourteen increased his practice time to one session daily, adding a second daily session on a bi-weekly basis. Thorpe at that time was swimming as much as thirty miles every week. He expanded his training schedule once more, swimming as much as six hours per day and up to sixty-two miles per week. In those days he set a personal best of 4:10:66 in the 400-meter freestyle.
As Thorpe approached physical maturity, he developed a long, lanky, thick-chested frame and large thighs. This barrel-chested appearance—less broad in the shoulders and dramatically less narrow at the hips-distinguished him from his peers in men's competitive swimming. In time it became evident that his buoyant physique and instinctive flair for the fluid mechanics of the pool afforded him a competitive edge.