Charlotte resident Jeremy Knowles will swim three events in the Beijing Olympics, then return home Aug.24.
On the morning of Aug. 25, he starts his new career as a fourth-grade teacher.
Don't you love that? I do.
Knowles will swim the butterfly in Beijing, then instruct kids about butterflies back home. He goes from a Speedo to khakis. From checking workout times to checking classroom attendance. Just before he left for Asia, Knowles was busy decorating his new classroom at Hickory Grove Baptist Christian School in Charlotte.
This is one of those “only in America” Olympic success stories, even though Knowles is not an American. He likely won't bring home a medal from these Summer Games, either.
But as a native of The Bahamas, the 26-year-old Knowles will bring all of himself into that classroom, channeling his passion for swimming into his new job as a teacher.
“I had a meeting with my students before we left,” Knowles said, “and I told them I'd have high expectations but we were going to have a lot of fun, too.”
Knowles will teach science, math and religion at the school, which hired him as a rookie teacher after he presented a practice lesson to students several months ago. “Let's just say he got a gold medal on that lesson,” said Henry Ward, the head of the 1,055-student private school. “Jeremy can connect. He's got a calling, a God-given natural ability with these students. I've interviewed a lot of teachers, and he's beyond his years in his insight.”
Knowles has blond hair and no discernible accent, and you'd sooner guess he was from Baltimore than from The Bahamas. But he lived in the Bahamas until he was 18, where the name “Knowles” is a legendary one in Olympic sports.
Both Knowles' grandfather and great-uncle made multiple Olympic teams in sailing, and his great-uncle Durward won an Olympic gold medal in 1964. His father Andy Knowles – now the head coach of the Bahamian swim team – was an Olympic swimmer. And Knowles himself has swum in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics (his best finish was 20th).
Jeremy Knowles is most famous in The Bahamas, however, for something he did when he was 16. Up until then, the daring 30-mile swim across open water from Exuma to Nassau had never been accomplished except by teams of relay swimmers. Knowles tried it by himself, battling ocean currents and sighting a few sharks until he crawled onto the beach after 15 hours.
“It was one of the most boring days of my life until landfall,” Knowles said. Thousands of people greeted him onshore.
Recruited by Auburn, Knowles was in the same class as Mark Gangloff. Both became All-American swimmers under head coach David Marsh and developed a close relationship with him.
When Marsh moved to Charlotte to establish a new program at Mecklenburg Aquatic Club for Olympic-level swimmers in 2007, Gangloff (a U.S. Olympian this year for the second time) and Knowles came with him. The program is officially open only to elite American swimmers, but Marsh was adamant that Knowles be “grandfathered” into it.
“If he wasn't coming,” Marsh said, “I wasn't coming. I told USA Swimming that. Jeremy was going to be our best team leader. I wasn't going to lose him.”
So Knowles came to Charlotte along with his wife Heather, an architect. The two had met at Auburn at church. She wasn't a swimmer. For the first month they were dating, he didn't tell her he was good enough to have already been an Olympian at age 18.
“Jeremy is very humble,” Heather Knowles said. “You've got to drag things out of him.”
At the Olympics, Knowles will swim the 200 butterfly, the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly. Marsh said that if Knowles can make the eight-man final in any of those events, he will have done superbly.
Knowles, of course, would like to do more. But no matter how well or poorly he does in Beijing, that alarm clock will ring very early in Charlotte on the morning of Aug.25, and he will splash out of his old life and walk into his new one.