Thirty-five years ago, Blanca Manzano Bosquet went for a swim in the ocean off Cuba and almost drowned. "I was 10 years old," she recalls, "and my friends were going to swim out to a raft near the shark nets off a Havana beach, so I decided I would, too. I knew how to swim, but I didn't know I didn't have the stamina for a long swim." Halfway to the raft the exhausted Blanca sank, came up, sank again. Blanca has told this story many times, but even now, as she tells it once again, her accent grows more pronounced, her "r"s begin to roll richly in the excitement of reliving that awful moment. "There was a kind of bridge that separated our beach club from the one next door," she says, "and I saw all these people walking around alive and happy, and I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to die.' I don't know where I got the strength, but I swam back to the beach all by myself. At that moment I decided that if I ever had kids, they were going to know how to swim."
Today, Blanca Manzano Bosquet Morales' only son, 20-year-old Stanford sophomore Pedro Pablo Morales Jr., not only knows how to swim, he's a former world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, a three-medal winner at the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles and, according to Swimming World magazine, "the next Mark Spitz." Though Morales' medal haul (gold in the medley relay, silvers in the 100-meter butterfly and 200 individual medley) from his first Olympics falls short of the seven golds Spitz won in 1972, in his second Games, U.S. Olympic coach Don Gambril says, "Pablo has just scratched the potential of his ability."
Next week at the NCAAs in Austin, Morales is favored to win three individual events—the 100- and 200-yard flies and the 200-yard IM—the maximum number a swimmer can enter. He'll also be competing in three relay events. "I feel he's got three American records coming in the NCAAs," says Mitch Ivey, Morales' club coach for eight years. "I think he'll go so fast in the 200 fly that he's not going to break the record, he's going to destroy it. What's the record—1:44? I think he's 1:42."
The similarities between Spitz and Morales are strictly physical. Both are dark and handsome, and both have lean bodies. That's it. It would be hard to imagine the soft-spoken, introspective Pablo wearing a cocky grin or throwing out his chest to display his medals on a poster designed to raise the temperature of every teenage girl in America. Morales is constantly trying to improve himself. He strives—no, he is driven—to lower his swimming times, to raise his grade-point average, to be a better person, to improve the world. He spends five hours a day training, another four studying, has done volunteer work at hospitals, gives speeches and pep talks at local swim clubs. Last year Morales' good deeds, in and out of the pool, were featured in a story in the San Jose Mercury News under the headline STUDY IN GOODNESS. Says Stanford coach Skip Kenney, "You'd just be a nicer person if you hung around him all the time. I know when I'm around him, I'm careful with my language."
"I guess I would describe myself as wanting to be a perfectionist," says Morales. "I think goals are always obtainable if you have the patience and the desire."
"I don't know how he got to be so mature," says Blanca, somewhat at a loss. "I only wanted him to learn to swim so he wouldn't drown."
Pedro Pablo Morales Sr. and Blanca Manzano Bosquet grew up together in the Havana suburb of Luyano, he the son of a policeman, she the daughter of a truck driver. In 1955, when Blanca was at Havana University, and Pablo Sr. was working as an auto mechanic, they decided to get married. That was four years before Fidel Castro came to power, a time of unrest and high unemployment in Cuba. Pablo Sr., a solid, quiet man, says, "Almost nobody had a job, and even if you did, you weren't making much money. I was making $5 a day, that was $30 a week, when I was working every day. But sometimes I only worked four days. Still, I was lucky because I had something to do."
Blanca, a 5'6 bundle of energy who laughingly describes herself as the "baby" of the family, says of those days in Havana, "If you didn't have money, you couldn't get married."
And so in the time-honored tradition, Pablo Sr. emigrated to the U.S. to seek his fortune. He arrived in Chicago in 1956 speaking very little English and went about looking for work, any kind of work. "I finally got a job unloading railroad cars for 60 cents an hour," he says. "I ate tuna fish and saltine crackers for three months, day after day after day, to save money."
In September of that year Blanca and Pablo were married in Havana, by proxy. Three months later Pablo returned to Cuba, collected his bride and brought her back to Chicago. Their first child, Helena, was born in 1962 and was followed almost three years later by Pablo Jr. True to the vow she had made to herself after her near-fatal encounter with the sea, Blanca enrolled her children for swimming lessons at the community pool. "Those kids were in the water before they were walking," she says.
In 1967 the Morales family moved to Santa Clara, Calif., where the swimming lessons continued. Young Pablo was afraid of the water and had problems mastering the strokes. One instructor flunked him at age six in nine out of 17 categories, including "combining of arm and leg strokes on stomach," and suggested he should "listen a little bit better."
Evidently, Pablo did listen, because four years later he became the national 10-and-under age-group leader in the 50-yard butterfly. After that, there was no stopping him. He was national age-group leader at 12 and at 14, and at 16 he went to the Junior Nationals at Mission Viejo and won both the 100 and 200 flies.
By now Pablo Sr. was working days as an auto transmission specialist, and Blanca was on the swing shift at the telephone company as a key-punch operator; the arrangement made it possible for at least one of them to be home with the children at all times. They had high expectations for Pablo Jr. and Helena, sent them both to expensive private schools and refused to let them work. Says Pablo Sr., "My son would come to me and say, 'Dad, will you show me how to work on cars?' and I'd say no. I have seen through the years parents who let their children start helping them, and pretty soon the kids stop going to school because they can make some money fixing cars."
"I drove them very hard," says Blanca, "especially in school. I wanted them to do well because we won't be able to leave them a fortune when we go."
And so Pablo pushed himself to excel. At Bellarmine Prep in Santa Clara, he maintained a 3.9 grade-point average and somehow found time to work as a volunteer for Independent Aging, a group that lends a helping hand to elderly people who wish to continue living at home. For four years he assisted a Hispanic woman, now 84, visiting her a couple of times a week, helping her shop, doing chores in her home, keeping her spirits up. He also spent one evening a week playing with handicapped children at Agnew's Hospital in Santa Clara. And in his senior year he went after—and broke—Spitz's 16-year-old high school record in the 100 fly.
Four months later, having been heavily recruited by several schools, Morales opted for a swimming scholarship at Stanford, where he now is majoring in English literature and has a 3.2 grade-point average. He's also taking creative writing courses, and covers women's basketball for The Stanford Daily in his "spare time." In swimming he's the Cardinal's big star; his specialities continue to be the fly and the IM.
Morales shares a suite of rooms in Stanford's Anderson Hall with swimmers Jeff Kostoff, David Louden and Sam McAdams and water polo players Wayne Goodrich and Brent McKim. His room looks like any college kid's digs: a poster of Lynda Carter, a word processor, photos of his girl friend, Melinda Rawls, a snapshot taken on a mountaintop at Lake Tahoe of...wait a minute. There's Morales with two other guys, starkers, although in a gesture of modesty their hands are strategically placed.
Yes, Pablo does have a sense of humor. Last year on Kenney's birthday, for instance, Morales and his teammates lined up on the deck at the Stanford pool and gave their coach a "21-bun salute." Their math may be suspect, but you get the idea. Kenney mooned them right back.
"As far as socializing, joking around with the guys," says Morales, "anything that's not too risky, I have no problem with that." Pablo possesses enormous personal appeal, and he is liked, even loved, by his friends, teammates and coaches. Still, he says, "Personally, I would like to be much more open. I'm talking about opening up my pain, my fears and insecurities. I could be talking to my best friend and nothing of substance is being said. I've got this callous layer around me which says I can't tell anybody my problems."
"There's been a lot of sacrifice and hard work," says Blanca Morales, "but when we go to a meet and see Pablo do well, it makes it all worth it." Perhaps Blanca's proudest moment came last June 26 at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis, in the final of the 100-meter fly. In the lane next to Pablo was Matt Gribble of the University of Miami, the world-record holder. Morales had a 24.95 split and the lead at 50 meters, and finished a body length in front of Gribble for a world record of 53.38. After touching in, he checked the clock, punched a victory fist in the air and, turning to his parents in the stands, mouthed, "I love you, Mom."
Six weeks later, at the Olympic pool in Los Angeles, Morales lost his 100 fly record—and a gold medal—when West Germany's Michael Gross passed him in the last 10 meters. When the Games were over and Morales brought home his medals, Blanca called her mother, Yluminada Bosquet, in Havana to tell her the good news. Grandma Bosquet, who has never seen Pablo, was as pleased as any abuela would be. But she warned Blanca, "Don't let the glory go to his head."
Not to worry, Se√±ora Bosquet, not to worry.