At Home With Tony Azevedo

U.S. National Men's Water Polo Team captain talks about what home life means to him.

Tony Azevedo

Photo courtesy of 24 Hour Fitness

When Tony Azevedo gets into the water, he's at home wherever he is. As captain of the U.S. National Men's Water Polo Team, Tony has traveled the world representing the U.S.A., as well as working for various professional teams abroad. For the last year, the Long Beach, Calif., native has been living and training with his U.S. teammates in Thousand Oaks, Calif., swimming 4,000 to 5,000 meters a day to build endurance in preparation for the July 27 start of the Summer Olympic Games in London. We caught up with him to talk about life in the water and on the home front.

You're a three-time Olympian, and considered one of the top water polo players in the world. What's the training been like for these Olympic Games?

Our whole team decided to forego our contracts overseas — which is our only way to make money — and stay together to train all year. We're in the water four hours in the morning and three hours at night. Sunday's our only day off. Sometimes we get a half-day off if we're really miserable-looking. No other team in the world would do this. I think our team's stronger than we were in 2008, when we won the Silver. We have a tough bracket, but if we play like we know how to play, we're the best in the world.

What are your duties as captain of the team?

My job is to be a positive leader, in and out of the water. I try to keep the guys positive and inspire them to do their best. From a coaching perspective, the coaches might not see how tired people are or how people are feeling. In 2008, we went off to a team dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Beijing, and we've done that every year since. It gets us learning everyone's culture and bonds us before the event. When we play the world championships and Pan-American games in between the Olympics, we try to do things like that. We'll probably meet up at a little pub in London.

What's your home life been during the last year?

Everyone on the team moved to Thousand Oaks, where no one's from, except for our coach (Terry Schroeder). It's a sacrifice for our families. Some people are commuting from Long Beach and Los Angeles, and it's hard. But our wives and girlfriends are supportive. I'm living in a little apartment with my wife, Sara, and our cat, Snowy, near Cal Lutheran University, where we train. Some of us who are married or have kids got a stipend to help us get an apartment. Others are living with host families.

Does your pet travel with you?

My wife rescued Snowy in Montenegro, where I played for J.K. Primorac, and we couldn't give her up. She looks like a snowball. My parents are keeping my two dogs at their house in Long Beach. I have a mastiff and a pit bull. It's too hard traveling with them, and I'm not one for little dogs.

Your father, Ricardo Azevedo, played on the Brazilian national water polo team, coached you throughout your career and will be coaching the Chinese water polo team at the Olympics. Will it feel strange competing against his team in London?

He's the best coach ever, but playing against him, my mindset is that he's going down. He was a great water polo player himself, played in the Olympics for Brazil, and helped coach the U.S. water polo team for the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games. When I was 11, I was the carpool buddy he'd take to use the carpool lane to get to practice, and I decided then that I wanted to be an Olympic champion, too. My father's family is from Brazil, and several of them were Olympians. Now my dad loves showing off how much he knows about tea and Chinese traditions. We talk a little about water polo, but mostly we talk about everything else now.

Where did you grow up as a child, and what was the neighborhood like?

I was born in Rio de Janeiro and grew up in Long Beach, Calif. We lived in a trailer park in Long Beach for the first four years of my life. I had an accident and tore my trachea, so we moved to my grandmother's house. We've been there ever since. The house is a four-bedroom house in a suburban community with great neighbors. We broke down the garage and made it into an extra bedroom and living room. My mom uses one room as an art room because she loves painting. The kitchen has a skylight, and on one side of the sink is a bar where people can sit or eat. We love holding parties outside, with the good weather in California, so we've got two barbecues — handmade by my dad, me and our water polo friends — a smoker and a garden in the backyard for entertaining.

What's your favorite room in the house?

My favorite room is the family room where we keep the family trophies. It has a big comfy couch and TV. I like lying down on the couch, watching ESPN or hanging out there with friends.

Since you play for professional water polo teams abroad, what were your homes like overseas?

We've lived overseas for the last nine years. The teams I'd play for would find the apartment or house and give me a car. I lived in Italy for five years, Croatia for two years and Montenegro for two years. I loved the huge churches in Milan, where we lived in Italy. Croatia had all the castles. Montenegro hasn't become as touristy, so it's beautiful with its beaches and castles.

What architectural style do you like best?

I really like Mexican hacienda-type houses. My wife's from Mexico City, and I love the hacienda roof colors and tiles. The way the houses are open to natural light is great, and I love the bright colors on the inside.

Since you've lived in several different countries, what do you do to make the place where you are home?

We try to take something from everywhere we've been. We collect little pictures of the city we're in. In Croatia, they have these famous tiles that we put on the bathroom wall and kitchen in Montenegro. We buy books from each of the cities with pictures so that we can show people where we lived. In Croatia and Montenegro, we had three- and four-bedroom houses. It became a little tough because they were big places, and sometimes the heat or air conditioning wouldn't work well, so it took longer to heat up or cool down. In Italy, we had an apartment. I got yelled at a couple of times because we weren't used to being quiet in an apartment building. We have a wine rack with our wines wherever we go. My uncle's an artist, and he drew a three-canvas painting with colors and shapes that remind me of family and Brazil. We take that with us wherever we go, too. You grow up somewhere and miss it, but I'm not ready to settle down in California yet.

So what does home life mean to you?

At the Olympics, you meet athletes from all over the world. I got my degree in international relations because I knew my dream was to play professionally overseas and thought it would help me with possibilities for work later on in life.

But home life is the most important thing. Being an athlete, you have long training periods, go on trips and stay in hotels. Being home is just the best. You get to go home to your wife, have your music, TV, books and the food you want.

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