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A golden opportunity

Paularino teacher pulls rank to get son Jason Lezak to entertain students dressed in red, white and blue.

October 02, 2008|By Alan Blank

After Jason Lezak earned a gold medal for his comeback victory in the 400-meter freestyle relay at the Beijing Olympics, every high-profile news anchor and talk-show host in the country fought to get 10 minutes of his time.

But after decades of dedicated parenting, Linda Lezak — Jason’s soft-spoken mother — has not lost her ability to get more time out of him than that.

The new third-grade teacher at Paularino Elementary School in Costa Mesa “pulled rank” to get her busy 32-year-old son to talk to two assemblies of young kids, some of them her students, Thursday morning.

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Some things about being a mother apparently never change, even when your son is a national hero, but others do.

“The students tell me how lucky I am to have Jason as a son,” Linda said. “I tell them how lucky he is to have me as a mom.”

Jason was welcomed to the school with a red carpet of sorts — a line of red plastic sheeting taped to the pavement — and many in the crowd of enamored children dressed up in red and white shirts and blue jeans.

Linda sat next to her class, beaming with pride as her son taught them lessons about the sacrifice and dedication necessary to reach goals, folding in anecdotes from his swimming career. She is new to Paularino, but has called on her son a few times before to get him to speak at other area schools where she has worked.

Linda says Jason was a self-motivated, good student himself and that his talks inspire her students.

“Since her son is in the Olympics she has a lot of stories to tell while we’re working,” said Kendal Kutz, 8, who is in Linda’s class.

Sitting on the floor of the auditorium, the kids watched a video of Jason’s individual bronze-medal performance and then clapped and cheered as they relived his history-making comeback in the relay.

With one leg to go in the relay, up against the world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle who started with a full body-length advantage, Jason worked his way to the victory.

As he came into the home stretch, the kids started chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, and when he touched the end of the pool the room erupted.

When he opened up the floor to questions from the kids, some were more on point than others. A few were about Michael Phelps, including one kid who asked where Phelps lived. Another was a bit more imaginative.

“Who swims faster: you or a shark?” another boy asked.

“That’s a silly question. Of course I swim faster than a shark,” Jason replied.

On the way out of the auditorium, Jason let the kids touch his gold medals and took pictures with them.

“Obviously sports are great, but the tools I teach them I hope they can take with them to all aspects of their lives,” he said.

For more photos, click here.


ALAN BLANK may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at alan.blank@latimes.com.

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