Skip to main content
Original Issue


As a coach who doubled as a mother, Mary Job made her four kids do laps and laps and laps and sleep and sleep and sleep until each one of them became a champion

On Route 4 near the Cortland, Ohio home of the swimming Job family—Stephen, 21, Brenda, 17, Lisa, 14 (all retired), and Brian, 18—stands a sign that says HIDDEN DRIVES. The sign refers to adjoining driveways, not to anything secret that might explain all the swimming titles the Jobs have racked up over the last decade, or the world breaststroke record that Brian is almost bound to set—quite possibly in the Nationals at Los Angeles this weekend—if, as his coach, George Haines, says, "he doesn't break his neck again."

Granted, Brian Job has such a flair for accidents as to make one wonder. But that may be accounted for by his being so venturesome, which has helped make him something of a whiz with computers, and his being so loose in the knees and ankles, which has helped make him that rare thing, a great American breaststroker.

The breaststroke is one stroke that Russians, rather than Americans, have long dominated. It requires a strong kick. "Brian is built like a frog," says Haines. "Catch a bullfrog some time and look at it. Short upper body and long legs—and Brian walks with his feet out all the time. He can stand with his feet at 180° angles to each other and do knee bends without his knees coming apart."

Brian says, "I remember once my Mom said, 'Your knees will be your downfall.' I don't know why she said it. It may have been after I found out how loose-jointed I was and I had my leg wrapped all the way around my head. Anyway, I always remembered that, especially whenever I hurt my knee. It stayed with me, like it was a curse."

Another strange thing: when Stephen was first set down in the family's newly built house on Mosquito Lake at the age of 3, he made a beeline to the living-room wall and started digging his fingers into the hardening plaster. And before his father Glenn could smooth out the first set of scratch marks with a trowel, Stephen had gouged more scratches (still visible today) in another wall. Then he picked up a hammer and began pounding nails into the basement steps.

Perhaps this was just childish energy, fired by the excitement of a new home in the country. The Job boys were always full of energy. Once they realized the all-American boy's dream of binding their baby-sitter hand and foot. On another occasion Brian hit Brenda over the head with a hammer when she appeared to be beating him at jacks. Then there was the time Stephen chased Brian into the shower stall, held the doors shut on him and yelled, "I've got you now!" "No you don't!" yelled Brian, and he burst right through the heavy glass doors, shattering them. "We were really unmanageable little kids," says Stephen. "All that energy, nobody around to play with but each other and never enough to do with ourselves."

Still another strange thing: when Brian was a toddler he came down with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, which disintegrated the ball of his hip joint. Then something quite unexplained caused him to achieve 18 months of bone regeneration in six weeks. Maybe it was a natural athlete's flair for recuperation, spurred on by the terrible dreams he had in his body cast at night.

"I was in a cast that covered my whole body up to the ribs," Brian remembers. "I'd go to sleep on my back and be unable to turn over, and I'd have terrible nightmares. One night I woke up and just had to go to the bathroom. I pulled myself out of bed and crawled along the floor to where I could see the light coming under the door—but when I got there the door disappeared. Then I looked over and saw the light coming through on the other side of the room. So I crawled across the floor and when I got there the door disappeared again. It was on another side of the room. And I had to go to the bathroom. So I crawled again. It must have been partly a dream, but I was crawling on the floor when I finally lost all control and I started screaming bloody murder."

The next time he went in for a progress check the doctor came running to Mary Job shouting, "It's a miracle!" Brian was taken out of the cast and put into a brace and a built-up shoe on his good leg so that the rebuilding leg could swing free. "Stephen would tease me," Brian says, "and I couldn't catch him, and I'd get so mad that I'd put my weight on the bad leg and swing that big wooden shoe against the wall. I busted up moldings, and one time I kicked the telephone to pieces."

Whatever might have been the key to those dynamics, there is no question what finally gave all four Job kids something to do with themselves. It was the entirely unhidden drive of their mother Mary—without whose original pushing, concedes Olympic medalist and Stanford student Brian, "I would be just a nobody nobody today."

Mary Job is a tall, leggy, striking, rather loose-jointed and ingenuous-looking woman, a high school phys-ed teacher and former Catholic church organist (her final labor pains with Brenda began while she was playing a hymn during the Collect), with strong features, a nice tan and a fresh smile. Mary's mother, the Job kids' grandmother, urged Mary to develop her voice, because she had herself wanted badly to be an opera singer—had in fact won a contract offer from the Met, but her father wouldn't let her accept it. Instead of following her mother's wishes, Mary developed an enthusiasm for swimming. "I envied Florence Chadwick," recalls Mary. "I envied that woman so much. I could swim all day, and I just knew I could swim the English Channel. But my father was a doctor during the Depression and nobody paid him, so I couldn't afford to go to England." Indeed, she had to find her own rides to nearby AAU meets and never got any encouragement from home.

Today, as it happens, Mary's firstborn, Stephen, his swimming days at an end, would like to make it as a singer. Having withdrawn from Yale, where he swam the free-style leg on the national record-breaking 400-meter medley-relay team, Stephen has taken an automobile-plant job while living at home and waiting to see whether he will be drafted. Two nights a week he sings and plays folk guitar in a coffee house in nearby Warren. "I loved to swim for Yale," says Stephen. "That's the highest I've been. And swimming was good discipline; it has helped me with other things, with the guitar, which I love, because it game me a sense of myself, of how I learn things—how I'll go along and reach a plateau and have to stick with it, and can stick with it, until I get across and start improving again. But I don't miss swimming. I miss the competition, but you can set up other challenges for yourself. Music is my thing. It's what I want to do."

Swimming was what Mary wanted the kids to do. As she remembers it, she got the idea of family swim workouts one evening when Stephen was about 9, after she proposed that the whole family do some standard calisthenics on the rug and it turned out that one of the kids didn't even know what a squat-thrust was. Appalled at the evidently low state of phys ed in the local parochial school, Mary resolved to condition the kids herself in the lake out back. All Stephen remembers, though, is that "I asked my mother if she would teach me to swim and she went a little overboard."

It wasn't long before Stephen and Brian were entering local meets, and their times, Mary noticed when she looked up the national records for their age groups, were very fast. "I couldn't believe my children were that good," she says, and that was when she really started in on them.

Pretty soon all four young Jobs were noted in Ohio swimming circles. Lisa learned to swim at the age of 1 and entered her first meet at 5; on her way back home in the car she said, "I want to retire." Other young swimmers came to work out in the lake, where Mary was glad to supervise them. But by and large, says Mary, "They were like fish out of water." Sometimes these visitors could hardly finish one of the wave-tossed laps from the Jobs' dock to a neighbor's breakwater and back, roughly 200 yards. By contrast, the Job kids were doing as many as 13. The visitors went back to their pools, which were unavailable in Cortland, and the Jobs continued to plow through the waves.

"I hated it with a passion," says Brian today. "I hated swimming, I hated that whole scene. It got to the point that we were crying while we were doing our laps. Whenever anyone would mention laps, or lap times, you'd just feel sick. I wouldn't want to wake up in the morning, because I knew I'd have to do laps. And then after the morning laps you'd spend the whole day dreading the laps in the evening. You'd just live from one workout to the next, dreading them.

"It wasn't like some of the stories that got around, that we were being beaten to a pulp," adds Brian. "But my Mom had a belt—if we'd rebel against doing any more laps she'd yell, 'Allright, that's a belt.' Every year we'd have a meeting and Mom would tell us how many laps we had to do. Every year it would be more. She'd say, 'Brian, 12 laps,' or something, and I'd say, 'But I'm only 10 years old!' "

Occasionally Mary would relent and allow them to do push-ups instead of laps. "Push-ups," says Brian, "would be a great vacation—1,000 push-ups. In groups of 100, and we'd count for each other, '1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 20....' We'd cheat, and when she wasn't on the deck to count our laps we'd play around, have a great time in the water."

But Mary had ways of checking up. Once she took Lisa aside and said, "Stephen tells me you've been lying, that you haven't been doing your laps." "Well, he hasn't been doing them either!" cried Lisa, and the next day Mary was back on the dock.

Swimming wasn't all the kids had to do. They had to sleep a lot. "Until I was 13 I never went to bed later than 7:30," says Stephen, "That's pretty gross. Twenty-two laps, practicing the piano and in bed by 7:30. And we had to take naps, too! Had to stay in bed and not gel up, and not play. I'd get up and get a toy, and I'd get my finger stuck in it. I'd try to pull it out, pull it out as quietly as I could, and it would still be stuck. I'd have to go to my mother and ask her to get it out for me, and then she'd know I'd been up. Sometimes Brian and I would take naps together, and then it would be who could hate the other the quietest."

Also the kids had to work in the garden, and play several musical instruments. "Something," says Mary. "I wanted them to have something. Something in sports. Something in music. Something."

"I practiced the piano, the organ, the guitar and the saxophone," says Brian. "That and swimming didn't leave us much time for anything we wanted to do. I used to regret that. But I made a lot of models—that was my big thing, models. There are all those models around the house today, so I must have found some time. But I don't know when."

In fact, there must have been a good many delights around the Job house. "You could walk by and grab a handful of wild raspberries or blackberries," says Brian. "And we had a big plum tree. You couldn't mow around the plum tree at all because the mower would just go ish, squish. One year there was a late frost and it killed all the bugs, and that tree got so heavy that it bent over double and broke in two. Just with the weight of all those plums. That was the first time I thought there was something kind of cool about fruit trees."

There was time, too, for playing around in the water, water-skiing behind the family boat, or being pulled by the boat on a winged contraption Brian built from plans in Popular Mechanics. It would dive way below the surface and then zoom up when you adjusted its fins. The family still leaves the boat in the water late every year. Last year Glenn took it out on the day of the Browns-Colts playoff game, Dec. 10.

"I was watching the game on television," says Mary, "and I wondered why Glenn hadn't come in to watch it. He'd never missed a playoff game before."

Glenn says, "I had run all the gas out of the motor, and I had gotten into the boat to bail it out before beaching it. I looked up, and the wind was blowing me away from shore. I started paddling back with the bailing cans, but after a while I could see that I was losing ground. So I just stood up in the boat and held a bailing can under each arm into the wind and let it blow me all the way across to the other shore."

Glenn is 60 pounds overweight, and the girls devote a lot of time to razzing him about it, but it is hard to get his goat. "I remember my mom was always angry at my dad because he wouldn't make us do things,' says Brian. "I guess in most families your dad is sort of an ogre and your mom is somebody you can always go to to be comforted. In ours it was the other way around. We'd like it a lot better when Dad supervised our workouts—not because he let us get away with not doing anything, because he didn't, but because it was so much more pleasant with him."

Swimming was not pleasant with anyone, though, in the spring and early fall. "The water was so cold," says Brian, "that the only thing you could do was jump as high in the air as you could and start doing your best stroke the minute you hit the water."

The family considered moving to a warmer climate. One spring, says Mary, "We packed up our kids, saved our money..."

"In that order," interjects Glenn.

"That's right," says Mary, "...and took off for Florida."

But they never did move there, or to California, where Mary would like to go now—perhaps to reactivate Lisa, who retired at the age of 10 after having held a national record for her age group in every stroke. But Glenn cannot see leaving the family glass business, which he runs.

"I told him," says Mary, " 'You won't even have to work if we move. I'll teach.' "

"That was no inducement for me," says Glenn.

Mary was able, however, to make arrangements to get the kids more swimming time. "When they built the YMCA pool in town," says Mary, "Glenn contributed $300, and he was underbid for the glass contract by $100. But when we tried to use the pool for workouts, they said no."

The only accessible indoor pool was 18 miles away at the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown, and for some time the Jobs were able to use it for winter workouts. That meant rushing home from school, eating supper, rushing off to Youngstown for an hour and a half of swimming and then rushing back, sometimes as late as 10:30 or 11, for homework. Lisa never got much sleep and Mary believes it stunted her growth. "She was a tiny little thing," Mary says. "She didn't start to grow until she retired."

Then ill will developed. The issues are confusing, but there were complaints that Mary was giving members swimming lessons for pay when she wasn't supposed to ("At one point people had to slip fold-ed-up bills to me under the water," she says). In addition, the center wanted Lisa to swim on its team, but that didn't fit the Jobs' plans.

"We are not geared," says a center official today, "to a championship situation. We try to serve the entire family and provide a good, positive experience in a group setting."

"Somebody put a notice on the bulletin board," maintains Mary, "saying GENTILES SHOULD NOT BE TRAINING IN A JEWISH CENTER. Then one night there was a note at the locker room entrance: LISA JOB IS NOT PERMITTED TO USE THIS POOL."

Then there was the mysterious failure of several of the kids' record patches to reach the Jobs' house. "They were sent by national headquarters through Cleveland," says Mary, "and we never got them. So we have an enemy in Cleveland. Someone in Cleveland has kept the Jobs' national record patches! Isn't that unbelievable?"

The trouble with the center was the most telling, though, because it meant that Lisa had to retire. "Lisa Job ended her brilliant five-year swimming career with probably her most outstanding performance at an AAU meet Sunday at Cuyahoga Falls," read a story in the Warren, Ohio Tribune Chronicle.

"The pint-size mermaid was victorious in each of the seven events she entered and at the same time set a pair of national records and seven district marks.

"Lisa is retiring from competition because of the lack of training facilities available throughout the year."

At one point, when Stephen was 13, all four Jobs stopped swimming for a year. "I asked them if they wanted to swim anymore," says Mary, "and they said, 'If you want us to.' 'It's not for me,' I said. 'You're the ones who swim.' So we quit for a year. But then they missed their friends and we started up again. After that I felt they were swimming because they wanted to."

Stephen remembers that he quit independently of the others, and that after he started up again, "I came back into swimming thinking of it as a horse race—I had to condition myself to beat the other fellow. Before, I was just afraid to lose, and my adrenaline came from that fear. Before, I was a worrier. Now nothing bothers me."

Brian remembers, "We did miss our friends. We didn't like swimming, but we loved the meets, seeing our friends there and doing things like exploring the buildings where the meets were held. But when we went back to swimming after the layoff, I don't think we had much choice in the matter."

Brenda quit for good not long thereafter. She was a state champion, "But I don't think she ever really cared whether she won or not," says Mary. Brian thinks his mother let Brenda and Lisa quit in part because "she didn't want them to look the way older girls usually look when they keep on swimming." Also, he notes, "There are no college swimming scholarships for girls."

At about the time Brenda quit, Brian, then 14, moved away to attend Kent State University High School—a prep school with a good indoor pool and swimming team. The main reason Mary wanted the boys to keep on swimming, she says, was so that they could win scholarships to good colleges. For some time that did not appeal to Brian. "I didn't want to go to college," he says. "I didn't like school. So there I was doing something I didn't want to do, so I could go somewhere I didn't want to go." But at Kent he became enthusiastic about his studies and began to look forward to college. Also, "I realized at Kent that I wouldn't be going home much anymore. Ever. It was strange."

The next summer, the summer of '66, it was time to face up to something else: the Olympics. An Ohio boy they knew had been considered likely to make the '64 Olympics, but he had declined the chance to go to California to swim year-round outdoors under the tutelage of George Haines, the famous swimming coach at Santa Clara High School and the Santa Clara Swim Club. The boy didn't make it to the Olympics.

At a meet that spring, remembers Haines, "A boy came up next to me and stood there for a while, trying to work up the courage to say something. I just waited to see what he would do. Finally he said, "How much is tuition at Santa Clara?' I said, 'Who wants to know?' He told me he was Brian Job, and I knew who he was, of course, he was a national champion, and I told him Santa Clara was a public high school and anybody who lived in the district could go there. 'I might be coming out,' he said, and I said fine, he'd be welcome. That was the last I heard until he showed up the next fall in a neck brace."

"My parents left the decision up to me," says Brian. "I really loved Kent, and finally I came to the decision to stay there. But then I broke my neck, and I figured I'd made such a mess of things I'd better do anything I could. I figured I owed it to my parents to go to Santa Clara."

As for Mary, when she is asked whether she didn't regret sending her son away so young, she says, "Well, he was such a good swimmer, it hurt me that he only had four months out of the year to practice."

The neck fracture had occurred when Brian dived off a 10-meter board and didn't hit the water in a straight enough line. Previously, he had broken his nose twice, sprained his wrist (he took the brace off, at his mother's urging, so officials would allow him to enter a half-mile lake swim), pulled a muscle completely out from between two vertebrae, and broke his hand and ankle playing volleyball (but he got out of his ankle cast a week before the nationals and finished sixth in the 200-yard breast). A week and a half after he broke his neck he left the hospital and went through the windshield of a car.

"Stephen was driving me home from a party in a light drizzle," Brian recalls, "and he was showing me how well his car handled and zing! right into a guy wire. The seat flipped forward and threw me through the windshield and halfway onto the hood. Stephen took me to the hospital. I looked like I was on my deathbed. The neck brace kept the glass from cutting my neck too badly, but I had glass sticking all over in my face. I found pieces of glass in the worst places—in my teeth! I was pulling splinters out for months afterward."

And that September, still only 15, he boarded a plane for Santa Clara; a family the Jobs had met at a meet had offered to let him live with them. "I felt sorry for him," remembers Brenda. "He was being pushed. At the airport he said he didn't want his jacket, and then he came back out of the plane and said he did want it, and then he said, I don't want to go.' "

He went, though, and had to change planes at Los Angeles. "I had my neck brace on, and I wasn't supposed to run, and I had two suitcases and four other things to carry, and I'd never been there before, and I had just 23 minutes to catch the last plane to San Jose and I didn't know where to go.... That's the only time I've ever been homesick. I was in bad shape. That night I called home to talk to my dad and I was in tears. I said, 'I don't like it, I want to come home.' Fie said to call back in two weeks."

A little over a year later he was in the Olympics, where he traded sweat suits with a Pole and enjoyed chess games and old Beatles' songs with several Russians, including one who played a guitar with a missing string. Brian began to take an interest in the guitar again, after having forsaken enforced practice on that instrument as soon as he could, and now he is very much into rock guitar, as well as tropical fish and motorcycles.

"When I was at the Olympics I thought about it," he says, "and I decided that if it was just for myself I'd sooner not swim. But so many people have helped me. My parents put so much time into my swimming, and so many people have taken me into their houses—the Bottoms were like a second family to me, and the Stevenses were like a third family, and the Corwins at Kent were like a fourth family, and the Cummingses and the Bairds.... So I really kept on going because I felt like I owed it to so many other people, and they were counting on me."

At 16 Brian won a bronze medal in the Olympic 200-meter breast, and since then he has broken the American records for both 200 and 100 meters several times and stands within .4 of the world mark set by the Russian Nikolai Pankin. He has also broken his ankle directing traffic after a party, and a horse has fallen on him. "This horse really liked to run," he says. "I didn't realize he was running away. I was enjoying it. But then he jumped a fence. I thought, 'Wait a minute,' and then he ran straight across a highway—the only time I've ever seen that highway when it wasn't full of cars. He ran for 30 minutes, made a right-angle turn, his feet went out from under him and he rolled over on my knee. What cured that was being in the hospital and resting after an emergency appendectomy."

Brian finished high school with nearly an A average, and he did well last year as a freshman at Stanford, a place for which he has great affection. He spent two hours a day last year, on his own, at one of the university's computer keyboards, doing things like opposing the computer in "9 by 9 ticktacktoe," which is ticktacktoe on 81 different levels. "My friend and I were playing against the computer, setting up about five attacks at once," he says, "and the computer was setting up its attacks—and all of a sudden the computer noticed what we were doing, and with one move it wiped us out. It was so blatant! The computer noticed, and came after us! It was unbelievable!"

George Haines says, "Most breast-strokers are psycho about their stroke. They're always worrying about their rhythm, and when it gets off you'll work with them and they won't change, but they'll think they've changed. But if Brian's rhythm gets off he can work on it and get it right back. Because he's not just swimming-oriented. He's got other things on his mind. Some guys just swim and eat and come back and swim again. They don't think about anything but swimming and they get psycho. But Brian's got other things on his mind.

"He's a great kid. He does push-ups and knee bends on his own. You can't make a kid do that. That takes dedication. Every time you look at him he's talking about something else besides swimming. The other day he was quoted as saying he's been tired of swimming since he was 7, but I can't believe it. He always looks like he's enjoying it."

"There's always a fear," says Brian. "You know you're not going to die, but you know that if you swim a fast time it will hurt so much, and you're afraid of that. But I guess my body has just been conditioned to it.

"I always hated to have somebody right next to me, keeping right up with me, and I used to work to where I could stay way out in front of everybody. But there would always be somebody else keeping up. So I would progress in stages.

"My breaststroke today is exactly the same stroke my mom taught me back in the lake. I had to have different training later, but no coach has ever touched my stroke.

"I hated my mom. I can remember lying on my bed and wondering how God could be so mean as to give me a mom like her. All the other kids had nice moms, I thought, why should I have her?

"I hated swimming. I mean, I know I don't hate my mom. She's a smart woman, she's taught us a lot of things that have been valuable—ways to memorize things, ways to practice. When I got a little older I'd start thinking, 'What would I do if I were a parent?' and I realized it must be hard. But if I had to do it all over again.... And as to whether I'll want my children to swim, I don't know. I don't think so."

On the other hand, let it be noted that in the Jobs' scrapbook, amongst the Mother's Day cards and the graduation programs and "a lock of Grandma Roost's hair, 80 years old" (she is the one who wanted to be the opera singer), there is a recent newspaper clipping in which Brian is quoted as saying, "The whole race went just like I planned it. About halfway through I said to myself, 'Hey, you feel good, you feel good,' and I did."


JOB FAMILY, minus son Brian, treads water in Mosquito Lake. From left: father Glenn, son Stephen, Mary, daughters Lisa and Brenda.