Chris after his win at the USMS 1 Mile Champs in North Carolina

Name: Chris LaBianco
City and State: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Age Group: 35-39
Team Affiliation: Blu Frog

Seeing as I’ve lost by a big spread to you personally, I can vouch for you being a pretty fast dude. What kind of swimming background do you have? Who did you swim for and how far did you go with your swimming career?

I started competing on a summer league team when I was seven and joined a year round team at age eleven. I swam age group and through high school with the USA Swimming club team, New Jersey Wave and later with the Berkeley Aquatic Club. I had a few Senior and Junior National qualifying times. I was fast enough to get myself into the South East Conference and to earn a scholarship to swim for Auburn University. No long list of notable swimming accomplishments, but I was ranked in the top five in the country in the early nineties in the Open Water 5K and 15K. I made steady improvement throughout my career and was blessed to swim for a few young coaches who have turned out to be among the best in the country such as David Marsh, Mike Bottom and Jim Wood. I would be remiss not to mention the first coach to throw a kickboard at me… World Record holder and 1980 Olympian Craig Beardsley.

You recently made a valiant return to Masters competition at the USMS 1 mile Open Water Championships with a big win in your age group, congratulations! What inspired you to come back to swimming competitively via Masters?

First and foremost thank you for the kudos, I’m proud to say it only took me 39 years to win a National Title or now two! My return to swimming story is probably similar to a lot of my fellow Masters swimmers. I walked away from the sport after college, joined the working world, got married and had a couple of kids. The next thing you know, at least in my case, it was sixteen years, and legitimately 50 pounds later, so it was time to make a change.

As fate would have it I joined the USA Swimming Foundation team in January of 2008. Among the first Foundation donor meetings I went on I had to join a group of Masters for practice. It was ugly to be honest, I’m not sure how I survived. But the Masters folks were great that day, friendly, welcoming, encouraging etc… so I decided to see what I could do about getting back in the swim of things.

Essentially two and a half years later I get in about 6,000 a day. I’ve lost the weight, and the Masters Open Water Mile National Championship was a great official return to swimming for me. Of course being part of the USA Swimming Foundation family over the last two plus years has certainly helped and I owe thanks to more folks than I can mention for the words of support, suggested workouts and for the taunts about my admiration of chocolate cake.


Chris at the USMS 3-6 Mile Champs lapping some people on his way to winning the race!

What’s your favorite part about coming back to swimming via Masters?

My favorite part of swimming Masters is the fantastic folks you meet along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the competition, the spark of nervous energy before a race, the sense of accomplishment afterwards, the trash talk. But when I’m on the road with USA Swimming Foundation business, I must tell you I’m on the Masters website scoping out places to swim where ever I’m headed.

Thanks to Masters swimming, I’ve got spots to swim in all over the county. If you’ve got a regularly scheduled Masters practice somewhere in the USA, trust me, I’ll soon be standing on your pool deck asking to join you.

Outside of the pool you actually work in the world of swimming as the Chief Development Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation. Tell us what the Foundation is all about and what you do there.

The USA Swimming Foundation has a singular mission and that is to teach every child in America how to swim. Folks might be surprised to learn that drowning is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 14 in the United States. Or that minority children drown at a rates 2-3 times higher than their Caucasian counterparts. These are alarming statistics. As such, the USA Swimming Foundation was formed in 2004 and started its work to reduce the drowning rate in the USA. Today over 360,000 kids have taken swim lessons with one of our 222 local swim lesson providers teaching lessons in 42 states. As for my position as Chief Development Officer, I have the privilege over overseeing and implementing the Foundation’s Nationwide fundraising efforts that help the Foundation to continue to grow and expand the organization’s mission.

Chris (#13) before the start of the USMS 3-6 Mile Champs

Last year I was lucky enough to hit a Foundation event with Cullen Jones in Los Angeles, are you guys doing a similar tour this year?

Yes, the USA Swimming Foundation Make a Splash Tour with Cullen Jones is back for a second year. Thanks to a great corporate sponsorship with ConocoPhillips the Foundation is busy with a six city tour to promote the importance to teaching every child to swim. 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones is a great spokesperson for the Foundation as he survived a near fatal drowning as child. A typical tour stop includes a breakfast to bring together community leaders, lesson providers and interested parties to hear Cullen’s personal story and learn more about how they can join the Foundation’s effort to reduce drowning rates.
There is a youth assembly program, where Cullen talks directly to kids about water safety and the day’s activities conclude with a private swim lesson for a group of kids with Cullen. Olympians Mel Stewart and Rowdy Gaines both play a pivotal role on the tour this year as well adding their passion for the sport and cause. As of July 1st there are four tour stops remaining for the year Washington, DC July 13; Los Angeles August 2; Oakland, October 15 and New York, November 19. If you’d like to join us on at an upcoming tour stop send me an email at clabianco@usaswimming.org and I’ll provide you with the details.

If somebody wants to get involved with the Foundation what’s the best way for them to do that?

There are a few simple ways to get involved with the USA Swimming Foundation. First and foremost, make a donation. As a charitable organization the Foundation needs financial support to continue the mission. Donations are the life blood of the Foundation’s ability to provide kids with swim lessons. For $30 an individual can join our Make a Splash Nation circle of donors and help change a child’s life by teaching them to swim. Pretty reasonable, if you support the sport of swimming and believe in the benefits it will provide others, make a donation and help provide a lesson for child in need.

Once you become a donor, also join the Foundation cause page on Facebook and tell your friends about us. Host your own fundraiser for the Foundation. You never know, we could feature your story on the Foundation website – swimfoundation.org. Folks can also join the Foundation at an upcoming event, or maybe consider volunteering some of their own time to teach kids to swim.
The Foundation is a big family made up of swimmers, parents, coaches, officials as well as friends and fans of the sport. It is a community of people that believe we can use the sport of swimming to improve lives and communities, join us.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about coming back to swimming after years away from the pool?

I’d say welcome back! Swimming is a sport you can participate in on any number of levels, regardless of your age. I’m turning 40 this year and enjoying it perhaps more now than I did twenty years ago. If you have health and fitness goals, it is a great way to get yourself back on track. Connect with some other swimmers and join them for workouts. Swimming is a great way to reconnect with old swimming buddies as well as make new ones. Before you know it, you will feel better. Every day I swim is a good day and I believe that holds true for a lot of us who get back in the water after years away from it.
Most importantly have fun with it and enjoy the challenge. Remember all the brutal 10,000 yard workouts you used to do? Well you don’t have them anymore so smile and getting in and swim knowing you are doing it for yourself this time around.

LaBi and Me at Lake Water Valley in Colorado after our 6K swim

5 Responses to “Swimmer Profile – Chris LaBianco, Chief Development Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation”

  1. Jeff Palm says:

    Good stuff! Pretty much the same reason I got back into swimming after 17 years. My path and Chris’s is pretty much parallel although I haven’t gotten the chance to cross paths yet. I too do some open water swims so hopefully we get to meet sometime soon!

  2. Great story, fantastic man, passionate reporter. Thank you.

  3. Rob D says:

    I’m glad you guys liked the piece!

    Jeff if you’re planning on hitting up the 2 mile Champs in VA Chris (and myself) will be out there.

  4. Jinxi says:

    This was such a GREAT interview and piece. I really enjoyed it!

    Chris is so awesome. And I love what the USA Swimming Foundation is all about.

    Thanks for the great feature, Rob.

  5. [...] get some video and cheer on my friends who were out there rocking the early heat. My buddy Chris (who we featured on the blog recently) laid down a really hot swim. He won the whole thing, broke the record for his age group (cable [...]