Thomas Sacco: It runs in the family
It all started because their young son's doctor recommended swimming as a good treatment for his asthma, but little did Tom and Gwen Sacco know that they would soon be starting a new family tradition.
Soon after that doctor's visit, Tommy Sacco, now a senior swimmer at the University of Texas, joined a swim club, and from there, not only did his lungs begin to get stronger, but his love for the sport grew exponentially.
"I had pneumonia as an infant, and I was diagnosed with asthma when I was two," Sacco said. "My pediatrician said that swimming was a good exercise that helped strengthen my lungs, so I started swimming when I was four. My mom said I took to the water, and I've been swimming ever since. The sport has helped my lungs to the point that I don't have to use my inhaler regularly."
At the same time that Sacco was beginning to explore swimming, his three sisters also began to jump in on the fun.
"I first started swimming when I was four, and three years after, Brittany started to swim. A few months later, Natalie began swimming and Briana was the last to join," Sacco said.
It could be suitable to say that all of the Sacco children have greatly excelled in swimming as all four have, or will soon have, experience competing at the college level-Briana swam at Austin College; Tommy and Brittany are currently swimming for Texas, and his youngest sister, Natalie, has signed a National Letter of Intent to join coach Kim Brackin's women's program next year.
Aside from their common interest in swimming, however, Thomas is the first to admit that growing up in a family of girls had its ups and downs.
"It wasn't bad growing up with them, but there were times when I was the only guy in the house because my dad was out traveling," Sacco said. "I thought those times were hard because it was one guy against four girls, but other than that, I got along fine with my sisters."
Yet as time played its role, the fights eventually subsided, and the relationships began to grow. In fact, it is hard for Tommy to choose the sister with whom he gets along most often.
"On certain levels I get along best with my older sister (Briana) right now, but through middle and high school, I got along with Brittany really well," Sacco said. "Once I got to college, I became better friends with Briana because I would always call her with questions, and being away from home.
Moreover, growing up with three sisters has also trained Sacco to be a better mentor and leader on the team.
At this year's Big 12 Championship meet, Sacco's primary competition in the 100-yard backstroke, which he would go on to win, was his own teammate, freshman Hill Taylor. Even though Taylor clocked a faster time in the preliminaries, Sacco out-touched Taylor in the finals to claim his first Big 12 individual title.
Nonetheless, the respect between the two swimmers has always been mutual and beneficial.
"We have had a little rivalry that has gone all season-we challenge each other to swim our best," Sacco said. "I don't know how many times we've competed against each other, but so far I have completely shut him out!
"Hill is a great athlete, and if he beats me once at the NCAA Championships, I hope that that is what helps set him off the next three years. I have really been trying to work with him on his backstroke and prepare him for the big meet."
As he travels to his third NCAA meet, Sacco hopes to use his previous experiences to his advantage. Most importantly, Sacco wants to give his younger teammates the same kind of encouragement he received as an underclassman.
"My first NCAA meet, I was roomed with Nate O'Brien, and he really helped me get mentally and physically prepared to race at that level," recalled Sacco. "I was so nervous, and Nate just reminded me that I had put in the work to get to that point. I knew what to do, so I just needed to do what I normally did. That is one of the roles I really hope to play, to get the younger guys ready and pumped up, and remind them that they have put the work in to get to this point."
Furthermore, Sacco also knows that he must pull in his own share to help his team in any possible way.
"I want to be one of the best cheerers there," Sacco said. "I want to get behind the guys to let them know that there are guys on their side of the pool who are right there with them during each race. But, I also want to take care of my own business. I need to swim to the best of my ability and help push the team toward our potential."
As the Texas men's swimming and diving team heads into day one of the NCAA Championships, one can be sure that Tommy Sacco will make his presence known in and out of the pool, one final time as a Longhorn.