'Golden' Prout Defies The Odds
Jan. 31, 2006
When one walks on campus you notice things. You notice the tall library, you notice the pond, and you notice that you see same faces, but what you don't notice is that you're walking with an Olympic gold medalist.
This Olympian is a freshman political science major by the name of Michael Prout Jr. He took a semester off last year to compete in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, where he won gold in the 400-meter freestyle event and bronze in the 100-meter freestyle race.
"I've been swimming since I was six on club teams. People on other paralympic teams told me that I should try out," Prout says.
Good thing he listened. While on the U.S. Paralympic Team, Prout did not learn about Athens until trial meets in April of 2004. After one of those meets, the team was chosen that would be traveling to Athens. There were 44 spots open (16 males and 28 females) and Prout was one of the chosen ones.
"It was a relief, I didn't have to worry if I was on the team or not anymore," Prout says.
When winning the gold in the 400-meter freestyle event, he also set the Paralympic record by .2 seconds and missed the world record by .2. Prout also has two more world records (800-meter freestyle and 1,500-meter freestyle) and owns five American records (200M free, 400M free, 800M free, 1,500M free and 200M butterfly).
All records are in a Paralympic swim class where there are 15 different classes, 13 of them competitive. S1 through S10 classes are for physical disabilities, S1 class belonging to quadriplegics. S11 through S13 contain varying degrees of blindness. Prout belongs to the S9 class where most of the athletes are leg or arm amputees.
Little Mikey, as he is sometimes called by his fellow Minutemen because he is the smallest on the swim team and also because there are three other Mikes on the team, has a shorter right arm, three fingers on his right hand, and a shorter right leg. He has had quite an impressive life, but the real story lies in the fact that he was almost not born.
Mikey's mom, Patricia Prout, went to the doctor thinking that she was miscarrying again as she had a few months earlier. The doctor thought that she would miscarry within 24 hours and she went back the next week.
"[The doctor] said that I was smaller inside and thought that the baby had died," Patricia says. "We had an ultrasound and Michael had a heartbeat. I cried my eyes out."
Patricia's uterus shrank so quickly that it caused amniotic bands, which pinched off Michael's right side of his body. The twin died while Michael survived the battle.
"I always say Michael was a miracle," Patricia says.
Michael became a patient of Shriners Hospital at eight weeks old, where he's had most of his surgeries. In kindergarten he had hip surgery. He was in a full Spica cast, which started under his arms and went down to his left knee and his right ankle. His family placed a pillow on a little four-wheel cart and sent him to school. He had hardware removed from that hip six months later and played soccer with a walker.
After his first hip surgery (he had another in November of 2004) at the age of five, his doctor suggested that he start swimming as rehab.
Again, good thing he listened. Michael would also later have surgery that lengthened his leg around three more inches when he was 13 years old. He said he did it for the possibility of having a better quality of life.
"Before his leg was lengthened he wore a lift on his shoe. He hated that lift," Patricia says. "His fourth-grade teacher had polio so she wore a lift also. They were buddies and I think it helped that she had that lift.
"Michael's surgeries were hard on him. He is a tough kid [and] he can take a lot of pain. His leg lengthening was by far the toughest on everybody. It's like a torture; you turn screws on the leg four times a day to stretch it. It doesn't hurt when you do it, but about a half hour later it would kill."
Patricia admits that she waited to get involved in the Paralympics because she didn't want Mike to think he was different than anybody, and because he was raised to feel that he was like everyone else.
"We started to talk about it at 16. We were involved because as the bigger the boys got into swimming, the harder it was for Michael to compete. He was too great a swimmer to not be at the top," Patricia says.
Little Mikey had his first international meet at 16, when he competed in the World Disability Championships in Mac Del Plata, Argentina. He didn't win any medals. According to Patricia, he was really upset, and when they went to Athens he swore that he would win a medal.
Not only is Mike a good listener, he's also a man of his word.
Patricia cried as she saw her oldest child receive an Olympic gold medal.
"The medal stand was amazing. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it," Patricia says. "We are very proud of Michael and our other two children. They have all worked hard and earned everything they have. Michael has had to work harder to show people that he can do the same thing as everyone else."
Mikey's little sister Taryn, who is also a freshman, swims for the Minutewomen. They are very close and have been swimming on the same teams, along with their 15-year-old brother Cullivan, their whole lives.
Before the Paralympics in Athens, Mike, in his sophomore year of high school, was named the Phillips 66 Swimmer of the Meet at the National Disability Championships in Seattle, where he won gold medals in all six events that he competed in. He then went to Canada in July of 2003, where he got reacquainted with the medal stand as he won three golds and two silvers.
Prout also competed in Portland, Maine this past July, where he did better than he expected; he won three events and broke his own Pan-American record in the 100-meter freestyle event.
Now Little Mikey, who has won a good share of events in his day, in his first semester of eligibility, is swimming for the Massachusetts men's swimming and diving team, which has five consecutive Atlantic 10 Championships and eight out of the last 10. Mikey was unaware of the Minutemen's winning tradition until he arrived here.
When comparing UMass to other schools, Prout saw UMass as being a good fit and he also liked UMass coach Russ Yarworth.
"I liked his personality. It seemed like the practices would be challenging, which I like," Mikey says. "I like Russ overall, he's a good coach and a good guy."
"He's an inspiration to the team. He's got the heart of a lion," Yarworth says. "There's not enough I can say about him, the kids rally around him."
As for the season, Little Mikey feels that his team is really strong and has a lot of potential of doing well.
"I don't want to jinx it, but we have a really good chance," Prout says.
There is nothing better for a Minuteman than to have a gold medal placed around his head, but what about the swimming future for "Mr. Gold"? Well, Mikey hopes to make another Paralympic appearance in Beijing in 2008, and he feels that with Yarworth's training he can do really well there.
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