Senator Richard Blumenthal stopped by the ninth annual YWCA of Greenwich's Aquatic Hall of Fame luncheon Saturday to honor some of the town's best athletes.
"I'm not here as a public official," he told honorees, their families and friends, gathered in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich. "I'm here as a fan. This room is full of legends."
The Greenwich YWCA honored 13 of those legends at the luncheon, inducting seven individuals to its aquatic hall of fame and recognizing six performers of the year.
To be elected to the hall of fame, the inductees must no longer coach or compete for one year, compete in their primary discipline or be a full-time Greenwich resident.
Emily Stotesbery, Greenwich High School All-American finalist, and Greenwich High School All-American and Princeton University diver Mark O'Connell received the Diver-of-the-Year awards; while James Case, Greenwich High School All-American water polo and swimmer, and Rachel Sodokoff, USA Water Polo Development National Team player, won the Tim Nesvig Memorial Water Polo Player-of-the-Year awards.
Sodokoff was humbled by the award.
"Water polo is such an important part of my life, so to be chosen for this is such an honor," she said.
Greenwich boys swimming and water polo coach Terry Lowe shared her sentiment. "She plays water polo with power and joy," he said.
Sodokoff developed that power and joy at Burning Tree Country Club, and took it to the USA Water Polo Development National Team.
Most of the award recipients, like O'Connell, were surprised to hear they had won an award.
"I didn't know I was getting it," the Ivy League Championship team member said. "It's nice to hear, but I still see myself as having a lot of work to do."
Many of the honorees attributed their success to their coaches, Lowe and Greenwich High's Dick Hawks.
Inductee Brad Hittle was just a normal kid before he met Lowe.
"I had the typical Old Greenwich childhood, riding my bike to Rocky Point," he said. Then, "I met Coach Lowe. He inspired me. He said I could do great things."
And those great accomplishments started with a challenge.
"Terry told me I would be a complete wimp if I didn't practice with the boys at Burning Tree one Sunday," Hittle said.
He did and competed on the Greenwich High School swim team and went on to compete for Colgate University, where he set freshman and varsity records in the 100 and 200 backstroke.
Parents were also high up on recipients' thank you lists.
"I owe much to my parents," Garnett said. "Spending hours in an indoor pool is not like enjoying a fall day."
Garnett, who was a Milbrook Club swimmer and water polo player, would go on to be a Greenwich High School All-American water polo player and team co-captain.
Another former Milbrook Club swimmer, Oztemel, said he was "honored and touched that someone nominated me."
Oztemel went off to the University of Richmond, where he was team captain and record holder.
Choosing these award recipients didn't come easy to Nick Cavataro, selection committee chair and YWCA head swim coach.
"There's a wealth of good candidates every year," he said.
And they are the best of the best.
"This event is a little like the Nobel Prize event," said Adrianne C. Singer, President and CEO of the YWCA of Greenwich.
Those who know aquatics say its athletes are known as much for what they do in the pool as what they do outside of it.
"There's something about the sport that attracts individuals of strong character," Blumenthal told Greenwich Time.
"These guys are great swimmers, but even better people," he said.