For The Tribune
John Hiester received an exciting phone call this past December, one he describes as an early Christmas present.
Hiester, a practicing orthodontist in Seymour, was informed that he would serve as one of 60 officials at the 2016 United States Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.
There are 2,000 qualified swimming officials in the country, making it quite the Christmas gift to the swimming enthusiast.
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“It was probably one of the coolest Christmas gifts,” Hiester said by phone in Omaha during a recent interview. The trials were conducted June 26 to July 3.
Hiester said he can remember gathering his children and sharing the news with them on Christmas Day.
“They knew it was pretty big, but I don’t think they really understood it until it has come now and they see it on television,” he said. “This is the Super Bowl of swimming.”
Hiester described loving the Olympics when he was younger, idolizing Olympic hero Mark Spitz and competing in swimming in high school and college.
“It was always my dream (to participate in the Olympics), and I didn’t have the ability to get there, so it’s kind of cool to see these kids participate and realize their dreams,” he said.
It can be an emotional experience seeing the athletes reach their highest point, he said.
“I will have to admit that my eyes have begun to sweat a couple times,” he said.
Hiester arrived in Omaha on June 25 and remained there until the finals July 3, which was when the United States Olympic Team was presented.
“It’s really unbelievable to see these kids’ dreams come true,” he said.
Hiester said the athletes’ reactions can be fun to watch.
“Some of them start crying in the water and splash around,” he said. “Some are experiencing this for their third or fourth time, but they’re just as elated as the new ones.”
Watching the athletes was only a small by-product of the job. Hiester’s daily routine was as busy as expected for an official in the Olympic Trials.
He would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and do his exercise and breakfast regimen before it was time to attend a daily meeting for officials.
“We would talk about what we did right and what we did wrong and what we needed to improve on,” he said. “And then what was going to go on that day.”
Then it was time for the preliminary sessions, which would last between two and four hours and then take a break before having the final sessions for the last hour-and-a-half.
The rest of the day was up to Hiester. He said that time was spent simply getting to know other officials, many he already knows from traveling the country as an official.
“The people that are out here are the people I’ve met along this journey, so we will go out and have a bite to eat or get a snack or something,” he said. “You can’t really do much because you have to get back up and do it all over again.”
Hiester also described one of the most unique experiences of the week, which was actually a malfunction on the first night.
As the national anthem was beginning, the microphone cut out for the first three seconds of the song. That’s when something amazing took place, Hiester said.
“The whole stadium just started singing all together, and it was pretty cool, and it was really loud,” he said. “It was very patriotic and was really cool.”
Hiester also is licensed to do high school and NCAA officiating and has participated in such events since his children began participating in swimming in 2002.
Hiester serves as a representative for the southern portion of Indiana for officials and participates in that capacity at least once a month.
“This is something I really enjoy doing,” he said. “This is definitely a highlight and a bucket list moment.”