VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
On June 30, Bill Prenot sat with his wife, Tammy, and more than 14,000 fans from all over the U.S., anxiously waiting for his son Josh to compete in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke final in Omaha, Neb.
A spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics was on the line for the participants. Everyone in attendance was on edge for their respective competitor. Though the swimmers were evenly matched throughout, it was during the final leg of the race that changed everything. Josh surged past his adversary, Kevin Cordes, and everyone in the CenturyLink Center exploded in unison. The cacophony escalated to deafening levels once Josh slapped the touch pad, solidifying his first place finish. Josh immediately turned his attention to the official clock and realized not only had he clinched his spot on the Olympic team, but he had also broken an American record in the process: a race time of 2 minutes, 7:17 seconds.
Two separate celebrations had begun. Josh was embraced by his opponent Cordes, who will now be his teammate in Rio de Janeiro, while Bill and Tammy showered the bleachers with enough tears of joy to fill up the pool Josh had just gotten out of.
Bill recalled the surreal experience – the culmination of a lifelong dream for his 22-year old son.
“I cried like a six-year old child,” said Bill Prenot, 30th Space Wing director of plans and programs. “There were tears of joy and happiness, and not just ours. All of his teammates, their parents, and Josh’s coach’s wife – we were all embracing during that special moment. The English language is woefully inadequate in describing the emotions, but suffice to say there were a lot of tears of joy, hugging, high-fiving, fist bumping and chest pumping, and those emotions have carried over even now three weeks later.”
Now Bill, a retired Lt. Col., and his wife Tammy are prepping to board a plane to Rio de Janeiro to witness their son compete on the international stage, no longer an underdog.
“It’s tremendously exciting,” said Bill. “Four years ago, Josh had a puncher’s chance at the Olympic Trials for London. He was definitely Rocky Balboa at that meet. But now, when you hear about who the top three to five guys in any given race are, his name is in that discussion. He’s no longer Rocky Balboa. He’s here with expectations, with some level of definite possibility.”
Another impressive aspect of Josh’s progression as a swimmer was his ability to adapt, despite varying locations as a military child.
“He’s had amazing coaches that have guided him through his whole life,” said Tammy Prenot, Josh’s mother. “We’ve been extremely blessed every single step of the way. Every single change of station, every move that we’ve ever had – his coaches have been tremendous in guiding him.”
Josh, being a military brat growing up, was introduced by his father to Air Force core values and standards, principles that paved the way for his tireless work ethic.
“I have always been a big fan of all three of the Air Force’s core values, and I’ve tried to instill those in my son,” said Bill. “He is very exemplary of them in my opinion, especially excellence – that’s been his drive. When Josh was seven, he was competing in swim meets against 10 and 11-year old children. His ability to improve on his abilities and work ethic is nothing short of astounding. He is extremely competitive, whether it’s swimming, baseball, a card game or whatever else. A lot of people like to win, but not a lot of people hate to lose as much as he does. That competitive drive has fueled him.”
In addition to his father’s teachings, Josh picked up a few values on his own – including an unwavering passion for fitness.
“Growing up with a father serving in the military, I’ve definitely learned time management, punctuality and accountability,” said Josh Prenot, University of California Berkeley Physics major and swimmer. “Fitness is also very vital to me, and will continue to be even after I’m done competing at an elite level. Being able to use my body to do cool things is something I enjoy, so I’m going to try and remain active and fit for as long as I can.”
Josh provided some advice to current and future athletes looking to hone their craft.
“Talent aside, you determine how good you want to be,” said Josh. “Watch films, study techniques, train relentlessly, stay focused and aware during workouts, and get better at something every day. Decide to do what’s necessary to get better at your sport and you will improve.”
The Prenot family has been showered with support during Josh’s Olympic journey, a feeling they are incredibly grateful for.
“This whole thing has been outrageously fun and rewarding,” said Tammy. “We’re so proud and so very thankful for the love and support we’ve received. We can’t even begin to count the number of people who have reached out to us – the numbers are staggering. It’s astounding, overwhelming and beautiful.”
Regardless of the result, one thing remains certain – Josh Prenot is an Olympian, a fact not overlooked by his proud father.
“Forever to the day my son will be an Olympian,” said Bill. “And [Tammy] is the mother of an Olympian. How do you put words on that? How do you describe what that feels like? It feels pretty darn good.”