Joan Sullivan dropped to her knees in prayer, her face practically enraptured, and at one point moved her arms in a swimmer’s motion.
That’s the effect Conor Dwyer had on people Tuesday as he brought gold home to Winnetka, serving as the second, of four relay men in the U.S. swimming team’s resounding victory in the 800-meter freestyle event in the London Summer Olympics.
Dwyer handed off at least a four-length lead to his next man after he swam the four pool lengths, more than holding his own with superstar teammates Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, as the U.S. finished at 6:59.70. France was runner-up.
“This is God’s blessing,” Sullivan said as she clutched a white figurine given to her in 2003 by Dodie Dwyer, Conor’s paternal grandmother. “I’m so proud of Conor. We’re a millimeter away from the miracle we intended to be.”
‘USA…USA’ the cheer of victory
Stormy’s erupted in roars and chants of “USA … USA … USA” as the U.S. team, which was rounded out by Ricky Berens, jumped out to a big early lead and was never challenged as Dwyer kept up the pace as the number two swimmer.
He could have been pushed to warp speed through the water by the sheer enthusiasm of his backers in the steamy Stormy’s, where all TV’s were hooked up to the live streaming feed online.
“What a great community,” said Dennis Stonequist, Dwyer’s former swimming coach at Loyola Academy.
The celebration did not end with the conclusion of the 800-meter relay.
“We’re gonna paint (the Dwyers’) house gold,” said Tina Filippini, whose daughter Mia has swam with Dwyer since they were six years old.
Dwyer’s effect on people reached far beyond the emotional Sullivan. On a 90-minutes’ notice Saturday, organizers Ginna Barr of Evanston, Nancy Ritter of Winnetka and Katie Green of Wilmette rounded up 100 to gather at Stormy’s to watch a live streaming on laptops and tablets – none were hooked up to TVs – of Dwyer’s other Olympic medal event. He finished fifth in the 400-meter freestyle, two spots away from a bronze medal.
Early risers cheer for Dwyer
Ritter awoke at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday to watch the streaming of Dwyer’s qualifying heat.
“It was awesome,” she said. “Conor’s family is most incredible. They’re the most humble family. A legacy kind of family.”
Wilmette resident Green met Jeannie Dwyer, Conor’s mother, when their children attended Faith Hope and Charity School.
“I’ve watched Conor work so hard,” she said. “He never gave up. His (siblings) root for each other. No sibling rivalries.”
Another celebrant who had an early view of Dwyer’s competitiveness was Wally Marzec of Libertyville, principal of Faith Hope and Charity when the swimmer attended there.
“I remember he was 5-foot-8 in eighth grade – and then shot up (to 6-foot-5),” Marzec said. “Those kids were well-disciplined, and respectful.”
Next step is staging a hero’s welcome to Dwyer on his return from London – and maybe persuade him to let all greeters wear his gold medal for a minute.
“I’d just like to say hello," Stonquist said.