Mike Parratto’s Daughter Made Paris. 40 Minutes Later, His Former Swimmer Broke A World Record

On Tuesday night, two of the most accomplished athletes in Mike Parratto‘s life reached the top.

Around 7:57 p.m. that night, Parratto was sitting in the stands at the Allen Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. His daughter Jessica, alongside her diving partner Delaney Schnell, had just completed a dominant sixth round in the women’s synchronized platform diving event and were headed to the Paris Olympics. Around 40 minutes later, Mike Parratto went to the other side of the building and pulled up the Peacock app on his phone (which he made sure was charged between sessions for this exact purpose) to watch Regan Smith race the women’s 100 backstroke final at the 2024 U.S. Olympic trials. Smith, who Parratto coached from 2015 to 2021 at the Riptide Swim Club in Lakeville, Minnesota, broke the world record in the event to claim her first world record in five years.

Jessica Parratto and Smith, in two very different stages of their career, went on two very different journeys to make their respective Paris Olympic teams. But connecting the two of them was a man who played an important role in both of their lives, prideful through it all.

“For me to watch [Jessica’s] diving event, to watch Regan’s swim event, it was very rewarding to see all the hard work that they’ve done,” Mike Parratto said.

Jessica Parratto, currently 29, became a three-time Olympian on Tuesday. Already a 2021 Tokyo Olympic silver medalist with Schnell, she chose to retire from the sport shortly afterward to pursue a professional career as a healthcare recruiter, assisting nurses in the emergency room. To work that job, she moved away from her training base at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

However, in early 2023, Schnell reached out to Parratto, successfully convincing her to come back to diving. Because diving involved at least four to five hours of training every day, Parratto couldn’t work her full-time job anymore, and returned to Bloomington. The pairing won bronze in platform synchro at the 2023 World Championships, and are now set to defend their Olympic medal.

“From my perspective, she felt like she wasn’t done,” Mike Parratto said. “There’s always that love for the sport and coming back and seeing how good you can be.”

Meanwhile, Smith is only 22, but she’s already been through a lot in her young career. After breaking the 100 and 200 back world records under Mike Parratto 2019 as 17-year-old, she faced a mental block and struggled to replicate those times for the next four years. In 2021, she left Riptide to swim for Stanford University, but cut her collegiate career short just a year later to train at Arizona State for Bob Bowman as a pro. After two years with Bowman, she finally began hitting best times in backstroke again.

Three years later, Parratto reflects on the Tokyo Olympic cycle, where Smith had all the momentum after 2019. He felt that it was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the Olympics by a year and messed with the four-year plan they had created together that was meant to span from 2016 to 2020. In addition, their pool access during the pandemic became limited.

“I hate to use COVID as an excuse, but to some degree, it was,” Parratto said. “You have to come up with another one year plan to keep going. Some of the training that we had done became less than it was in the past, so there were no double practices.”

However, now Parratto can step back and know that everything ended up working out in the end, even if it took time.

Parratto and Smith keep in touch, as Smith still sends Parratto the sets that she does with Bowman. But that doesn’t mean he’s looking over any shoulders — Parratto thinks that Bowman is the perfect coaching fit for Smith.

“The training that Bob [Bowman] does is made for [Smith],” Parratto said. “She’s in a situation where she’s training with [the best in the world], medal winners…and then of course, she gets long course any time they decide to train long course. So all those factors made it all work, and it’s been a lot of help to her.”

The experiences of coaching an an elite athlete and parenting one can seem like two vastly different things. However, Parratto approaches both actions with a similar mindset — simply being supportive and letting the athletes make their own life decisions.

Parratto is a little more hands-off with Jessica, given that his wife Amy is a diving coach who used to coach their daughter as a child. And although he designed sets for Smith and guided her swimming in the past, he allowed her then to be in charge of her own major career choices. Now that Smith is off with Bowman, he just sits and and enjoys how her career pans out.

“As a parent, as a person, you want the best for them. You want to do what’s right for them,” Parratto said. “That includes having them make their own decisions. It has to be their decision. You can’t want it more than they want it, it’s their thing. Whether it’s Jessica, whether it’s Regan, they decide what they want.”

“A relationship has to be a little bit more than ‘here’s the training.’ It’s working with somebody. Athletics can be very emotional, as we’ve seen here this week at trials. That’s a lifetime of training. There’s a lot of time and effort that’s put in. And the process is really, really important. And as a coach, or even as a parent, you’re involved in that process with them.”

After Tuesday night’s diving session ended, the Parratto family went out to dinner to celebrate Jessica Parratto‘s Olympic berth and her birthday, which falls on June 26. Mike Parratto got an hour and a half of sleep, and then flew to Indianapolis on Wednesday morning to support his former and current swimmers at Olympic trials. As long as he stays in the sports world, he’ll get to witness amazing things from people in his life — like he did when he developed eight-time Olympic gold medalist Jenny Thompson, like he did with Smith, and like he did with his own daughter. But not many moments in his life, at least those related to athletics, will match that forty-minute span on Tuesday night.

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2Fat4Speed
28 days ago

Mike was my coach over 20 years ago. As a high schooler he turned me from a kid who could not do flip turns to a D1 athlete. Forever grateful!

RangerCoach
28 days ago

Mike had a very good Tuesday.

Yeah.
28 days ago

Mike – “Oh, what a day I’m having!!”

Heidi
28 days ago

Best coach ever! Mike was my coach 37 years ago and I can still talk to him today and feel like it all was just yesterday; he hasn’t changed a bit. He and Amy are the greatest – so happy for them & their whole family.

random
28 days ago

There is also a synchronised duo named Cook Bacon (3m Spring W), which is going to be the most hilarious once commentators say this. The double Bacon surname in the US aquatic team for Paris is gonna be lit

EXCALIBUR
Reply to  random
28 days ago

😁

RangerCoach
Reply to  random
28 days ago

Sadly Sarah is not a swimmer and Phoebe is not a diver. The pairing of Bacon and Bacon would have been great.

random
Reply to  RangerCoach
27 days ago

Diving and Swimming are part of aquatic sports

Chris Breedy
28 days ago

I agree with Mia and MarkB! I have great memories remembering Mike back in my old days-💗
Congratulations Coach!

Mia
29 days ago

There is reason that swimmers who were coached by Mike still keep in touch after 30 years!

Viking Steve
29 days ago

Very well written! Go Cats!

Viking Steve
Reply to  Viking Steve
28 days ago

great article

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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