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Teri McKeever, the Cal head swim coach and US Women's swim coach for the 2012 Olympics, during the 45th Annual Santa Clara International Swim Meet in San Clara, Calif. on Friday, June 1, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)

Ever had one of those nerve-racking nightmares? You know, the kind where you have to take a final exam but haven't studied a lick for it? Or where you're driving to an important appointment and can't find the freeway exit?

That's more or less what this spring has been like for Teri McKeever. Except that she is awake. And it's happening in real time. With a strong chlorine odor.

McKeever, the coach of three NCAA-title-winning teams at Cal, will be the coach of the USA Olympic women's swim team this summer in London. Opening ceremonies are just eight weeks away. For McKeever, it will be eight weeks of contingency angst.

"You put hours of effort into all the what-ifs," she said Saturday on the pool deck at the George F. Haines International Swim Center.

Such as?

"Well," McKeever said, "what if we get a copy of a bus schedule for our athletes and it turns out to be the wrong schedule? Or what if a relay team is all set and then someone wakes up and her appendix bursts?"

Right. Or what if, heaven forbid, a bus driver's appendix bursts while taking an entire relay team with burst appendixes to the wrong training pool? Have to be prepared. It's one reason McKeever is at this weekend's Santa Clara Grand Prix, not merely tending to her Cal athletes but preparing for what lies ahead. She had an extended lunch meeting the other day with Gregg Troy, who will coach the men's swim team in London.

Fortunately for USA Swimming (and our country), McKeever is equipped to handle it all.


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After 28 years as a college coach at USC and Cal in a position usually occupied by men, McKeever has learned, shall we say, how to navigate swimming's diplomatic channels. She is a trailblazer who accepts that role but did not necessarily apply for it. In 2009, she became the first female swim coach to win an NCAA title. A year later, she was named the first female head coach of any USA Olympic swim team in history.

In the year 2012, the 40th anniversary year of Title IX legislation that promoted gender equity in sports, it's hard to believe those statements hold true. But in the culture of female swimming, male coaches have dominated.

McKeever isn't sure why that's so. She speculates that in the past, many female coaches tended to do the job part-time so they could also raise families. McKeever notes that she didn't marry until she was 45 years old (to Jerry Romani, whom she met when he sat next to her at a Cal football game).

"Coaching is a hard lifestyle," McKeever said. "There's a part of me that's proud of being a pioneer. And I take that part of it seriously. I want people to know what we're doing. At the same time ... "

At the same time, she doesn't want people to dwell on that aspect of her achievement as much as on the USA swimmers' accomplishments in London. There's no question McKeever earned her job on merit, not out of any political desire for USA Swimming to advance a woman into the position. McKeever has earned a reputation for her open-mindedness to new training methods (she takes her Cal team to Aptos for training exercises in the ocean) and her one-on-one motivational techniques.

McKeever's personal back story itself is worth a miniseries. Her father, USC football All-American Mike McKeever, died at 27 in 1967 after lingering in a coma for 22 months following a traffic accident. Teri was just 4 years old. She has no real memory of him.

"I do have a memory of how my mom, after work, would take us to our grandparents and she would go see him," McKeever said. "I have a memory of the funeral where people came up to me and talked to me. I've thought how strong my mom was to go through all that."

McKeever's mother remarried into a blended family and had more children, making Teri the oldest of 10 children in the house. This, she conceded, gave her an initial experience in how to organize field trips and get along with different personalities. The sports part of her life developed naturally. Her uncle, Marlin, was a linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams and three other NFL teams. Two of her sisters played on the USA field hockey team. Teri was a swimmer at USC.

"I think sports gave me the first place where this awkward girl could feel comfortable in my own skin," she said. "I think that's true for a lot of women -- sports gives you a part of your life where you can work at something and you look in the mirror and you like that person."

She had no plans to become a college coach -- her goal was be an elementary-school teacher -- but took an assistant coaching job at her alma mater and found her passion. She became Cal's head coach in 1991. She is grateful that assistant Kristen Cunnane has assumed more responsibility in Berkeley to give McKeever enough time for her London duties. The Olympic trials are set for later this month in Omaha, Neb. Saturday, McKeever smiled and mused about her task there as swimmers compete for precious roster spots.

"We have eight days of trying to kill each other in Omaha," McKeever said, "and then a few days to unite and become a team."

She is totally ready to make that unity happen. In fact, McKeever can't think of a better way to spend the summer. Burst-appendix paranoia and all.