Collegiate swimmer hopes to make waves in Israel

Five years ago, Larry Becker made the difficult decision not to travel with his confirmation class to Israel.

Instead, the Corte Madera swimmer practiced for the Maccabi Youth Games in Baltimore, where he won the gold medal in the 100-yard breaststroke, a decision he doesn't regret.

This week, the sport that delayed Becker's trip to the Holy Land has taken him there, as a participant in the 15th World Maccabiah Games. The event will bring more than 5,000 athletes to Israel from at least 53 countries.

"I'm not just there to compete," Becker said during an interview shortly before he left for Israel. He added that one of the key elements of the games is the opportunity for Jewish athletes to meet one another. "I'm looking forward to seeing the country. It's an honor just to be able go over there."

A student at Purdue University in Indiana, Becker brings to the games an outstanding athletic record. In competitive swimming since he was 6 years old, he began his career with the Marin Swim League's Tidalwaves in Larkspur and continued with the Indian Valley Aquatics of Novato. He currently swims for IVAN at non-collegiate U.S. Swim Meets.

While attending Redwood High School, he showed an amazing display of talent in the water. He won every 100-yard breaststroke competition during four years at Marin County Athletic League dual meets, and placed second in the 100-yard breaststroke at North Coast sections during his senior year.

Well-respected by his peers in the 1992 Maccabi Youth Games, he not only took the gold in the 100 breast, but he also won the bronze medal in the 200-yard individual medley and was chosen by his teammates to be his delegation's flag bearer.

In addition to earning an impressive swimming resume while in high school, Becker was also active in the Jewish community. In 1991, as a teen, he was called to read Torah during a Yom Kippur service at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael. He was also a founding member of the Marin Jewish Youth Contact, a group engaged in community service and leadership programs.

Currently an industrial engineering major at Purdue, he made a strong impression his first year there by walking onto and making the varsity swim team. Nominated by Purdue's athletic director, he was selected by the NCAA to attend a leadership conference in Florida but declined because of conflicts with his practices for the Maccabiah Games.

He will return from the Maccabiah Games in August to coach 13-to-16-year-old swimmers from the Northern California-San Francisco team at Milwaukee's Maccabi Youth Games.

Observing that "there are not that many Jewish athletes in the Big 10" and that Christian athletic organizations abound, he applauded opportunities provided by both the Maccabi Youth Games and the World Maccabiah Games.

At his own campus, where the Hillel estimates 400 of the university's 35,000 students are Jewish, Jewish athletes are a minority within a minority. "Athletes in Action is a Christian athletic club team, and there's nothing like that for Jews at Purdue," he said.

Becker is expecting to celebrate his 21st birthday on the day he swims the 100 breast, his favorite stroke. He believes the coincidence is good luck. "For some reason, I always swim well on the day of my birthday."