When our pal Ron Bonjean invited us to lunch with Olympic gold medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte at Capitol Hill's Johnny's Half Shell, well, we couldn't resist. Who wouldn't want to meet Beijing star Michael Phelps's rival, friend, and training partner? Better yet, he promised to bring his two gold and two bronze medals, as you can clearly see. The reason for his visit yesterday and today is a serious one: He's now the national spokesman for the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy group that promotes research of a rare form, called Duchenne or Becker, that strikes boys. His uncle died of the disease.
A great looking and quiet 24-year-old, he decided only recently that he wanted to use his platform to do some charity work. And helping on what has become a family project was an easy choice. "I just wanted to give back," he said over lunch of a foot-long brisket sandwich at Johnny's, chosen because the owner's child is afflicted by the disease. He was meeting with House and Senate leaders to push for continuation of a bill that encourages spending on Duchenne, which afflicts about 150,000 to 200,000 boys worldwide.
While he has been here, he has taken in some of the sights, expressing genuine awe at walking around the Capitol. And in two weeks, he and the U.S. Olympic team will travel to the White House, where he promises to make his pitch to the president. "I might have to," he said.
But enough about us and Washington. We asked if it was true he wants to be a fashion designer. "I want to eventually get into designing," he said. And why not? He helped Speedo with the Beijing swim suits. And he attended New York's Fashion Week.
His goal is to put out a rock-star type of fashion line, something like Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Then, he talked about his pal Phelps, totally dissing his appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. "I think I'd be a lot better," he laughed over Cokes, calling Phelps "more to himself" though still a funny guy. Then, we asked about his famous kick and he said that Phelps also uses the speedy kick but that he was faster than the eight gold medal winner.
He'll have a chance to prove it soon, when Phelps and Lochte return to the pool. Lochte, of Florida, says he plans to travel to Baltimore to train with Phelps and that the Olympics star will follow him south for a second week of training. Why the special sessions? "It's just a different scenario," says Lochte. "It's just someplace different to train with him." And since both are some of the fastest swimmers in the world, the natural competition just makes them better, he says.