Merrill Moses is a two-time Olympian on the U.S. men’s water polo team.As goalie, he stifled opponents’ scoring to help his team return from Beijing with a silver medal in 2008. This summer, they finished in London at eighth place in the world. He was named to the All-World Team in 2008, which includes only one person for each position in the pool. These are all high honors for any athlete—but particularly for a guy who didn’t even jump into the pool until his freshman year of high school at Peninsula.
How was your Olympic journey?
MM): I trained with the national water polo team, where I started out as the youngest player on the team. To be there training was a privilege to me. After college, I continued training with the national team, and in 2000, I was cut from the Olympic team, which was expected. I played professionally in Europe for a few years before returning home to train for the 2004 Olympics with my team.
I was the last person cut from the 2004 Olympic team. That was devastating. I thought my dream was over. I stopped playing water polo and went into the mortgage industry with a friend. I ended up becoming a manager and was working full-time for two years.
In 2006, my college coach, Terry Schroeder, was the assistant coach for the national team. He called and said, “I think you are the missing piece of this team; would you be interested in coming back and playing for the Olympic team?” So I told my boss that I was going to chase my dream and switched my suit and tie back out for my Speedo.
How was coming back in 2006?
MM: The first two months were miserable. When you have been out of the water for so long and you jump back in—the water feels like quicksand. You’re barely moving, and it hurts. It was all worth it, because I knew what it was going to take to get back into shape.
I was the starting goalie for Team USA in 2008 as we went into the Olympics ranked ninth. We shocked the world and came away with a silver medal. This year we did not play the way we wanted to and came in eighth place. It made me realize how special what we did in 2008 was and how hard it is to even get to the medal stand, because the top eight teams in our sport can win at any time.
How do you protect your body from injuries, particularly overuse injuries, in a sport with repetitive motions?
MM: I am a goal keeper, so for my position, it is a bit easier. If I was a field player, I probably couldn’t keep playing. A goal keeper is a position where you get better with age. I’m 35, and I have to keep my body in optimum shape. I eat very healthy, and I train a lot. If I let myself go, there is no way I would be playing at this level.
What are your most proudmoments in water polo?
MM: One of my most proud moments in water polo and in life was walking through the Olympic opening ceremonies in 2008 and seeing the torch lit. At that moment, I realized I had obtained a lifelong dream to represent my country in the Olympic Games. A lot of people dream of that, and I got to experience it. It is not all about winning medals. It is about representing your country on the biggest stage in sports.
What role did your South Bay community play in your athletic success?
MM: The community in Palos Verdes is a huge supporter of water sports. I jumped in on the water polo game late, but there are club teams and a great community here that supports water sports as children grow up. The support of Peninsula High and my coaches there pushing me in the right direction made all the difference in my career. And my parents, of course, are my biggest supporters of my dream of becoming an Olympic athlete.
What is your advice for young athletes with Olympic dreams?
MM: Most important, you have to eat healthy. Kids think they can eat fast food and drink soft drinks, and that is just not true. What you put into your body is what you are going to get out. I eat lots of vegetables and lots of fish. I will push that on my own children as well. Your food is your fuel. I haven’t had a soft drink in years.
Also, always put in the hard work. You will not get your ultimate goal without the hard work. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. If our team believed what everyone said in 2008—“You’re ranked ninth; there is no way you will win a medal,”—then we never would have.
You didn’t start playing water polo until high school. How did you find it, and what made you want to play?
MM: I grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes playing multiple sports. All of my brothers and sisters were big-time athletes. I played baseball and soccer, and then I got really into football. However, I quickly realized I was an “average” football player.
So I took a walk around the campus and heard a whistle in the pool and saw this sport called water polo. I talked to the coach and asked if I could walk on and try his sport out. He said, “No problem.”
Like every kid, I wanted to score, so I wanted to play offense. But my sophomore year, the team needed a goalie, and our coach tried out everyone on the team. I have a huge wingspan, and the coach said, “You’re a great goalie,” and yet I still fought him on it.
My junior year, I got moved up to varsity, where the coach said, “You’re the goalie,” and there wasn’t much I could say about it. Later I thanked my coach because it led to me walking onto the team at Pepperdine University as a goalie.
What was your college career like at Pepperdine?
MM: I told my coach, Terry Schroeder, “I will be your new starting goalie.” And he thought I was crazy. But he gave me a chance, and as a walk-on, I beat out a freshman goalie on a full scholarship and a senior goalie that had played all four years of his career in the goal. There is a lot invested in those types of players, but my coach gave me a chance, and I beat them out and ended up being the starting goalie for all four years of my college career.
My junior year in 1997, we won the first and only NCAA water polo championship for Pepperdine University. I was named MVP of the NCAA tournament. That year I realized I could take my skills to the next level.
Moses plans to play and represent the United States in the next Olympic Games while continuing to coach his favorite sport at his alma matter, Pepperdine University, with his own coach, Terry Schroeder.