Mike grew up in Southern California and was in or around the water from an early age. He learned to swim at age 4 and joined a competitive swim team at age 5. His love of the water as a young child led Mike to develop as a competitive swimmer during his grade school years, and by high school he had already broken onto the national scene as a top age group backstroker and distance freestyler with the Irvine Nova Swim Team.
Mike attended a small, private high school (Newport Christian) that did not have a swimming program. He did, however, join the world renown Mission Viejo Nadadores swim team his freshman year. He trained under Olympic Coach Mark Schubert and alongside many of the world’s top swimmers. By his senior year in 1983, Mike rose to the top of US distance swimmers and won his first of five US National Championships (500-yard freestyle 4:16.88).
In 1984, Mike won the Olympic Gold Medal in the 1500-meter freestyle at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Not long after, he entered the University of Southern California as a freshman and went on to have a stellar post-Olympic year, winning two NCAA titles (500 & 1650-yard freestyle), three US National titles (500, 1000, & 1650-yard freestyle) and two American Records (500-yard freestyle, 4:13.06; 1000-yard freestyle, 8:47:38). The American Record in the 1000 lasted for 13 years.
Following his graduation from USC in 1988, Mike worked in both real estate and insurance while also working as a television color commentator for swimming events. In 1992, he was the NBC Sports color commentator for the Barcelona Olympics and continued to cover swimming and triathlon events for the network for the next two years. He also coached competitive swimmers in Newport Beach and at UC Irvine in his spare time.
In 1993, Mike completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on only six weeks of training while working as a race reporter for NBC. He finished the race in 13 hours and 41 minutes and still holds the dubious record of fastest swim/slowest overall finish.
Around the same time, Mike watched his three year-old son, Ian, learn to swim. The experience of watching his son and other children learn to enjoy the water led Mike to pursue a career change and start his own swim lesson business.
Since 1993, Mike and his wife Kristin have operated Mike O’Brien Swim Instruction in backyard pools all over Orange and LA Counties. As the business has grown, so have their children (although they have never aged on this page … see above!) Ian is now in his 30s and works as a loan broker in Orange County. Erin is a working artist and tattoo artist in Los Angeles. You can view Erin’s work on Instagram @erineliseart.
Mike feels fortunate to have found an occupation where he can utilize his skills working with children as they take a big step forward in their young lives. Having the opportunity to promote safety and instill a love of the water is a wonderful privilege. He enjoys being able to interact with each unique student and has great satisfaction in knowing that his students’ experiences will be with them for a lifetime.