Christopher Dorst, who graduated from M-A in 1973, went on to be part of the silver medal-winning U.S. 1984 Olympic team in Los Angeles (LA). Dorst, a Stanford University undergraduate student and business school graduate, is also a member of the Stanford Hall of Fame. The National Water Polo inducted Dorst, as well as two other M-A alums, into the Water Polo Hall of Fame in 1994. Dorst currently lives in Menlo Park with his wife Marybeth Linzmeier Dorst.
We interviewed Dorst to discover more about his Olympic journey, his childhood in Menlo Park, and his incredible water polo legacy with his three daughters.
What is one thing that sticks out from your time at M-A?
Dorst: There are so many individual touch points from my time at Menlo-Atherton, there isn’t one big huge moment that stands out. I had a lot of crazy moments with the water polo team, many of whom I am still friends with today. In fact, last night we had a 60th birthday party for my friend Bryan Avery, and I also got to see Jeff Morris, two of my old teammates. It is neat to reflect on having been part of the water polo team, key club, and yearbook by still being in contact with all of my friends since high school, as many of them still live in the area.
Another interesting moment from my time in high school was a pickup basketball game that took place four days before graduation. Being the class president, I was supposed to give a commencement speech in front of the entire school at the event. Four days before this, I was playing a game of pickup basketball with my friend and Mr. Weaver, who was one of my favorite teachers, and as we were playing, he accidentally elbowed me in the face while I was going up for a shot. During the graduation speech, I looked like I had gotten in a fight, but the game was still a great moment from my time at M-A.
Did you encourage your daughters to play water polo, or did they all drift towards the pool naturally given your and your wife’s Olympic careers?
Dorst: My wife and I didn’t insist they play water polo, but we did require them to play a team sport when they were growing up. Playing a team sport adds value to academics and life, and we wanted them to feel the community involved with team sports. As kids, they played basketball, volleyball, and soccer, and when they got to high school, they had to decide which to keep playing. They all chose water polo, and it was always a big family event.
Lindsay, who graduated from Cal (University of California, Berkeley), transferred to Sacred Heart after freshman year to be with her cousin KK -who just won an Olympic gold medal in water polo this past Olympics in Rio – ended up playing Becca and Emily while in high school. Though they competed, the girls always had fun playing each other. Emily won two Central Coast Selections (CCS) championships and Becca one [championship] at their time in high school, before going on to play water polo at Stanford and UCLA (University of California, LA) respectively.
In college, when my daughters played each other, my wife and I would dress neutrally and cheer for both teams.
Can you discuss your Olympic journey?
Dorst: The first Olympics [1980, the year the U.S. led an Olympic boycott] were strange; the U.S. had always participated in the Games. Starting at Stanford in 1977, and then as I went on to the National Team, I was always building towards the Olympics. We didn’t think we were wasting our time training, there was always something over the rainbow that would make all our sacrifices worth it. We never dreamed the games would not be held; we knew some people would be angry as we walked through the Olympic village, but we thought the U.S. would still roll into Moscow to win.
I didn’t start out playing water polo thinking I would play for the Olympic team. I never thought I would be any good at the sport, so I had very low expectations for myself. At Stanford, the new coach pushed us hard to improve the roster, and it paid off after we won the national championship my senior year, which got me onto the national team. My philosophy was always, ‘it would be cool to make the JV team, then it would be cool to start on the JV team, then it would be cool to play varsity, then it would be cool to play in college, then it would be cool to travel with the national team, then it would be cool to win the national championship.’ I never took any of it for granted.
After we didn’t compete in 1980, I thought I was retired from water polo, so I enrolled in business school at Stanford. However, I didn’t feel like I was finished with the sport, so when the opportunity came for my to play for my country in LA in 1984, I took it.
Dorst: It is in my office, behind the trophies of all my daughters. They have tons of trophies from tournaments and championships, which are displayed alongside my and my wife’s awards. Swimmers receive many trophies, so if we displayed all the awards, there wouldn’t be enough room on the shelf. The medal is in a glass case, and you can see it if you enter the room, but I only take it out every so often.
What would you say to a student-athlete who is struggling to balance academics and athletics?
Dorst: Balancing academics and athletics is all about time management; you can do it all at a very high level. You just have to be willing to give up social time and social media in order to accomplish what you want in life. It’s not impossible to succeed at anything you want to accomplish, you just have to focus and put the commitment towards it.
Especially for athletics, the time commitment is important. You can’t mail in a two-hour workout, you have to be there every day practicing. If you don’t put in the time for a team sport, you are letting down the entire team who is relying on you to perform to your best ability at every game and every practice, so it is important to build up the base of skills.
In high school, commitments from family and friends can complicate things because playing a sport can make you very selfish. You have to train and eat and sleep at certain times, but it is a trade-off you have to make. Sometimes it is important to stop and realize it is more important to spend time with family or friends than anything else, so you always have people to support you.
How did M-A change between the time you attended and your daughters attended?
Dorst: M-A has gotten a lot bigger since I attended, and it keeps growing in size to accommodate the larger student bodies. When I attended M-A, it felt like more of a neighborhood school. I lived across from Oak Grove, and my friends and I were within walking distance of everything we needed. We could walk to school, or to Foster’s or Johnny’s Smoke Shop whenever we wanted. Everybody knew everybody, and even though there were occasional race riots at school or in downtown Menlo Park or on the Stanford campus, the community felt more homey and sheltered when I attended school.
M-A seems a lot bigger and less personal now, and there seems to be less of a sense of community as the campus grows in number, but that’s what you get for progress.
Why did you choose to stay and raise a family in Menlo Park, where you grew up, instead of moving somewhere else?
Dorst: That is a good question. Everyone talks about the high housing prices and traffic in the area; it would have been very easy to say ‘let’s move somewhere where the world moves at a slower pace.’ But that place doesn’t really exist anymore unless you move to the middle of Montana or somewhere in the Midwest. Menlo Park is home to me. Last night I was at a dinner with friends I have known since we went to Laurel School together; I don’t want to leave the community I grew up in. The more time goes by, the more it seems silly to leave.