Exclusive Q&A: Team USA's water polo captain Tony Azevedo

Team USA Olympic Athletes: 25 Things You Don't Know About Us

If you're looking for an athlete to root for in Rio this year, look no further than Team USA water polo captain Tony Azevedo.

Azevedo was born in Rio de Janeiro, but his family moved to Long Beach, Calif. a month after his birth. When he was four, he suffered a near death experience after a fall that severed his trachea and esophagus.

SEE MORE: Everything you need to know about the Summer Olympics

Although his heart stopped beating on the operating table for several minutes, doctors were eventually able to revive him. His parents Ricardo and Libby were told he would never be able to play sports due to his sustained injuries at such an early age.

Now look at him.

He has been a member of the past four U.S. Olympic Teams, culminating in a silver medal in Beijing 2008. Team USA had not won a Men's water polo medal since the Silver in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, so in addition to helping guide the young national team, Tony's current goal is to lead the squad to a gold medal.

Azevedo had the chance to talk with AOL.com in Brazil:

Q: How cool is it that you were actually born in the city where you and your team are competing in the Olympics?

A: It's a dream come true. To be able to go through this for 20 years, and now have my fifth Olympics be in the city where I was born is amazing. I can speak the language, tell everyone the best places to visit, have my family here with me.

Q: Do you have a lot of family watching the Games in person?

A: I do. A lot of my immediate Brazilian family is here. My sister is trying to have a child, my wife is seven months pregnant, so they're back in the United States. But I have a lot of my Brazilian family and a ton of friends here.

Q: With such a young squad, most of you guys have only been together for a couple months. Does that make the possibilities for Rio and Tokyo even that much more exciting?

A: Yes. Right now we're the youngest in the world and one of the most consistent teams globally. Tokyo is far away though. In our sport, you never know what will happen in four years, so we're just trying to focus on the now.


Q: Your family is very much a water polo powerhouse. Can you share some of your favorite childhood memories with your family and the sport?

A: My father was an Olympic coach, so I was always around the sport. In 1996, I was a ball boy for the USA team, which really inspired me to be who I am today. I was enthralled and surrounded by the sport. I watched the Spanish team win the gold medal, and I knew then I wanted to be an Olympian, to win a gold medal. In 1996 we came to Sao Paolo, we stayed in a terrible hotel and called in "hotel hell" -- I'll never forget that. That year, though, there was a bench-clearing brawl. I was 12 and I jumped right in because I thought the whole team was my friends. Water polo has let me live in four different countries, learned four different language, met some great people. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Q: What advice have you given to the many first-time Olympians on your team?

A: I tell them to take the tournament day by day, game by game. They have to block out all of the distractions and focus on why we're here. You can't go through four years of training and sacrifice for a few photos or celebrity moments. You have to focus.

Q: You had a horrific accident at the age of four in which you were pronounced dead for a few minutes. Do you remember anything about the situation? Do you often think about it?

A: I don't remember anything from the situation. I was young. My mom said that when I came back to life, I said that a lady in white told me to go back and see my mom and dad. For me, it just shows, I take it, that you can't take anything for granted and you can't ever give up. The mind is the most powerful thing. Always believe in yourself.

Q: What has been the biggest life lesson you've learned through water polo?

A: Humbleness and the power of a group. Water polo has taught me, being a small sport and having to fight for everything, the importance of being selfless for the benefit of the team. That lesson helps me being a husband and a father, and I know it'll help in whatever business I become involved in in the future.

Q: How did you get involved with the cool things Gillette is doing, and how much fun has that been?

A: I came here to the P&G Family Home today for a hot towel shave from Gillette. The brand has been here providing support for athletes and families because, like Olympic athletes, Gillette know that there are no shortcuts to success, but that staying committed to precision means your best is within your grasp. I'm excited to have gotten a great shave from Gillette's most precise razor yet, the Fusion ProShield!

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.