“The idea was just to get him swim lessons so we could go to the beach club and he wouldn’t drown,” said Bernadette Jaeger, mom of Olympian swimmer Connor Jaeger as she casually chatted about her son at the breakfast nook in the kitchen of her Fair Haven home.
Jaeger, now 21, was 5 years old then; those status quo lessons to stay afloat in the pool at Surfrider Beach Club, Sea Bright, turned out to be the starting line of an unbeknown lap to the 2012 Olympics.
Bernadette also will be the first to tell you that there was no stage mom thrust catapulting her son’s swimming success, either. “Swimmers and swim families tend to not be like that,” Bernadette said. “It’s the kind of sport in which you compete against yourself but also as part of a team, the members of which are very supportive of one another.”
So, the sport was just something that ended up happening to be what Connor loved. Mom, dad Eric and big sister Dana supported that. "It was his choice only to drop the soccer and baseball and stick with swimming," Bernadette said.
From the minute the swim lessons started at Dosil’s Sports Center and the Jaeger kids started swimming on the Surfrider team, it just seemed like Connor was swimming more and more each week, Bernadette said. And he was.
From the start, he swam with his sister, with whom he is and always has been very close. In fact, it was big sis Dana who kept kid brother Connor going to practice, the parents said.
And from summers of swimming three times a week at Surfrider, the two moved on to year-round with the Central Jersey Acquatic Club (CJAC). By the time Connor was at CJAC, at the age of 9, he was swimming six days a week, two hours a day and loving it.
“Doing it together (when we were little) made it a lot less scary,” Dana said. “Once he learned how to swim, he just liked it more and more every day. He was fast from the start. But the bigger he got, the faster he got. And he just stayed as humble as can be. Still is.”
Humble and affable is how the entire family described Connor. He made friends with ease and had no fear of new experiences. "I remember when we first moved to Fair Haven," Bernadette said. "Connor was in sixth grade. He just got on his bike and rode to Knollwood School the first day like it was nothing. He made new friends right away."
It was just his nature to smile and nonchalantly go with the flow. From the time he was a baby, his mom said, Connor was very easygoing — no frills.
“Just give him some chicken parm and a side of nap and he’s very content,” said Bernadette with a knowing mom's grin. “Every time he had a swim meet, that’s all he wanted — two of his favorite things.”
A love of surroundings and simple pleasures have always been part of Connor's unaffected course, as the family described it. He always just did what he loved to do and, at the end of the day, went home to his family — unfazed by any prospects of fame.
The communities in which he was raised and swam were another collective story — quite fazed. The pride in Connor coming from Fair Havenites and swimming colleagues has been bursting out all over and Connor is very loyal to his roots, the family said.
A former lifeguard from the time he was 16 at Takanassee Beach Club, Long Branch, Monmouth Beach Bath and Tennis (Monmouth Beach Club) and Long Branch Public Beach, in that order, are still spots Connor loves, his family said.
"He loves Morris Avenue in Long Branch," Bernadette said. "He's very proud of his lifeguarding work at that station on the beach." And his fellow guards there are proud of him, too. A large sign exuding that pride has been erected in Connor's honor at the beach patrol station.
The tenor of Jaeger's modesty shows in his Twitter posts, Eric pointed out with a smile. "He's talking about pizza and watching movies in French while training in in Vichy, France — typical things, just in a foreign place."
As unfazed and focused on the typical as Conner is, the family is "overwhelmed" with the joy of being a part of a not-so-typical, unique, small-town community in a small corner of the world in hometown Fair Haven.
"I can't express enough how overwhelmed we are with joy and love for Connor and this community," she said. "It has just been such an embracing, wonderful experience to see the outpouring of support for him. We couldn't be more proud — of him and his hometown."
Connor is now in London and training. The family will be joining him in early August.