When Tony Azevedo, one of the top water polo players in the world, was training at the pool one day in Long Beach, Calif., his friend brought by a rambunctious pit bull-type puppy. “As soon as she got to the edge of the pool, she jumped in and started chasing the water polo ball. I fell in love with her immediately,” Azevedo says. “Pit bulls are known for not liking water, but she loves swimming more than anything.”
Azevedo’s friend gave him the puppy, and he named her Olympia. “She grew into an 80-pound ball of muscle,” Azevedo says. “She’s very loving. All she really wants out of life is as much human contact as possible, and a good swim.”
A member of the U.S. Olympic Teams at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as well as the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London respectively, Azevedo was named the world’s seventh-best athlete in 2003 by Men’s Journal.
But dogs are Azevedo’s other passion.
A few years after adopting Olympia, who is now 12 years old, Azevedo found out about a 4-month-old puppy at the pound whose owner had thrown him from a car window. “He was this beautiful little Brazilian Fila,” Azevedo says. “I was born in Brazil, and I really wanted to adopt him, but then the owner came back and said he wanted the dog because he found out how much money it was worth. But the shelter didn’t want to give the dog back, and because he came back within minutes of the end of the waiting period, they did a raffle and we got to take him home. I named him Apollo.”
The Fila Brasileiro, now 7, quickly grew to over 220 pounds, but defers to Olympia. “She controls him. She runs him around and makes him do things for her,” Azevedo says. “But he always has the biggest smile on his face. He’s so lovable, he just wants to sit and stare at you, and he doesn’t understand that he’s too big to be a lap dog, or why he can’t quite seem to fit on the furniture.”
Azevedo and his wife, Sara, divide their time between Long Beach and Montenegro, where Azevedo’s professional Brazilian water polo team is based. While overseas, Olympia and Apollo stay with Azevedo’s parents, so it’s only natural that Azevedo and his wife would miss their dogs and want to help the local stray dogs they saw all over Montenegro. “I was upset by the stray-dog situation,” Azevedo says. “They don’t believe in neutering, and they get puppies, then kick them out when they get big. Kids don’t learn what it means to have an animal, how loving and special they are.”
The situation prompted Sara to begin fundraising for the local shelter. “They had no equipment to give the dogs shots, and 95 percent of the dogs that come in die of worms,” he says. “My wife raised 15,000 euros for them. Since I was a pro player over there, they started doing commercials to raise awareness about the situation, and they put me on the front page of the paper. But I give my wife all the credit. She made a big difference for the dogs.”