Don Berger will never forget the feeling of standing on the podium in the former USSR listening to the United States national anthem.
The year was 1982. The recent York Suburban grad was on the winning 800-meter relay team and captured a gold medal individually in the 200 freestyle for the U.S. Junior National swim team.
"That was awesome," Berger said. "To stand there and know you were representing your country in middle of the Soviet Union and know you were reason 'The Star-Spangled Banner' was playing. I came home walking 10 feet tall."
The feeling of success was something that Berger was quite used to in and around the pool.
He was the dominating member of an exceptional team at York Suburban, and amazingly, for all of the incredible talent Suburban coach Dick Guyer has had over his 40-year coaching career, the Trojan record board still has one name all over it: Don Berger.
Despite graduating 26 years ago, he still owns the school record in the 200 individual medley and the 100 freestyle plus his 500 free time of 4:33.06 will likely never be broken at the school.
Berger's time of 1:39.57 in the 200 freestyle remained a PIAA record for nearly 20 years. His school records in the 200 free (broken by Kevin Marsteller) and the 100 butterfly (Harry Foster) stayed on the Trojan board until earlier this year.
In fact, the only individual event he didn't make the cut in for Suburban's Top 10 times is the backstroke -- an event he claims to have never swam.
"He had a game face," Guyer said of Berger. "He just changed when the lights were on, and he had to compete. Any other time he was laid-back and soft spoken. He made unbelievable changes come competition time."
While at Suburban, Berger earned a swimming scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he also starred. According to Guyer, he nearly set an NCAA record in the 500.
Berger spent summers swimming with America's best at Mission Viejo, Calif., and swam in the Olympic Trials while with the national team. Unfortunately, an injury at those trials in what he called "the worst meet of his career," got in the way.
"Most certainly, he would have medaled at the (1984 Olympic) Games" Guyer said. "He was just that talented and ranked that well in the world.
"He had physical attributes. He floated like a cork and was strong as an ox and had the heart of a lion."
A lion in the pool, and a lamb out of it.
The other Don Berger loved the laid-back south enough that he stayed there after graduating with a degree in earth science and geography/education.
"(The plan) was to come back to Pa. and teach and coach," he said. "I got down here renting a house on a lake and didn't want to leave. I was enjoying the warm weather and lack of snow. Folks would retire and live on lake, so I decided I wanted to stay."
He currently lives in Northport, Ala., a mere 10-minute drive from the Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.
The lifestyle fit not only Berger himself, but wife Lisa -- the Philadelphia-area native, who was also a Pennsylvania champ on swimming scholarship for the Crimson Tide. Both wanted to stay in the south.
The couple are raising three daughters, Ashley (15), Kelly (13) and Julie (8). All are swimmers as their bloodlines would suggest, but Don quickly says the choice to swim is up to them, and he has a self-imposed silent rule when the girls compete.
And he stayed south despite not working in his educational field. He started out building boat houses, piers and docks before as he put it, "needed to make some money" and progressed to his current occupation helping contractors with their lumber and supply needs.
"I thoroughly enjoy (living in the south)," Berger said. "It's fun when I do come home. I realize there are differences, but culturally down here manners still mean an awful lot."
That is key for a guy as easy-going as Berger. At least out of the pool.