Schroeder learns to grin and bare the naked truth

Times Staff Writer

It's one thing to parade naked in front of your bathroom mirror, quite another to face the world in the altogether.

Terry Schroeder knows.

A four-time U.S. Olympic water polo player from Santa Barbara, Schroeder is immortalized in bronze outside the Coliseum, his nude torso standing tall for the idealized, universal Olympic athlete.

He was the model for the male statue that was bolted into place outside the stadium's peristyle end in June 1984 and serves as a meeting place for countless football, soccer and concert fans.

The snickering and the teasing have rarely subsided since.

"I don't go down that way a whole lot," says Schroeder, a Westlake Village chiropractor, longtime Pepperdine water polo coach, part-time assistant to the U.S. water polo team and father of two girls. "But I have patients who come in and say, 'I was at the Coliseum and I saw you down there.' And I think, 'Oh, great.' ...

"There's still a sense of embarrassment when I go down to SC for a game and we go by in the van with the Pepperdine players. There's still a sense of, 'That's me naked up there.' It's not a real comfortable feeling sometimes."

Not that he regrets shedding his inhibitions. Schroeder, 48, considers it an honor to have been one of two athletes chosen to represent the Olympic ideal.

As time passes, he admits, "there's less embarrassment and more a feeling of pride that, 'Yeah, that was me and it's going to be up there for a long time.' "

Still, Schroeder says that when sculptor Robert Graham's Olympic Gateway was unveiled eight weeks before the 1984 Los Angeles Games -- Jennifer Innis, a long jumper from Guyana and Cal State Los Angeles, modeled for the female statue, Schroeder says -- he felt like crawling under his chair.

"He's really shy," says his wife, Lori, who was his girlfriend in 1984. "Even though no one knew it was him other than his family and me, he turned bright red."

Schroeder says that Lori and his late father, Robert, encouraged him to pose after Graham's secretary called and asked whether he'd be interested.

"I thought it was a joke," he says of the initial call.

"As I found out more about it," Schroeder says, "I realized it was not representing me. It was representing the athletes welcoming the world to the Los Angeles Olympic Games. I just thought it was a really nice piece."

His wife calls it a "wonderful ... beautiful piece of art."

Schroeder and Innis met a few times, he says, but were never in the sculptor's Venice studio at the same time. He estimates that he posed for about 60 hours, four or five hours at a time. Graham wanted to keep the identities of the models unknown -- the 9-foot-high statues are headless -- but word of Schroeder's involvement leaked before the Games, causing a rift between the athlete and the artist.

With Schroeder's secret revealed, "I had to laugh at a lot of the news reports," his wife says. "It was quite humorous to hear the comments that ladies were making about the statue. They were saying, 'Of course, that's the guy I want.' So it was pretty funny to watch all that and to know, 'Nope, he's mine.' "

Schroeder, 6 feet 3 and 215 pounds in 1984, is the same today, which he attributes in part to the pressure of living up to his bronzed likeness.

"I hope that's not the main reason," says Schroeder, who helped the U.S. win silver medals in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and is considered to be among the sport's all-time greatest players. "But somewhere deep inside my head I think there is a feeling that I can't be old and fat when I bring my grandkids down there and say, 'That's me.' But I enjoy staying in shape. It's part of who I am."

So is water polo. When he took the job coaching at his alma mater 20 years ago, Schroeder says, "I thought I would do it for three or four years while I built my practice. But I really fell in love with coaching."

Two decades later, he's still at it, though he took a leave of absence from Pepperdine this season to help coach the national team.

"Just getting back to the Olympics is what attracted me most," he says of his post, which will continue through the 2008 Beijing Games.

"I've watched our team not do very well over the last six or seven years. It's been disappointing to watch the team not contend for Olympic medals."

Schroeder says his Olympic involvement "created some of the best memories of my life," not to mention some of the most disconcerting.

"My teammates were pretty brutal," he says of the ribbing he took in '84.

Two summers ago, he viewed the statue with a more respectful audience when he and his wife took daughters Sheridan, 12, and Leanna, 5, to see it.

"It was really fun for them," says Lori, who also is a chiropractor and runs a Pilates studio. "They're going, 'Really? That was Dad?' It was cute.... They just thought it was cool. They thought, 'Wow, that's really my dad up there.'

"The next question was, 'Mom, is that you on the other side?' "

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jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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