Chapter 3

The Underdog, Fighter Mentality

A Navy Brat Grows Up

My life likely would have been much different if I had not been a kid from Maine. I honestly believe that—for a lot of reasons.

I am the middle child of Christina and Robert Palombo; my father was a pilot, so I am also a Navy brat. Like almost all children who are born into a military family, we moved several times when I was young. Although I was born in California, we moved to Brunswick, Maine, before I was old enough to start school and lived there until I had completed the fourth grade.

A new assignment in Jacksonville, Florida, interrupted our life at that time—and for a year, my parents, older brother, younger sister, and I left our happy home in Maine. I was in the fifth grade, and that honestly was one of the most difficult years of my life.

I couldn’t seem to find anything I was good at, and sports was not a focal point in my life. I played soccer and ran track, but was mostly just an average kid; in fact, average was the word I kept using to identify myself. I felt that I didn’t do anything with any degree of excellence, nor did I feel connected to or engaged in anything substantial. My life just seemed so basic. I can still remember standing by a pool in 1976, an Olympic year. I watched athletes like Nadia Comaneci and Mark Spitz, and was amazed by their success. My mom signed me up for a swim team to keep me busy, and since we had a pool, I would swim back and forth across that pool even though I was only ...

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