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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


TV personality Martin Pepper reflects on time as UA nat’l swimming champ


Former UA national champion swimmer Martin Pepper was a finalist to host the popular TV show “MythBusters.”

Martin Pepper is a television personality and UA alumnus who is best known in Tucson for winning the NCAA national championship in swimming during the 1996 season.

For him, this time stands out among the rest.

“It is always fun to win something for the ego,” Pepper said.

Pepper, who was recently one of four finalists for the hosting job on the new version of the popular TV show “MythBusters,” recently reflected on his time as a Wildcat.

He continues to have a sense of humor. During interactions with his teammates, Pepper wanted his light-hearted nature to rub off on others.

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“I have always been a clown. I do things to make myself laugh. It is someone else’s mistake when they have taken me too seriously,” Pepper said.

He did not get to where he is today without struggles. Additionally, his road to success in swimming and in his career saw him stop in multiple areas to explore his interests.

“Growing up I was a huge nerd,” Pepper said.

Pepper started his journey by working in his father’s lab. There he experimented and learned how to create a wide variety of items.

“I started making my own gunpowder,” Pepper said.

Pepper explained that his connection with the tools helped him because talking to others was a weakness of his.

“My first friends were machine tools,” Pepper said.

Pepper joined his high school’s swim team during his freshman year in hopes of expanding his social horizons. He never imagined that he could reach such a level of athletic success. He also surprised those around him.

“A walk on becoming a champion is super rare. His rise to winning was pretty fast,” said Rick DeMont, Pepper’s former coach and current UA head coach in his fourth year.

UA could rely on Pepper because he performed like a veteran of the sport.

“He was totally dependable in a race situation. He had a great ability to focus and get down to business,” Demont said.

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Pepper may not have gotten an opportunity to surprise people had a close family member not spoken up.

Pepper’s brother, Seth Pepper, who was also a UA swimmer, advocated for his younger brother. Eventually, Seth convinced the UA coaching staff to give Martin an opportunity.

“They let me walk on as a work in progress,” Pepper said.

Pepper was not in a good place following a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament during his sophomore year after coming in as the No.1 seed.

“I went in feeling like a loser,” Pepper said.

DeMont helped to increase Pepper’s confidence.

“As an athlete, you learn the power of your mind. Through swimming, I learned the power of visualization. I still do it today when I [work],” Pepper said.

Pepper has a message for UA students. He passed along advice that one of his professors gave to him.

“You are not in school to learn stuff. You are in school to learn how to work with others. Put less stress on what you are learning in class,” Pepper said.

Instead, he suggests that students make themselves known to people in their field of study.

“Students should learn how to promote themselves,” Pepper said.

Martin thinks that this mentality can stretch beyond athletics.

“With that mental training anybody can be successful with whatever they want,” Pepper said.

People around him noticed that Pepper had quirks.

“He was interested in nature and building. A lot of people thought he was kind of nuts. He is a solo cruiser,” DeMont said.

Pepper’s personality was on display while he was on the team. He would do unusual activities to brighten the dynamic of his team

“He would take his kayak and go off the diving board with it. [Another] day he brought in a 12-foot python,” DeMont said.

DeMont did not have a problem with Pepper’s mindset.

“He is fun-loving and playful,” DeMont said.

DeMont saw the pleasure Pepper took in observing.

“His interest about the natural world was unique,” DeMont said.

Pepper’s presence brought a sense of imagination to his team.

“It is easy for him to think outside the box,” DeMont said.

Pepper stood out from other team members. His personality was not always easy to manage for his coaches.

“It was a fun challenge to work with him,” DeMont said.

When Pepper complained about other team members DeMont emphasized worrying about his own abilities rather than critiquing his teammates.

“Coach DeMont would say, ‘cook your own burger dude,'” Pepper said.

Martin credits Ray Vosper, Pepper’s college neighbor who was a boat builder, for his creativity.

“He taught me to love craftsmanship,” Pepper said.

Vosper instilled confidence in Pepper, which helped lead him to take on more challenging projects and experiences.

“He showed me how to take pride in what I did,” Pepper said.

Although he ended up not being named the next “MythBusters” host, Pepper’s legacy has already been cemented on the UA campus.

“He is a national champion,” DeMont said.

Follow Phil Bramwell on Twitter.

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