It’s been a crazy season for me. Coming off of the Olympics, taking some time off, and then getting back into training only a few months before the big World Championship Trials. During my time away from the pool this fall I had time to really think about my life and my swimming career. The 2012 Olympics marked my 11th year of being apart of the USA National Team with my first qualifying meet being the Goodwill Games back in 2001 when I was 13 years old. Eleven years of training, of pushing my body to its limits, ups and downs emotionally, and overcoming lots of injuries. Leading up to the Olympics, in my mind I wanted to end my swimming career on a high note; finally reach my ultimate goal of winning a gold medal and setting an individual world record. After so many years of fighting to reach that one goal and finally achieving it, some of my first questions from media in London were “Are you going to go to the 2016 Olympics?”. Nothing like celebrating a win by first bringing up the next 4 years of hard training. In a small 6 second post race interview an athlete doesn’t want to get into the struggles of if they want to keep training or not, the inner debate of can I go faster, can I train harder, can my body make it four more years; so the answer usually is “Of Course!”.
In the heat of the moment, after just going faster than I ever had in my entire life, I couldn’t imagine not continuing to train. Winning an Olympic Gold Medal is an insane rush! Accomplishing a dream in front of millions of people and being apart of the incredible Team USA! When I got back to the States I jumped right in the pool and got back to training. But many people refer to the “post Olympic blues” when that adrenaline rush starts to fade and the realization of how long four years of training really is to reach the next Olympic Games, and I knew I had to take a break.
I stayed out of the water until January. However, working out is part of my life that I love, so I still did yoga, running, and varying aerobics classes. My initial plan was to take the year off from competitive swimming. I loved the blog written by my best friend Rebecca Soni http://www.rebsoni.com/news/blog-a-year-to-recoup-recover-and-reinvent/. I think she did an amazing job of explaining the commitment it takes to be at the Olympic level in our sport. Since I was young I have pursued one passion with such commitment to make it, winning a Gold Medal in my sport. I wanted to take the year to explore the other passions I’ve had in my life. A year to find out who I was besides a competitive athlete.
I discovered my neighbor Mat McDermott was a woodworker for his career and he helped me build a woodshop in my garage and began teaching me woodworking skills! I’d always had a passion for building things from house projects with my dad when I was younger, to furniture and specialty items; even though I maybe didn’t have the technical skills, I sure tried hard! I started thinking about what I would want as a career. When I was little I remember telling my dad that I either wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon or an interior designer! Through school I pursued the passion to attend medical school and enter the field of cardiology, but felt as though I lacked the real passion to make it through all the medical classes and years of school. Since graduating in 2010, I have pursued a career in public speaking and advocating health and awareness through the American Heart Association. I figured if I couldn’t be a doctor I still wanted to be involved in the medical field and could make an impact through speaking and using my Olympic achievements to create a better platform that could help motivate and educate young minds. But when I really thought about what I love to do, and what I do in my free time, it was interior design! I have tons of floor plans of my house, my neighbors house, my parents house. I changed my furniture and decorations around so many time when I was young, in college, and even today. So for the first time I started looking into attending school for Interior Design!
In January I had a meeting with my coach Teri McKeever where I tried to explain where I was mentally. In my mind, I had to decided that I was done with competing to really view what I would want my life to look like. When I thought about how I wanted to live my life I knew I have always loved getting up in the mornings and working out. It’s a feeling of accomplishment I desire and it leaves me feeling energized the rest of the day. So, I would start coming to morning practices! Viewing morning practices simply as my daily workout took mental pressures off myself. I didn’t analyze my times, or worry if I was doing enough, or training fast enough to reach a goal. I just took each practice and gave it my all, knowing that it was all I had to do for the day! After 8am I was free to continue to explore my other passions!
By removing the feeling of having to commit indefinitely for the next four years, I started just having fun in the water and enjoying working out to workout! The Cal Berkeley team had great new freshman including two previous friends of mine, Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma. These two ladies made me feel like the team wanted my presence back in workout. Elizabeth Pelton would ask me everyday if I was coming the next day! It was incredible what those few words did for me in motivating myself to keep getting back in the water.
With a focus on getting the highest benefit from my single workout, the fun environment the Cal team creates, and continuing to pursue other interest outside of the pool, I’ve started to create the life balance that I need to come back to competitive swimming! I am continuing to work on keeping things in perspective, learning to deal with pressures and anxieties, and just trying to make the most out of everyday! Sometimes its good to step back to fully understand how much you want something!
Thanks for reading!