2016 Olympic Games – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Hello readers! After a whirlwind couple of months, I have finally found some time to sit down and share some thoughts with you! Here is a look at the Olympic Games through my eyes…

I have always had a dream of going to the Olympics, winning a medal, and standing on the podium, watching our flag rise over my head. But it was one of those dreams that you never expect to become a reality. It’s similar to dreaming about winning the lottery or becoming a Hollywood star… very cool but it would never actually happen.

Well, with some hard work and a lot of support, it did happen, and I could not be more grateful or excited that it did. There were a few moments in Rio when I found myself overwhelmed with emotion—putting on my opening ceremonies outfit; swimming my first lap in the competition pool and seeing the Olympic rings everywhere; walking out for finals and seeing my family in the stands. These powerful moments reminded me that I was actually living this dream!

Our training camps set us up so well. Our time in San Antonio and Atlanta was spent bonding as a group and sharing many laughs. When we weren’t in preparation mode, we played a lot of Pokémon Go, completed our rookie skits (and laughed so hard), and filmed carpool karaoke—some of the most fun car jamming sessions I’ve ever had. Thanks to Mark Cuban, we flew to Rio in style on a private plane, and even got to cross paths with Air Force One and President Obama on the runway. We could not have had a better sendoff from the USA!

We were a bit apprehensive about our arrival in Rio. Like many of you, we were aware of the negative news about the city, the village, and the venues. However, when we arrived we quickly realized that our worries and hesitations were far from warranted. Everything was wonderful. The city and its views were beautiful, the village was perfectly functional, the venues were great, and the people and volunteers were accommodating and helpful! Also, in the 14 days I was in Rio, I saw one mosquito and had zero mosquito bites… Zika definitely did not rain on our parade!

The first time I saw the competition pool with my own eyes, I felt like I was in a dream. Walking onto the deck as a group, you could sense the power of our team. It was at that moment that I, and every other person in the building, knew Team USA was going to do something special that week.

I woke up calm and determined on the morning of my 100 breaststroke final. During my warm up that evening, I was nervous, but nervous-excited (unlike trials, where I was nervous-scared—or just plain scared), and I felt strong and powerful in the water. There was a lot going on in the ready room before our race, but I found a quiet place to sit and think.

I thought about what an incredible honor it was to represent the United States. I thought about how grateful I was for the men and women in our military who put their lives on the line daily so that we had the opportunity to go to represent the United States at the Olympics. I thought about all of the people who had helped me at some point in my journey. I wanted to list them by name so I could dedicate my swim to them, a small token of thanks for all of their help along the way.

When I walked out to the blocks I was overwhelmed with joy. I could not stop smiling! I looked up in the stands and took it all in. I saw my family cheering (my sister gave me a small nod), and I knew I was ready to go. I don’t really remember what happened in the minute and five seconds it took to get down the pool and back, but I do clearly remember turning around and seeing third place next to my name.

I was overjoyed. I earned a medal for the USA at the Olympics. My biggest dream come true. There aren’t words to do that feeling justice. To say it was a special moment is an understatement.

I didn’t sleep the night after my race. Instead, I celebrated by eating pizza at 4 a.m. in the dining hall at the village with Kathleen Baker (who had just won silver in the 100m Backstroke). After our late night/early morning snack, we headed to the Today Show. We saw family and enjoyed the success.

The next few days were filled with astounding performances by the USA. I was so proud to be a member of that team; every one of my teammates had inspiring swims. I used that inspiration for my swim on the prelims 4×100 medley relay. Along with Olivia Smoliga, Kelsi Worrell, and Abbey Weitzeil, we advanced our relay to the final, where Kathleen Baker, Lily King, Dana Vollmer, and Simone Manuel went on to win a gold medal. Swimming on a relay for the United States is a true honor, and I am so grateful I had that experience with those amazing women.

People often ask me if I feel like my life has changed since the Olympics. My answer is yes, but not because the Olympics itself is some sort of life altering force. The Olympics are the most remarkable and wonderful swim meet I’ve ever been to, but, at the end of the day, it’s just a swim meet.

It’s not the meet itself, but the journey leading up to it that is transformative. The life-altering forces were the people I met, the places I visited, the challenges I faced, and the things I learned about myself. Those are the things that I am most grateful for and will cherish forever. Those are the things that have changed my life for the better.