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.

2016 US Olympic Trials – Omaha, Nebraska

As you might expect, the US Olympic Team Trials is a swim meet unlike any other in our sport. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and the hardest (but most important) part of the experience is managing those emotions. While I tried to play it cool, I admittedly had more thoughts of fear and anxiety than excitement and joy. I love swim meets… I love racing and competing; feeling anxious and apprehensive was new, strange, and quite unwelcome. I’m lucky I have great coaches, teammates, family, and friends who all helped keep me calm and sane throughout the process.

For those of you who don’t know, each event at the meet (excluding some of the longer races) is swum three times over two days. Every qualifier swims prelims; the top 16 continue to semi-finals; and the top 8 to the final. I made it through prelims and semi-finals on pure excitement and energy… swimming in front of 12,000 people is crazy! But, heading into the final, I felt vulnerable, knowing that I could potentially have the best swim of my life and still not make the team. Though I was so nervous and scared, I tired to appreciate every moment. When am I going to be in a situation like that again? Regardless of the outcome, what an incredible life experience!! Once again the sport of swimming has given me a gift I could never get elsewhere.

The second I hit the wall and saw 2nd place by my name I felt overwhelming joy combined with overwhelming relief. I did it. I was going to the Olympics. My lifelong dream was now a reality. How do I put that feeling into words? I cant. I can only express gratitude to all the people who played any role (small or large) in my journey. I would not be here if it were not for all of you!!

Although I made the team on the third day of the meet, I wasn’t able to step off that emotional roller coaster just yet. I have met some of my best friends through this sport; I’ve formed incredible relationships with even better people. You better believe that I swam each of their races with them. I experienced their joy when I watched them make the team, and I felt their heartbreak when I watched them just miss it. It was a lesson we have all heard many times made evident and very real… This sport is about so much more than the swimming and the times you go; it’s about the people you meet and lasting relationships you form along the way. That is what’s special, that is what’s important, and that is what’s real.

I am humbled and honored to get to represent the USA at the Olympics. To me, the Olympics is a festival of peace, an revered tradition where the world comes together to accomplish something as a whole while simultaneously celebrating differences. I cannot think of any other event that holds cultural significance in every country in the world. The blanket of the Olympics, like some sort of magic, transcends boundaries and differences, it rises above negativity and hatred, and it is truly beautiful. What an incredible thing to be a tiny piece of thread in that magical blanket.