This mother of two was the first woman swimmer to win back-to-back Olympic titles at the 1988 and 1992 games, and is now giving it another go after 15 years of retirement. Here, she talks about balancing swimming with parenthood, how her children inspire her, and tells us which is harder: Olympic training or being a mother.
What is the biggest challenge you face now, returning after your retirement?
I think the biggest challenge this time around has been being more aware of my health. It was really easy to take it for granted in my 20s, but now I’m 40 and my health is top of mind.
What are some things you do to keep you and your family healthy?
I’ve cleaned up my diet, which has helped my family to eat healthier as well! I also try to get as much sleep as possible, and I have regular physicals with my doctor. I have a family history of heart disease, which is something that would closely affect my career, so I supplement my diet with fiber through Metamucil to help lower my cholesterol and take care of my heart.
Why did you decide to try for the Olympics again?
I decided to retire after the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games when I was 24. I thought I had done what I wanted to do, and I was ready to travel the world and start a family—which has been the best thing I’ve ever done. But I realized that being a swimmer is a part of who I am, and I think every parent deserves to do something for themselves. There isn’t one singular reason why I’m doing this, but I know it’s not just a part of my past, it’s who I’ll always be.
Have your children been a source of motivation or inspiration?
My kids have been a huge part of coming back to the Olympic Games. I’d like to think that I’m adding to my credits as a role model for them by showing them how to chase their dreams and work hard to get it done. Now that I have a family, it’s not just about me—I also want to make them proud, and that’s a huge motivator.
Do they understand the importance of what you are trying to achieve, and what you have achieved in the past?
My kids are still young at ages 2 and 6, so they may not fully understand what I’m doing, but they know Mommy is working hard. I hope that when they’re older and they realize what I’ve done, that they can be proud of me, and even appreciate how I juggled being a mom and an athlete!
Which is harder: training for the Olympics or being a mom?
Being a mom is definitely the hardest but most rewarding job. Training for the Olympic Games is partly a mental game, but it also comes down to basic training and getting those laps done in the pool. I can zone out and still get it done! Being a mom doesn’t come with such a simple plan, but that’s also part of the fun; you never know what’s coming up next!
Do your kids like to swim competitively?
Not yet! My kids are turning into great swimmers, but I don’t think they’ll be heading to the Olympic Games any time soon. My daughter Sydney says she doesn’t want to be a swimmer because she doesn’t want to wake up early like I do! It’s up to them—I’ll support them in whatever they do.
Who would you say has been your biggest supporter throughout your athletic career?
My parents and my husband have definitely been my greatest supporters. My parents started my love for swimming; they drove me to countless early morning practices and gave me the support and encouragement that I needed in all stages of my career, including helping with my kids now while I train. My husband is my partner and the constant voice telling me that I can do this. He’s been so understanding and supportive as I’ve taken my family along with me on this comeback journey, and I couldn’t do it without him.
Gold medals aside, what has been your greatest accomplishment?
By far, I consider my greatest accomplishment and fondest memory to be when I ran the Olympic torch during the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and handed it off to Muhammad Ali. It was a surreal moment and a huge honor, and I will never forget the sound of that roaring crowd! That tops any gold medal that I could ever win.
Do you have any advice for moms who struggle balancing their passions and their family responsibilities?
I’m fortunate that my training schedule allows me to be at home during the day to be with my kids and get things done. The rest is all about strategic planning. I make tons of lists and appointments on my phone or calendar so that I have everything planned ahead—meals, activities, training, babysitters, and fun time with the family. It only takes a little bit of time to plan things out, but it saves me hours in the long run!