As an athlete, I always want to push a little further and a little harder, but I can’t be too disappointed with the three gold medals, one silver and one bronze I took home from the Paralympic swimming world championships last week. I scaled back my training after London 2012 because my mind just wasn’t entirely into it, but being back in the world of elite swimming again gave me the motivation I didn’t realize I was missing. It reminded me that this is where my heart is. It may sound silly, but seeing my competitors had been training harder than ever while I’d taken a step back shook me awake. I have to remember I did what was best for me this year, but the meet gave me the motivation to go back and train that much harder.
It was a memorable trip even before the meet started. Just seeing so many familiar faces from other countries and reuniting with old friends for the first time since London was really great. My goal for the championships was to make it fun, and I can honestly say I loved being a part of Team USA and hanging out with my new roommate, Martha Ruether. It’s the little things that made it fun -- doing a team yoga session, hanging out with the girls in the team room and walking to Starbucks every day with our coaches.
It definitely hit me at the opening ceremonies how much I missed my friends Anna (Eames) and Kelley (Becherer). It was the first meet in six years that we weren’t a trio, but we were texting, calling and tweeting each other throughout the meet, so they were with me in spirit. And it gave me a chance to get to know some of the younger girls on the team better, too. For so long I was one of the younger athletes and looked up to the older girls, but I realize I’m one of the older girls now! It’s so rewarding to know that these younger athletes are looking up to me and I’m a role model.
The meet also was special because it was my last competition with my coach Dave Denniston, or Davo, as I call him. Right before the 100-meter butterfly, he said to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this before, but could you do this race for me?” Talk about pressure! I didn’t want to disappoint him. I was behind the whole race, but I came back and won in the last 15 meters by four-tenths of a second in world-record time. So that was very cool! It’s been a long three years with Davo, and I’ve really enjoyed being his athlete, so it was very emotional at the end of the meet realizing our journey is done together.
Now I’m just finishing out my goals for Rio 2016, thinking about what I want to achieve and gearing up for my move back East. I’m still in Colorado now, but it’s only a matter of days. I’m saying goodbyes to my friends, to the Olympic training center and to some of my favorite Colorado spots. I love this place Graffiti Falls, which is under a bridge and just has tons of graffiti, and it’s a little hike to get there. It’s just so beautiful. I’ll miss my little coffee shops and my church, which I’ve been really involved in the past three years. It’s going to be emotional, but I know I’ve made some really lasting relationships, so we’ll stay in touch.
And I can’t wait to get back to Baltimore! I’m going to move in with my grandparents for a few weeks until I can get settled and find an apartment. Then I’m going to live with Cortney Jordan, another Paralympic swimmer. I’m looking forward to all the little things about being home again -- autumn in Baltimore, being able to go pick out pumpkins with my family for Halloween, going on hayrides with my nephew and seeing the Ravens play. And definitely getting some crab! A new chapter is beginning, and I couldn’t be more excited.