Thrills and chills at worlds
Several weeks after the world championships in Barcelona, I'm still buzzing with excitement over the performance of our U.S. team. We were somewhat of a wild card going into the meet with so many up-and-coming swimmers. Thirty-one medals later -- 14 gold, eight silver and nine bronze -- we were able to put those questions to bed. With the most medals, we earned FINA's team trophy, which bodes well for us heading toward Rio 2016.
This has definitely been the largest surge by the young guns that I've seen in my career. Katie Ledecky, 16, won four gold medals and broke two world records, while Missy Franklin, just 18, snagged six golds. Did I mention that she's the first woman to earn six gold medals at a world championship meet? Having these girls around has been a breath of fresh air. Their unfading enthusiasm is contagious, and it invigorates those of us who are competing as well as the fans.
I like to think that spectators pick up on positive energy coming from the pool deck. When you see relays in which we're smiling and giving each other hugs, it's entirely genuine. The camaraderie is part of the friendly competition that makes us better. Out of the pool, we spend a lot of time together, too. The teenage phenoms are cool with hanging out with us old folks.
Young swimmers like Ledecky and Franklin seem to have figured out a better balance between competing and their personal lives. They constantly remind my generation not to take things too seriously because swimming is fun. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to relax more often. Early in my career, I stressed out and got anxious about training and racing, which can suck out the enjoyment of competing at this level.
I'm happy to say I've largely figured out the whole work/life balance thing. My personal life is more fun than ever, and honestly, I'm more relaxed than I've ever been. It also seems to be working for me; I got gold in the 4x100 medley relay and two bronzes in the 50-meter breaststroke and 100-meter breaststroke. I was particularly proud that I met my American record in the 50-meter breaststroke because the last time I swam 29.80 was in one of those superfast rubber suits, which are no longer legal. Being happy in all areas of my life has definitely contributed to my success. You better believe I'll continue to take this approach as I start preparing for the next Olympic cycle.
Before I boast too much about my newly adopted, stress-free lifestyle, I must admit that I had one moment at worlds that caused my adrenaline level to go through the roof. It had nothing to do with the competition. We often get extra bags and gear that we give away to volunteers and fans on the last day of the meet. I somehow gave away a bag that I hadn't emptied, and I didn't realize my engagement ring was in there until it was too late!
My calm demeanor came utterly undone. But I tracked down the head of the organizing committee, and we mobilized friends and family to send hundreds of messages via Facebook and Twitter to find the volunteer who had my bag. By some incredible stroke of luck, the honest volunteer came running onto the pool deck less than an hour later, drenched in sweat and carrying my ring. Thanks to him, I could leave Barcelona on a high note. You better believe that I'll never forget to triple-check my bag again!