With Fuller Perspective, Family Man Ryan Lochte Chases Fifth Olympics

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

With Fuller Perspective, Family Man Ryan Lochte Chases Fifth Olympics

In a career that has wended through five Olympic cycles, Ryan Lochte has learned his share of lessons, publicly and privately.

But on the precipice of the U.S. Olympic Trials, with a spot at his fifth Olympics on the line, Lochte has learned the most away from the pool. For the controversies and reputations in his past, Lochte arrived in Omaha this week as, first and foremost, a father, one whose training schedule occasionally gives way to matters at home, who sometimes requires Gregg Troy to play both coach and babysitter on deck.

Lochte being 36 is no guarantee of maturity. But married life and the responsibility of three kids has changed him … and changed his approach to swimming.

“I used to think when I was younger that swimming was my life, but now swimming is just the cherry on top,” Lochte said Friday at a press conference. “Me being a dad and a husband is what I feel I was put on this earth for because it’s a blessing when I wake up and see those kids, even when my kid, like Troy said, throws paint and starts painting the walls of the house. It’s amazing and it’s a new chapter of my life and I’m so happy about it.”

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Ryan Lochte at 2019 Nationals; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Not long ago, it might have been Lochte painting the walls, figuratively at least. For his son, Caiden, who turned four last week, it’s less a metaphor than an incident report. (The family will be at Trials, and as Lochte said, “You guys will notice when my kids are here. They’re loud.”)

While he doesn’t often delve into his past, Lochte doesn’t shun it either, foremost the imbroglio he caused being arrested in Rio after he was done swimming at the last Olympics and lying about the incident to authorities.

Now, Lochte is approaching Trials with a certain calm. He’s grateful for the extra year of training, saying he’s “in a better state mentally and physically.” He’s encouraged by his training at the University of Florida with Troy – and alongside the American program’s new standard-bearer, Caeleb Dressel – that has been relatively uninterrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The perspective of balancing swimming and adulthood has been hard won at moments. But it has instilled a certain poise.

“That’s one of the things that I’m still trying to grasp, balancing swimming at the top level in the sport and being able to go home and not have the luxury, as other guys might, where they can go home, they can take naps, they can get massages,” he said. “I have to go home and become super dad. And when I come home, I’m the play day, so my kids are like, ‘daddy’s home; let’s play.’ And I just got my butt kicked at practice and I’m like, ‘kids I just want to be left alone,’ but I can’t. But it’s all worth it because my family is everything.”

“There’s a little more maturity,” Troy said. “He’s gone through some, even since he’s been back, it’s safe to say Ryan hasn’t always made all the best choices, but he’s learned from those choices. He’s much more mature in in what he’s done. That’s given me an ability to talk with him even more.”

Lochte and his 12 Olympic medals are already in rarefied air, among Americans and male swimmers globally. By making a fifth Olympics, he would join Michael Phelps and Dara Torres as the only Americans to do so in the pool. His reputation as one of the sport’s all-time greats is sealed, come what may in Omaha.

But Lochte seems to view that less as reason to go easy and more as freedom to push onward. He’s cognizant that even getting to this point is a level of success. But he wants more than that, and he and Troy have pushed to achieve that.

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Ryan Lochte; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“For me personally, I feel like success would be making the Olympic team, and not just making the Olympic team but going to Tokyo and getting another medal,” Lochte said. “To me, that would be success. But also there’s two sides to that, because another part is me just being 36 and everything that I’ve dealt with throughout my entire life and the training and everything and just being here and giving it one more shot, I feel like is success, too.

“Outside the pool, I am successful. I’ve got great sponsors. I’ve got a family now, which is the best thing ever. So to me, I’m winning. Swimming is just a cherry on top.”

Lochte is listed on the Trials psych sheets in six events. He’s unlikely to swim the full complement, starting with the 400 individual medley. His best shot to qualify for Tokyo is in the 200 IM, where he’s seeded fifth. He’s 13th in the 200 backstroke. Even the relay enticement of the top six in the 200 freestyle likely won’t matter, as he’s seeded 53rd.

This Trials will be a first for Lochte in that he won’t have Phelps as a sparring partner. Lochte said it was always “a love-hate thing” with Phelps for as much as they dueled in the pool. While they were spades partners away from the water, there wasn’t that much fondness outside of the cohesion of national team gatherings, when a new group bonds for a few weeks before an event.

Since Phelps has retired, though, the two have grown closer. They will be forever linked for their achievements in the pool and moving the sport further into the country’s mainstream consciousness, but the connection these days is more about being a dad.

“After he stopped swimming after ’16, I talk to him now more than I ever have in the past, because he’s been through it all, through the media, through the kids, through training, through everything,” Lochte said. “I probably text him or talk to him once every three weeks, and he helps me out a lot. As I got older, I was mentally frustrated and he was helping me very much with that.

“He changed the sport. He made the sport bigger than what it was, and I remember one of my first times, me and him were hanging out and we were talking and we were like, what is one of the things we want to do in the sport? And we both said we want to make swimming bigger than what it is. We want to put swimming in everyone’s living room, like when you turn on the TV, you see NBA. Why can’t we have that for swimming? We want to make swimming bigger? And Phelps definitely, he did that. And I’m trying to do my part.”

Lochte’s legacy in that regard, in his importance to swimming, won’t be defined by what transpires this week. And that brings a certain equanimity. Lochte has endured smudges to his reputation, many of them self-inflicted. And yet he’s swum on.

“I can’t regret those things that happened and it helped shaped me into who I am today, and I am the happiest person I’ve ever been in my entire life,” he said. “I’m doing what I love to do.”

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