Ryan Lochte sees next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo as a chance to remind people of the swimmer who has won 12 Olympic medals, not the one who has been suspended twice and had a run-in with the law in the last three years.
The second-most decorated swimmer in Olympic history opened up to Craig Melvin on TODAY Wednesday about his comeback attempt leading up to the 2020 Olympics, his new life as a family man and his decision to enter rehab for alcohol abuse a year ago.
Lochte, 35, could've retired after winning his sixth gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but he did not want that to be the way his story ends given everything that happened away from the pool in Brazil and afterward.
"That's not me,'' he said. "I want more. I also want to show my kids that no matter what, no matter how many times you get knocked down, that you can get up and you can keep fighting."
The early results have been very encouraging, as Lochte took gold in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. national championships in August, his first national title since 2014.
Not only did he win gold fresh off a 14-month suspension, he said he also was significantly overweight when he did it.
"When my daughter was born, training kind of started slipping away,'' he said. "So I went to fast food, and I started eating just everything, just not good. And so when I swam nationals, I swam 22 pounds overweight.
"Since then, I've lost 17 pounds. My swimming, my times that I'm doing in practice, are things that I've seen back when I was at my peak in 2012."
Lochte's self-inflicted troubles began three years ago when he exaggerated claims of an armed robbery at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro in a case that was eventually dismissed by a Brazilian court.
His reputation took a hit with fans and sponsors, and he was suspended from competition by U.S. Swimming for 10 months as a result of the incident.
"It was hard,'' he said. "It got to a point where I would wake up crying. And I was like, 'Man, I just wish I could just disappear, go on a remote island, and just not see anyone.'
"I was a role model to kids. Kids looked up to me. They were like, 'I want to be like you.' And then reading some of the comments, it was, 'I looked up to you, and now I don't.' It hurt me inside. And I didn't want to be that person."
That suspension was followed by another one last year when he posted a since-deleted photo on Instagram of himself getting an intravenous vitamin B-12 injection.
The substance was approved, but the amount and IV method were both prohibited, resulting in the United States Anti-Doping Agency imposing a 14-month suspension.
"So since 2016, I've been pretty much been suspended up until about, like, four months ago,'' he said.
In the midst of the turmoil with his swimming career, Lochte became a father of two children with wife Kayla Rae Reid, whom he married in 2018. The couple have a 2-year-old son, Caiden, and welcomed their daughter, Liv, in June.
"I'm a family man now,'' he said. "I'm a husband, I'm a father, which never in a million years I thought I'd be a father."
Lochte made the decision to enter rehab for alcohol in October 2018 after police were called to his hotel room in Newport Beach, California, after he allegedly tried to kick the door down. No arrests were made, but his lawyer later announced that Lochte had entered treatment.
"About a year ago I realized if I keep going down this destructive path that I was gonna end up — something tragic,'' he said. "I checked myself into rehab. I don't care to go out and party, to be the loud one anymore."
A sober Lochte now has his eyes set on Tokyo, where he hopes to add to his decorated Olympic legacy.
He has gotten some advice from his former rival and the most decorated Olympian of all time, retired swimming legend Michael Phelps, who told him to lean on his family for support during his comeback.
Lochte would love nothing more than to win more Olympic medals with his wife and children watching.
"If I really think about it, I'm gonna start getting teary-eyed,'' he said. "It would be the best thing ever, being able to get a medal and have my family in the stands."