Not everyone can say they’ve raised an Olympic swimmer, but for those who can, Rio is just the latest stop on what feels like a lifetime of work, in and out of the pool.
TODAY caught up with a few athletes’ moms as they head to the Summer Olympics to find out what their kids were like when they still had to wear swimmies in the shallow end.
First up, we got the low-down on what Ryan Lochte was like as a kid — “hell on wheels,” his mom said.
“He was very mischievous,” Ileana Lochte told TODAY, speaking on behalf of USA Swimming's new #SwimUnited campaign, which aims to educate more people about the sport. “Really, swimming was the only thing that calmed him down.”
She said his passion for swimming started early, as both Ileana and her ex-husband were swim coaches.
Once, when the family lived in New York, Ryan, then around 3, fell into the pool with his snowsuit and boots on.
“We were really scared and we ran over to him and pulled him out and he started to cry,” Lochte recalled. “And we thought he was upset because he fell in, but no, he wanted to get back in the water! That’s why he was crying. He just loved the water.”
And the bubbly, devilish persona her son gives off in front of the cameras is no facade, she said.
“He’s always been like that — very easy-going,” his mom said. “He’s always been true to himself.”
That applies to relationships, too. Lochte, who famously once said her son only had time for “one-night stands,” told us that Ryan, 32, still isn’t quite ready to settle down. But he does eventually want a family.
“He has goals that he sets, and sometimes it’s hard being a girlfriend and understanding that,” she said. “He doesn’t want somebody to have to go through that, because there’s a lot. If he was my boyfriend, I would want to be with him all the time!”
That focus on goals and dedication to swimming, even when it means big sacrifices, is something all the swimmers on Team USA share.
Take Conor Dwyer, who took second place in the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyles at this year’s Olympic trials.
He refused to stop swimming even after he wasn’t recruited out of high school, typically a big blow for an athlete with an eye toward turning pro.
“But he set these goals and was determined,” his mom Jeanne Dwyer, who lives near Chicago, told TODAY. “He went to Iowa as a walk-on but by sophomore year, he was on a full scholarship.”
Conor, 27, later transferred to the University of Florida, where he swam with Ryan. In 2012, both won gold as part of the 800-meter freestyle relay team.
Now he’s preparing for his second go at the Olympics.
“He’s always one of the hardest working in the pool, because that’s how he always had to be,” Dwyer said.
One of five, Conor also had a mischievous streak as a child, often getting into trouble with his twin brother, Spencer, his mom said.
“One time, when they were 15 months old, they locked me in the basement while I was doing laundry,” she said. “One of them somehow had flipped the lock on the door. I had to climb out the basement window.”
Another time, they pushed a large grandfather clock across the room.
“They always felt like a little team,” she said.
While Ryan and Conor already have experienced the rush of the Olympics, one of their teammates, Simone Manuel, is just getting started.
The 20-year-old holds the American record in the 100-yard freestyle, but Rio will mark her debut as an Olympian.
“This is something that she’s wanted for a long time,” her mom Sharron Manuel told TODAY.
Manuel had Simone and her two older brothers take swimming lessons when they were kids growing up in Houston. For Simone, it stuck.
“She’s always been around water and always comfortable in the water,” Manuel said.
Simone was always eager to teach herself things so she could keep up with her older brothers, now 23 and 25.
Like the first time she tied her own shoes.
Manuel recalled tying her sons’ shoes, planning to get to Simone’s after, when her daughter, then around 4, burst into the room and announced she’d tied them herself.
“[My husband I] said, ‘You don’t know how to tie your shoes, we’ll get to you next,’” Manuel said. “But she said, ‘No, I did!’ and we looked, and sure enough, she had tied her own shoes. She was motivated and she wasn’t going to wait around for people to show her things.”
It’s clear that motivation has paid off — for all the swimmers.
Along with their moms, we’ll be cheering for them and the rest of Team USA in Rio!