On Going For It: I started as a synchronized swimmer when I was five, and then switched to a normal swim team when I was six. I was an intense young child, so I took it seriously and bossed all the older kids around. My goal was to swim at Stanford, my dream school, so that’s what I worked towards.
I expected my swimming career to end when I graduated from college in 2014, and I had to be convinced to try for the Olympics. I wanted to get a job; I was nervous that I’d spend two more years training, and then go to trials and not make the team. I was scared of wasting my time, and of feeling embarrassed if I didn’t succeed. But my parents and my coach and my now-husband said, “We love you no matter what, but it would be really stupid if you didn’t go for it.” McKinsey had already offered me a position, and they let me defer my start date. So I committed myself to training, knowing that I had a job waiting at the end of the process. It was very freeing to know that I’d be able to devote everything to swimming for a time, and then move on.
On “Retiring” at 23: My final Olympic event was the 200 backstroke, and I won the gold medal, which was totally unexpected. It was an outrageous way to end a career. When I was up on the podium, singing the national anthem, it was bittersweet. I totally see why some people might hang on for another four years. But I realized, I can’t keep swimming just for that momentary feeling. You have to enjoy the grind of getting up every day to train, and I had already given everything I had to get to Rio. I’m going to miss a lot of things about swimming, but I’d rather look back and miss it, rather than feel like I beat the dead horse and hung on too long.