Swimming has always been my favorite sport to watch in the Olympics. This year, Rio will showcase swimming at its best as Katie Ledecky, Dana Vollmer, and more, compete for the gold.
Growing up, I longed to be a dainty and delicate woman. I wished for a small and petite frame, one that would someday allow my tall, dark, and handsome husband to scoop me up in his arms, twirling me as romantic music played in the background.
Unfortunately, however, I was not gifted the body of a small and dainty female. I was granted powerhouse arms and shoulders that are more broad than those of my six-foot-one, two-hundred and fifty pound linebacker husband—and I know this for a fact because we actually measured them one day.
So it wasn’t until I joined a local swim team when I was thirteen that I finally found peace with my body—and my purpose for those strong, broad shoulders. For this first time in my life, I didn’t feel out of place. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of the shoulders that were able to propel me, full-speed, across the pool in the butterfly stroke. It felt natural to me, and although I was by no means the fastest and by no means going far in the world of swimming, I fell in love with the sport that made me feel at home in the water.
And this summer, I look forward to watching some of my favorite female swimmers in the sport that I have never stopped loving. Here’s who to to keep an eye on in the Olympic swimming competition this year:
Dana Vollmer of the United States during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials on June 30, 2016. Tom Pennington|Getty Images
I’m super pumped to watch Dana Vollmer in this year’s Games. Not only is she swimming my favorite event ever, the 100m butterfly (yeah for broad shoulders!), she’s also a new mom. After welcoming her son last year, Vollmer worked harder than ever to make this year’s Olympic team, and for that fact alone she is my hero. She’s done all sorts of crazy-impressive things, like being the youngest person ever to swim in the Olympic trials (age 12). She even competed after having heart surgery. And um, this feels super weird, but I’m actually one year older than her. Which leaves me in awe, thinking: What the what?
Katie Ledecky of United States during the 16th FINA World Swimming Championships. Ian MacNicol | Getty Images
At 19, Ledecky is a youngster, but she’s an incredible competitor. And considering Michael Phelps swam his first Olympics at age 15, we know the Olympic world doesn’t exactly work like the “real” world. (For Her has a fascinating profile on Ledecky coming up so stay tuned—she’s a case study in how faith can fuel confidence and hard work.) And her hard-to-believe secret to success? She doesn’t think about too hard about winning. She is known for focusing completely on her race—she doesn’t dwell on the fact that she can outswim men and that she’s rumored to be a better swimmer than Michael Phelps. Unlike a lot of male swimmers who talk about how good they are, she just swims. Her strokes speak for her. She will be swimming the 200m and 400m freestyle races. No doubt, they’ll be thrilling to watch.
Lia Neal swims in the Women’s 100m Butterfly during the 2012 AT&T Winter National Championships. Ronald Martinez | Getty Images
Neal is one of the first black swimmers to ever qualify to swim simultaneously with another black teammate as part of the U.S. Olympic swimming team, and her competition promises to be thrilling. She will be swimming on the Olympic relay team, swimming one leg of the 4x100m freestyle event. MORE?
Simone Manuel competes in the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle during the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images
Manuel will be joining Neal on the freestyle relay team, which you can watch on August 10th, and the 50m freestyle on August 12. At age 20, Rio is the young Manuel’s first Olympics, and after she’s done swimming to victory, she plans to graduate from Stanford University. Nothing like overachieving, right?
Amy Bilquist, Maya DiRado and Missy Franklin of the United States compete in the Women’s 200m Backstroke during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials on July 2, 2016. Al Bello/Getty Images
Odds are, you’ve probably heard of Missy Franklin, and for good reason—at age 17, when most American teenagers are getting ready to start their senior year of high school, she won a whopping five Olympic medals, four of which were gold, in the 2012 games. She is the current world record holder in 200m backstroke. Franklin is a powerhouse swimmer and seems to exude a genuine love of the sport. She also always seems happy, which makes her a joy to watch in the pool: she’s an athlete who knows how to have fun with the sport she loves while still kicking some serious butt. You can watch for her in Rio swimming the 200m freestyle.
Who will you be looking forward to see compete in the Olympics this year? Talk to us in the comments or on Facebook!
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