Lochte’s Greatest Wins Are In Front Of Him

Courtesy: Charles Hartley

Some of us have been fortunate enough to be really good at something, maybe even the best in our town or country or the world.

Family, friends, fans and the media give us adulation and praise. We feel special. We stand out in the crowd. Others are dazzled by what we are capable of doing that few others can.

But then one day that’s no longer. We’re not the best. Our skills diminish. We get older. Maybe our desire to be great loses its allure.

When this fall happens, everybody knows it. Some take shots at us. Some heckle. They try to mess with our minds, make us feel bad to make themselves feel better.

We strive to get back to the top but we don’t. Our greatest achievements are so yesterday.

People who once praised us move on, focus on other people on the rise, the ones who are at the top.

We get pushed aside. We’re told to move on, do something else, find another path to pursue, because we’re never going to be great anymore. We get marginalized, told we’re only allowed to swim in Lanes 1 or 8.

This is the situation that Ryan Lochte is now living through. At one time not too long ago he was one of the best male swimmers in the world. He won 12 Olympic Medals. To this day there has never been anyone who has swam the 200-meter individual medley faster than Lochte. It’s his world record.

But during the recent U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, in this exact event where he became especially famous – and absolutely revered as a swimmer – he ran into the harsh reality of life that we all face: we’re not the best.

Lochte placed sixth in the event. To qualify for the Olympics he would have had to finish in the top two.

So he won’t be going to Tokyo to represent the United States as part of the U.S. Olympic Team. His swimming career has reached, like the last page of a great novel, the end.

Sure he could keep swimming for four more years and try again but by then he’ll be over 40 years old. We all know it’s not realistic he’ll be fast enough to quality for the Olympics again no matter how hard he practices for the next four years.

Reality now reverberates like a thunderbolt. The long road of life he’s lived as a swimmer has finished its last act. He may stay involved in swimming perhaps as a coach, but he’ll never be cheered on for his prodigious swimming talents. That’s over.

It’s sad. Life’s that way sometimes. We all know.

It’s really confusing and emotionally painful when any of us comes to realize that whatever we dedicated our lives to be great at is no longer something we can be great at. Physically, mentally, and psychologically, it can’t be done. We can keep practicing but it’s never going to be like it once was with us living the dream superstar hero life. It’s like we’re dog paddling lap after lap aimlessly.

The question then becomes “what do we do next?” It’s a question that’s tough to grapple with. Why? Because whatever we decide to do will be like starting from way back in line because to become the greatest we had to push aside just about everything else.

We sharpened one skill and didn’t develop many others. It’s such a long road back to the top of another craft. Where to begin, what to choose to spend time on from all the possibilities this world offers, can be enough to make us throw up our hands and say “I don’t know what I want to do next.”

Lochte may or may not know. But one thing’s for sure. Whatever he chooses, the chances of him reaching in his new endeavors the popularity heights he did as an award-winning swimmer are much lower.

But here’s the most important thing Lochte and all of us can gain from this fall from the top story. The chances of us finding more fulfillment in this next phase of life are actually much greater than we realize. It’s a bit counterintuitive. We may not be the best and win all the Gold Medals, but we can – and should — make more important contributions to the world in our second act.

Ask yourself this question: Will Lochte make a more valuable contribution to this world by sharing his life story, including the big mistakes he made in the 2016 Olympics and what he’s teaching his children, or by sharing what it was like to be a star swimmer?

The answer is clear: Lochte has a compelling, unique and valuable story to keep sharing with young people including swimmers about what it’s like to be on top of the world and then, in a few days, be the central character in an international scandal that damaged his reputation, ended swimming endorsements, and sent his life into a downward spin.

There’s more to learn from someone who’s lived this unusual life story than there is from someone explaining how he broke a world record. Plenty of people have done the latter; few have lived through all Lochte has. And he can share this story and inspire young people to pick themselves up after being knocked down, as he has since 2016, and strived to be a better person.

After his last trials at the recent Trials, the winner and new 200 IM star, Michael Andrew, called Lochte a “legend.”

How many of us live lives that people would consider legendary? Almost no one. But Lochte has. He’s been a special swimmer, a gifted guy who worked hard at his craft for his entire life.

Not a bad start so far, Ryan. You are a legend. Now it’s time to build on that legendary life you’ve started by giving all you can in your next phase of life.

You’re going to love doing this. It may not seem possible now, but you’ll be more fulfilled in this next phase than any of your amazing swimming achievements.

You may not believe this but it’s true: Lift gets better the longer we live it. We rise to the top. We fall short. We lose. We get replaced. We get fired. We get frustrated. We wonder what it all means and whether we should go forward.

And we find out the answer is yes. We should move forward. Because we’re meant to. And because it’s the great mystery and secret to a meaningful life, to keep going among uncertainty and pain and not being the greatest anymore.

And it’s, ironically, greater than anything else we’ve ever experienced. It’s a more deeply satisfying experience.

Raising children beats any swimming world record. Helping others will give your life more meaning than any of your Gold Medals.

You, like the rest of us, have plenty of great days ahead of you.

You last race at the Trials was not the end. It was the beginning.


Charles Hartley is a freelance writer based in Davidson, North Carolina. He has a masters degree in journalism and a masters degree in business administration.

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Kitajima Fan
2 months ago

Naw that’s boring. Paris ‘24 baby

Reply to  Kitajima Fan
2 months ago

Breaking News: Lochte replaces Gowdey Raines as commentator for the 2024 US trials and with him is Phelps who will also be commentating.

Reply to  Khachaturian
2 months ago

lochte stuttering every 5 words would be entertaining

VA says Jeeeeah
2 months ago

Nicely written article. I hope we see more of Ryan in the coming months and years. He has a very big heart and, with the passion he has for the sport of swimming, has the ability to make an even bigger impact in this second act. I am rooting for Ryan.

2 months ago

i’m raising a toddler right now. I would have taken the world record over less sleep, crying fits, and giving up virtually all my free time.

Lochte is a Goat. So is Phelps. They are on the same level of goatness even if Phelps has a few more accolades. Going 1:57 at 36 years old is unbelievable.

Reply to  Chris
2 months ago

Greatest literally means greater than all others. There can only be 1 GOAT. Lochte is not even close to Phelps.

Coach Tom
Reply to  TINY HANDS
2 months ago

Doesn’t that definition make Lochte the “GOAT” of the 200 IM?

Reply to  Coach Tom
2 months ago

Never won an olympic gold medal in the 200 im though

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Khachaturian
2 months ago

Won the World Championships with a world record and still owns it. Lochte 200 IM GOAT.

You Don’t Say
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
2 months ago

By definition…absolutely.

Coach Mary
Reply to  Khachaturian
2 months ago

Ryan was at the top of his game when a fan jumped on him unexpectedly and caused a major leg injury. He came back but was never as dominant in the IM as he had been. He is also a fan favorite. Unlike others, he has made himself available to his fans. Always did. He gave a clinic for our fundraiser for Infant Aquatics. When he could have had a break he participated in our baby exhibition. One thing about Ryan. He is kind. And generous. I’m sure he will contribute a lot to swimming in the future

Reply to  TINY HANDS
2 months ago

No men are closer.

2 months ago

Imagine if our politicians faced the same backlash for lying.

Charles Hartley
Reply to  Jeff
2 months ago

So true, Jeff. The punishment and embarrassment Ryan went through was disproportionate to what he actually did wrong. Wasn’t really fair to him. But he’s going to be stronger for it.

Not Tapered 🏊
Reply to  Jeff
2 months ago

Like those pictures on the laptop 💻

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Jeff
2 months ago

If it happened during summer 2016 then it wasn’t among the Top 10 Lies of the Day. I don’t even have to look up the date or the specifics.

Daniel Smith
2 months ago

Ryan probably has a wealth of stories he could tell in a book. One occurs to me,” Ryan and Natalie Coughlin did an intreview on Italian radio in the run up to a pro meet. In response to the question, “Whay are you in Italy?” Ryan says, “I’m looking for an Italian girlfriend”. Needless to say, there were a LOT of people at the meet. Coughlin, who was relating the story said, “I thought, what the heck is he doing?” Any of his kindnesses to fans are legendary. Warts and all, he shoudl consider it. One of the more human legends in sports.

Charles Hartley
Reply to  Daniel Smith
2 months ago

so well expressed by you, Daniel: “one of the more human legends in sports.” Yes, Ryan does seem like just one of us, just trying to figure life out and find his way. But what a tremendously talented swimmer. Still holding world record in 200 IM is a very cool way to end a swimming career.

Reply to  Charles Hartley
2 months ago

Both 200IM WRs

Stan Crump
Reply to  Daniel Smith
2 months ago

I would buy it.

Six-Beat Kick
2 months ago

Great read. This is also pertinent to college athletes that swim their last race. I know I had to grapple for a long time figuring out what to do as a “swammer”. I struggled, but I did get there. It takes time, reflection, and intention. I hope Lochte finds peace with whatever he pursues next.

Reply to  Six-Beat Kick
2 months ago

So, what do you do now to stay fit?

2 months ago

Great article! Always been a fan of Ryan’s, very nice, humble guy and the best is yet to come for him in life.

Jason Zajonc
2 months ago

Great article. Would it be so cool to swim him make a comeback in the next Paris Games? Sure. Hard at 40? He can enjoy the next chapter of his career in what he decides to do…and he is a LEGEND! Congrats for him making it happen thru-out all of the years…made some amazing swims and some mistakes and seems to have changed his life around for the better. I wish him and his family the best!…but 200 IM at Paris or even a relay would be pretty sweet…maybe Dara will come back? jk..