By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Kara Lynn Joyce is ecstatic.
She’s just purchased her tickets to see the October 25th production of The Book of Mormon in Denver and she’s beside herself at the thought of dancing Mormons and highly irreverent dialogue and song lyrics.
“We bought our tickets yesterday, and I’m so excited to see it!” Joyce said.
After more than a decade of intense – almost nonstop – training and competition, Joyce is equally excited to be taking some time away from swimming for herself.
She hasn’t retired – she’s taking it day-by-day right now and not training – but for the first time in a long time (she’s only taken short breaks following the 2004 and 2008 Olympics in the past), she’s finally able to take a breath and relax.
She’s still involved with the sport that has given her – and also taken – so much by doing regular swim clinics, making appearances and doing speaking engagements and seeing life and swimming from a different perspective.
“I have no concrete plans at the moment (as far as swimming goes),” said Joyce, who returned to Denver after training with the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club (MAC) in North Carolina last year to prepare for the 2012 Olympic Trials. “I'm traveling like crazy doing clinics almost every weekend and teaching private lessons in Denver.
“It's really cool that even though I'm not training, I can still have such a big impact in the swimming community and reach a ton of people. I haven't given myself a deadline (about retiring or continuing to train and compete). If I get the itch to give it another go, then I'll try for it.”
A few years ago, Joyce’s decision to stop training and competing may not have been so easy or definitive following a storied career that included placement on three Olympic and multiple World Championship teams as well as several American records. Time and experience have changed her view of swimming and life in a way she couldn’t have imagined until recently.
After a disappointing 2008 Olympic Trials where she failed to qualify for her second Olympic Team after logging the fastest times of her career coming into Omaha, Joyce received some good news on her flight back to Athens, Georgia.
Deeply disheartened after her slow times at Trials, she received word from her coach, Jack Bauerle – who was coaching the U.S. women’s Olympic team headed for Beijing – that she needed to change flights and head for Olympic Training Camp in Palo Alto, Calif., ASAP.
A spot on the Olympic 400 free relay team opened up when Dara Torres decided to focus on the 50 freestyle. Because Joyce finished seventh in the 100 free at Trials (top six usually make the team), she was next in line to take the open spot. She also earned the opportunity to compete in the 50 free when Jessica Hardy – who won the event at Trials – was disqualified from the team.
Joyce made the most of her good fortune by making the finals in the 50 free – finishing sixth – and helping both the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relay teams win silver medals in Beijing – the third and fourth of her Olympic career.
“My taper kicked in a few weeks later than we wanted, but it allowed me to go best times at the Olympics," said Joyce, a member of the 2004, 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic teams. “I remember feeling disappointment when we won silver in the 400 free relay at the 2004 Olympics, but there was a completely different feeling on the podium in Beijing.
“Standing next to Dara, I started tearing up, and she leaned over and told me to stop or she would start. It was a very touching moment. I think I have learned to appreciate times like these more as I have gotten older.”
When it came time to prepare for the 2012 Olympic Trials, she made some necessary – even drastic – changes to her training program, rededicating herself to making the 2012 Olympic team.
Just months before Trials, she uprooted her life and moved from Colorado (where she trained with World Champion and Olympic hopeful Missy Franklin) to North Carolina to work with David Marsh at Mecklenburg Aquatic Club.
Training alongside other post-collegiate National team swimmers in Charlotte has rejuvenated her love for swimming and competing and her plan worked. She finished second in the 50 freestyle and made her third Olympic team.
In London, she failed to make it out of the semifinals and left empty-handed – with the exception of some great memories and lasting friendships, one of whom is with Missy Franklin, the present and future of USA Swimming.
“Missy is always amazing; she is more of an amazing person than she is a swimmer,” Joyce said of her Colorado Stars teammate.
“She's so special and she's on the exact right path in life to reach as many people as possible – inspire, heal, whatever it is that she's capable of.”
Joyce also sees a great deal of potential and a bright future for America’s young female sprinters, particularly 17-year-old Simone Manuel, who earned a spot in the final of the 50 freestyle this year at Worlds.
While somewhat strange, Joyce said watching and not competing in this year’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships (and World Championship Trials) was easier than she expected.
Having been deeply involved with swimming for more than 20 years, she said it was refreshing to sit back and observe for a change.
“It was actually okay to watch for me,” said Joyce, who became engaged to fiancé Casey Williamson this summer but hasn’t picked a wedding date yet. “I thought it would be harder, but I was really proud of Nat and Simone and it was nice to be a spectator for a change. Simone is the future. She's exactly what we need in the sport.
At this point though I feel pretty good about what I've been able to do in the sport. More than I ever thought possible. Swimming at this level for as long as I have has required a lot of sacrifices, but I’m so grateful for everything swimming has given me, especially the amazing friends I’ve made over the years.”
And what does the future hold for Joyce? Conducting the many clinics she has over the past year has opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in coaching, but for the time being, she’s just enjoying life and all it has to offer.
“I'm not sure I'll head in that direction, at least not for a while and that's more for selfish reasons,” Joyce said. “I spent the last 22 years giving every evening, every weekend and most early mornings to the sport, and if I got into coaching, I couldn't imagine giving less than that to my athletes. So for now, I'm enjoying having that time to myself and making my own schedule.”
“This has truly been amazing. I've learned so much about myself by going from a completely structured life to flying by the seat of my pants. I just love the sport. I love how it brings people together from all walks of life and all ages. I have clients who are 6 years old up to 65 years old. They all love to swim. All for different reasons, and that inspires me.”