| Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Claire Donahue won gold in London and followed it up with a great quad, making Worlds, Pan Pacs, and Worlds again. She won medals all over the world, including two at Pan Pacs and two at Worlds short course (2012 & 2014) and gold at 2013 Worlds (Long Course) in Barcelona.
Right now she’s in Tennessee continuing her training, and keeping her eye on the wildfires in the mountains an hour away, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.1. I saw on Facebook you checked in safely, how bad it is?
Claire: Well, in the city of Knoxville, what I am hearing is that it won’t get into this area. It’s in the mountains, about 45 minutes away, and where I am at now is about an hour away. But in Gatlinburg, it looks pretty bad and scary. My Dad runs a restaurant 15 to 20 minutes away so I called him to make sure they are okay and what is going on. They ended up closing up early last night to get to safety. I think the smoke is really bad. We’ve been on a high alert for driving and those things because the smoke has been bad for two or three weeks. It got bad last night but the fires have been going on for a few weeks. I think the high wind is one of the reasons it got really bad now.
2. How is swimming?
Claire: I’m good. I’m actually still training. I’ve been really good. It’s nice to train with the University of Tennessee.
3. And it must be nice to be injury free finally?
Claire: There’s still some (laughs) pain sometimes, but as far as injuries, it’s nice not to have to deal with that. Whenever I feel pain, I do go in hyper mode with taking care of my body. I want to be healthy and safe. It’s a relief not to have those to deal with finally!
4. You said right after Trials that you planned to keep swimming, ending speculation, advice and staying out of rumors -- why?
Claire: You know, I said that just because a lot of people had been retiring, and that’s what happens after the Olympics and at Trials, people ask if you will keep swimming. When I do clinics with Fitter & Faster and speeches -- usually to schools -- I tell them I am swimming because I love it. It’s the hardest thing you do that you will ever love like this.
5. You’ve had these challenges before and come back, how do you approach that?
Claire: I think failure is a great thing and it’s very under-appreciated. It makes you stronger and makes you better, and makes you want to push even harder. I raced and didn’t get all that I wanted. I was upset, but I wanted to show that I was not done or ready to give that up.
6. Will you go through 2020?
Claire: I don’t know how long, as long as I can afford it (laughs). I will keep doing it as long as I love it. And I really love it still. I think getting older, I appreciate it more and more.
7. You’ve also trained several places, has each shaped you?
Claire: It has, and that’s really awesome because you meet different people, get different ideas, and experience different cultures. I had such a great club and then I swam with Western Kentucky for so long and then in south Florida after that, and it all contributed to my growth.
8. What’s it like training in your home state of Tennessee?
Claire: I think (head coach) Matt Kredich has created an amazing atmosphere. It fosters good, competitive swimming. Everything he does, everything we do in the pool every day, is very calculated with good purpose.
9. So you are still learning?
Claire: I am still learning a lot. I love it. And everyone here is so positive and encouraging. You are racing and everyone is there pushing each other, whether you are doing 25s or 200s, everyone is cheering each other on. And all the coaches are great.
10. Having been her teammate in London and since, how do you explain what Katie Ledecky has done to people?
Claire: I think the coolest thing about Katie is she is so humble. She does these amazing things at every meet. At the Austin (Arena Pro Swim) meet, she got the world record. And yet she is just so well spoken and grounded. She’s so talented but so humble. She’s such a sweet person. You want to see someone like that do well.
11. Another teammates from 2012, Lia Neal, became the first U.S. African-American swimmer to medal in two Olympics, how proud are you?
Claire: Actually, Lia Neal and I are pretty good friends. In 2012, I got to do a lot of fun stuff in London and get to know her pretty well. She’s got such a good heart. And she is so funny. She had some good races from 2012, but knowing her and what she’s said, she’s had some ups and downs with not making Worlds. Then she came back and did really well at NCAAs, got to Olympic Trials, and went back to the Olympics and was so strong in Rio. Lia did so well. She must be ecstatic. It’s really, really cool to see Lia break those barriers.
12. Speaking of, how clutch was Simone Manuel and how hard were you rooting for her?
Claire: Oh yes, she rose to the moment! Simone is definitely one of those people who is just amazing. She has such a great personality. I don’t know one person who doesn’t just absolutely love her. You watch these big meets, and Simone is like Katie -- she just gets better and better every year. It’s fun to see that following her as I do.
13. Simone’s such a competitor, isn’t she?
Claire: You know, I actually was born in Texas and lived there as a kid before we moved to Tennessee, so I have a lot of friends in Texas. During the Rio Games, I had a cousin getting married in Houston. So right after Simone won gold in the 100, I was taking a cab and they were talking about Simone! They didn’t know I was a swimmer so seeing them talk about her -- people who aren’t in the sport -- come together and watch something amazing, watching history being made, was really special. And it’s so fitting and perfect that it’s someone like Simone.
14. How much did you appreciate what Maya DiRado was able to accomplish and her attitude doing it?
Claire: What Maya did was pretty cool. At UT (Tennessee) we watch a lot of video the first few weeks of fall. So we watched a lot of Maya! Her races were so smart. You really have to know swimming and know yourself and be confident in yourself to not want to race, race, race, but to be smart with what you are doing. In that 200 backstroke she was at Katinka’s feet and knew what she was doing. I got a lot of chills during these Games, but that was one of them where it was just so cool to see her do that. You watch it and as a swimmer it’s like you can see it happening in slow motion and appreciate it so much more, that perfect technique. And her reaction, just priceless.
15. How much do you appreciate someone nearby -- Indiana’s Lilly King and what she did in Rio?
Claire: Lilly really is the real deal. I got to meet Lilly when she was 14 or 15 at the Charlotte meet. My mom was there and so was hers. Lilly was so reserved. We were so impressed, she had made consolation finals which was impressive. So to see her development from this reserved kid to this eccentric 18-year-old was awesome. She has a fun personality, and she is out there to be herself -- I think that’s awesome.
16. What about how your 2012 team set a tone that this 2016 team built on and made their own?
Claire: In 2012, it was pretty special. Not just when you are racing, but in the stands because you get to see it. I got to experience it the first few days in the stands, then I got to race in London and medal. To be able to cheer them on and create that atmosphere is really important. Being the USA and representing your country is the best thing about my swimming career. When we go out as a team in the stands, we want to show we are together and a force to be reckoned with. The 2012 team was the biggest team I had made, then Worlds, Pan Pacs, and Worlds again, so to see it again in 2016 was pretty cool -- to see that same kind of thing, there.
17. How happy were you for another London teammate, Allison Schmitt?
Claire: Allison is another one of those great people that you root for. Talking about how she has had the ups and downs in life really inspired a lot of people. Allison’s personality is infectious. She is so positive. She is always about other people. Whether she’s doing well or not, she is rooting for other people. On that relay, everyone wanted to support her, and they were excited for the US but for Allison as well.
18. Elizabeth Beisel won the Leadership Award at Golden Goggles. She’s young, but such a veteran, and a leader, right?
Claire: Elizabeth Beisel is something special, and she’s also all about everyone else -- she’s a lot like Allsion in that way. She had swum on the first day and was done, but she was always the loudest cheerer and most supportive. She was there for people, to give a hug or encouragement. I remember one time she didn’t race until the end, and she was there every day cheering everyone on. That’s why her getting that award doesn’t surprise me, she is always there giving you a hug either way.
19. Though the quad didn’t end as you hoped, still a lot of positive?
Claire: Oh yeah! In the four years from 2012 to 2016, it’s been a huge growth. I tell people when I’m applying for grants or talking to kids, I hope they get something out of swimming like I did -- what you are doing now is going to influence your life moving forward.
20. Swimming really is a lifestyle more than anything, isn’t it?
Claire: Most of my life lessons were ingrained in me because of swimming. This is a way of life, not just a sport. And the lessons correlate to life. You have these hard workouts. And if you don’t go, you will not improve. That’s how it is in life. You have to show up and improve, even when you’re tired or don’t feel like it. Swimming for 21 years has hugely impacted my view on life, and in such a positive way. It’s made me so much stronger.