By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, February 21, 2017
With a slew of international medals, a record-setting and team for the ages from his time at the University of Michigan, it seemed only fitting that Connor Jaeger was able to be at his best in Rio and come away with one of the best swims of his life. He had barely dried off and was off in the corporate world, moving back to New Jersey, finding a home, a job and a new life. But what he experienced in Rio -- and the journey that took him there -- is still impacting his life every day, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So you come home from Rio after a record-setting swim and a silver medal -- and then life got really fast, didn’t it?Connor: Things have been kind of flying by, the past couple of months. It’s been a whirlwind. Rio, did a little vacation, came home -- back to New Jersey, and found a place to live in Hoboken. And then started an aggressive job hunt for two months, found a job, and started working.
2. What’s that like?
Connor: I’ve been working for three months or so. It has flown by. I enjoy being close to my family and my girlfriend’s family, and of course her being here. But yes, this is a totally different life!
3. What are you doing?
Connor: I am working for a real estate company, Toll Brothers. They are predominantly known for single family homes but they also do great work in high rises. They are also focused on condos. It’s just a great company that does great work. They are building around Manhattan and Hoboken and Jersey City.
4. How do you like your job?
Connor: I like what I am doing right now. And it’s a good opportunity for me, because I wanted to go into development and that’s what this is all about. This is a strong company with a good reputation across the country. Everything I am doing is new to me -- I have no experience with it, really. So I am learning a lot because of that, and for someone like me, that kind of challenge is the most enjoyable part.
5. So you had an undergraduate engineering degree but did your master’s in the business school at Michigan -- did the latter help this?
Connor: I think that might’ve helped me. It definitely helped me make my case -- I wasn’t hired as an engineer; I was hired for the business part of the company. They liked that I had the engineering background. They were interested in those two things. So having two diverse degrees like that certainly helps a little bit.
6. Have you kept working out or does that fit into your new schedule?
Connor: That’s something, absolutely, I had to put some thought in. The first two weeks after the games, when I had retired, it was so strange. I started to think, “How much am I supposed to exercise? What should I do, and how much? How much over the course of a week?” It’s such a strange and silly problem (laughs) to have.
7. So you figured it out?
Connor: It took some adjusting and learning. I am still working out. I took a few months completely off from swimming, but I am actually swimming again, at least once a week, if not a couple of times.
8. What did you do workout wise until you started swimming again?
Connor: I was running a couple of times a week. I did six miles, and then would do three or four miles a couple of times a week. But then I ended up really hurting my knee. I don’t know what I did -- maybe I just ran on it too much. But I kept lifting, and now that I am swimming again, it does feel good.
9. Is it odd getting back into the pool after your first break in forever?
Connor: The great part is, once you get back in, you’re like, “I really like this. I missed it.” I liked training with a team and competing, but I also just really like swimming. There’s a pool in our town with open swim hours, My girlfriend Courtney and I will go. We’ve made friends with some of the regulars there, so we go three to four times a week, and are really liking it.
10. Does your body miss the training?
Connor: It does miss the swimming and the weights. I don’t think wanting to be fit ever goes away from you after that -- having that need to workout and be healthy. I was sick earlier in the week and didn’t work out for two days and I was complaining about it so much. I told my girlfriend, “I think I’m getting lazy and fat.” She said, “It’s been two days. Don’t be ridiculous.”
11. Jordan Wilimovsky, who competed in the 1500 and open water, said in a 20 Question Tuesday post-Rio that swimming with you at camp and the Olympics was transformative not only technically, but from your work ethic and how you carry yourself as a person -- what’s that mean to you?
Connor: That’s something my Mom told me about -- she sent it to me at work and I read it. That really does feel good. You know as you near the end that other people are coming up and you want them to win medals. Someone will break my record, and I’ll be so happy for them and proud of them, because that means we’re getting even better. They will win medals after we are done, and that’s one of our goals. In the end, what I liked the best, was helping people along the way. And I got more than my share of people helping me along. That Jordan understood and acknowledged it is just another example of what an incredible young man he is.
12. Did that start in training camp?
Connor: I made a special note, a mental note to myself, that when we got to training camp to remember that this is my teammate. We were competitors up to that point, all battling for the same spots on the Olympic team. Not that I wished him bad (laughs) then, but my focus was on making that team, saving my mental energy and being prepared. Then he was my teammate, and besides getting better myself, my role was to help him along figuring things out and sharing with him anything and everything that helped me along the way. We’re the American team, that’s what we do. So all I wanted was to help him. And let me tell you something: When you reach inside yourself to do something like that, the thing that surprises and amazes you the most is how much it makes YOU better for doing it. You learn more, whether it’s something from the person you are helping, or about yourself -- you are better simply for the act of wanting to help a teammate. And if something happened and I didn’t win a medal, I wanted to make sure he medaled no matter whether I did or not. And he swam a great race in our (1500) final. I was so proud of him. You want them to have all the information and experience you had. But let me also say this, that’s how it was team wide. You could not imagine the leadership on that team, both men’s and women’s. We all wanted, first and foremost, America to be ready to do its best.
13. He also mentioned you guys in the village watching races together because the coaches didn’t want you expending energy at the pool -- what was that like?
Connor: We really had so much fun. That week was the most fun week of swimming I have ever experienced and yet a lot of it was in the dorm watching on TV because they didn’t want us to go to the pool if we had our races still coming up. So night after night we’d watch our teammates, and they were so great -- in how they swam and the class they had -- that we got so hyped we wanted to go swim right now! That was one of those things from the Olympics that I never expected to happen but now it’s one of my fondest memories.
14. So you’re watching Simone, MIchael, Maya, Lilly, Ryan Murphy, Katie, Anthony Ervin, and just going nuts?
Connor: Night after night, fun and so much pride. All those swimmers and so many more. Our relays were just all awesome! Anthony Ervin who we all rooted for so hard, then to see him do what he did after working so hard -- half a lifetime -- to get back to the gold he won in 2000. Wow. That was just awesome. Sean Ryan was also a part of that with us. He got there a little bit later because he was in open water, but he was a part of that too. You know how you saw Elizabeth Beisel and Schmitty and all of them going crazy in the stands? We had something like that going on in the dorms. I talk about it even now and I am so hyped up. Goosebumps. Still.
15. This leadership and doing your best for the person next to you, certainly that’s one of the many things that transfers to corporate America, right?
Connor: You know, that’s something that you realize is just as important as the training when you get into the working world. It’s just not as openly talked about as it is on an athletic team, but it is there every moment, every workout. We talked about the team every day at the University of Michigan. It’s not explicitly talked about this way in the working world, but your realize that right away. Same with helping the person next to you. I see it every day in our office. I see the habits of the people on the team I’m part of now. I feel the remnants of being on a team in how I talk to my coworkers, my teammates now, or my bosses -- the coaches. I think that’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, the feeling and understanding of being on a team. I was always better because of the people around me; it always made me better in the end -- a better teammate, a better student and now a better employee.
16. Sean also had some nice words about you in his post-Rio 20Q -- we’ve talked about this before, but he has a special place in your life, doesn’t he?
Connor: With Sean specifically, that was always going both ways. It was more than just swimming with us, always taking the same classes with the same major. I got to know him so well and I’m so much better for that relationship. We really taught each other how to work hard, how to prepare, all of that. Nice that Sean and I could be on that team together after all we did at Michigan. I feel very fortunate.
17. You sound in awe of your teammates, how cool is that?
Connor: I am and always will be. I could talk about them for hours and not mention them all or not touch on enough of the moments. I’ll always remember Michael Phelps because having that inside perspective gave me more appreciation for what he did. I know how hard it was for me to win one silver medal at the Olympics. Look at what he’s done since 2000. Incredible. What Phelps did in all these different strokes and different distances -- and not just being the fastest in the world in all these events for so long, but on the relays. Or in Beijing doing it for all eight days. And what he did in Rio -- it just blows my mind. Once you are at the meet you see how late he had to be up, all the press conferences after finals, then still having to see the trainers, get his body worked on, ice baths. Putting it all together makes it even more mind bending than when you see it on TV or read about it. Even his mentality in the ready room with Chad -- Phelps face! Michael’s mental game is unlike anyone else’s. He is driven. He is obsessed -- but in the best way. But the ready room, that sticks with me -- you saw everything you needed from Michael in that moment, and then he went out and won. That’s awesome.
18. I think of the most similar to you and I think of Ryan Murphy in terms of temperament, is that accurate?
Connor: I’m flattered to be mentioned with him. He’s just incredible. Ryan Murphy is another one. He’s so talented but he works so hard. I really like Ryan and we got along really well. He’s so talented. Wins two golds and then the record on a relay! He’s so incredibly humble, soft-spoken and as likable as it gets. And there’s more on the way from him, much more. I watched him work so hard. He’s a fun guy to be around in practice, such an inspiration.
19. As a distance swimmer, you must appreciate what Katie did?
Connor: I’ve always been impressed by Katie. She’s been so mature. I met her in 2012 when she was 15. Always a very mature, smart woman. She handles herself so well on the international stage. And obviously her swimming is so impressive and mind bending. I remember at World Championships I had the 400, 800 and 1500, and there she is doing all that plus the 200 and two relays! I’m hanging on for dear life (laughs) and she’s packing on even more! Best swimmer you will ever see, but an even better person.
20. So the team was your best memory from Rio?
Connor: It really is and always will be. Every single person on that team, men and women, I could say a hundred nice things about. I enjoyed the company of all of them and seeing up close what they did. What makes it so fun is that when Ryan Held cried on the podium, that was awesome within itself, but I spent the whole month with Ryan Held leading up to it so it meant so much more knowing what he gave of himself, what he demanded of himself, to get to that moment and so I understood what it meant to him. Knowing Maya DiRado four years and seeing her improve, improve and improve some more, and then being her best at the Olympics. All of these leaders talked so much about purpose. I got to hear Maya, Anthony, Nathan Adrian, and so many more incredible leaders keep reaching out to everyone and talking about purpose, about getting people ready to where they can dig deep during the middle of the biggest race of their life. And when it came time in Rio, they all came through; for their coaches, their families, their countries -- and their teammates. Everyone knew the environment, from the day the team left for camp, was going to affect how we performed. And that team was so close and so well prepared -- the results speak better for what we all meant to each other than any words I could ever come up with.