By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, October 3, 2017
She demonstrates her faith with every step and wears her heart on her sleeve, which makes former University of Louisville standout Kelsi Worrell easy to root for after her medal winning performances in Rio and Budapest -- and for good measure added an incredible three more golds and three silvers at short-course 2016 Worlds in Windsor. The New Jersey native is getting married this month and then returning to U of L as a pro to continue pursuing 2020. She explains what’s changed, what is the same, and what she is hoping for moving forward in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So we talked before Olympic Trials, and here we are now 18 months later, and you’re a Rio Olympic gold medalist and gold medalist from Worlds in Budapest with six medals between those two meets, plus six medals from Short-Course 2016 Worlds -- what’s that time been like?
Kelsi: First, it’s just flown by. Especially since Rio. I can’t believe it’s been 14 or 15 months already since. I really enjoyed it -- I think that’s why it went so fast.
2. How does the prep change now, going from a teen in 2012 to being a college post-grad and professional now?
Kelsi: I still really believe in taking it one day at a time, but I do plan ahead more. I look at the whole Quad. Before, in 2012, I never thought I would have a chance at Rio, of making the team. So now I can plan ahead. It’s a very exciting and challenging opportunity.
3. It’s been great so far yet you have so much of your best ahead of you, isn’t that a good feeling?
Kelsi: It really is, and I know that I’m not old by any means. But I am working smarter, not harder -- though certainly it still involves a lot of hard work!
4. So does that mean recovery?
Kelsi: It is a recovery thing. I know where my limits are in the weight room. I realize the need for my naps. And how I am eating. The little things add up.
5. Getting gold at the Olympics -- how awesome is that?
Kelsi: Oh, thanks! I didn’t win it the way I wanted to win it. I was on the prelims relay, and though I prepared for every meet, it just didn’t happen (in her individual event) -- I ended up in ninth which ended up being frustrating and heartbreaking. But I am so blessed to have been there and it was an incredible opportunity.
6. You still have an Olympic gold medal for life -- must be amazing to be a key cog in that great group?
Kelsi: I am so humbled and I thank God I was part of a history-making team for USA Swimming. I was so happy. And I was so proud of Dana (Vollmer) for being on the podium (in her event) for us, because she earned it and worked so hard. I also had a good situation because I had five days between my race and the prelims of the relay -- so I had another shot. I am glad the coaches gave me another chance and another opportunity to put on my American flag cap.
7. I think especially at the Olympics the prelims can be as nerve-racking as the finals, or is that accurate, did you feel pressure to get the team into the finals?
Kelsi: We knew that even as the prelim relay we still had the best swimmers in the world on our relay. We didn’t want to have any false starts. I just loved being on that relay with those people -- Olivia Smoliga, Katie Meili and Abby Weitzel -- you couldn’t ask for a better group of people. We were so proud to represent our teammates and our country.
8. How cool was the relay you swam on, having women like that to race with?
Kelsi: Oh, absolutely, it was amazing. And it takes away a lot of the nerves in the Ready Room. I love to talk in the Ready Room. So having those girls in there to help take away the nerves and remind each other of how much of an honor it is to represent each other.
9. Did the 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic team stun the world and itself?
Kelsi: I think so, in terms of the world. Based on the previous summer, which I wasn’t a part of because I didn’t make the Worlds team, I just think the world wasn’t ready for Team USA and our desire to race. We had a great staff, great coaches, great teammates, and great support. It was all good things. I think everyone had gotten faster, and both as men’s and women’s team, we really came together and supported each other.
10. How do you rank the historical events, from Lia Neal and Simone to Katie and Michael, or Lilly King and the others?
Kelsi: It was hard because there was so much history being made every time. We had so much fun at finals. We’d tweet at finals and they would just explode as fast as we tweeted!
11. How do you sleep after watching Maya or Katie or Simone or Michael Phelps swim?
Kelsi: There’s a balance -- we had to contain some of our enthusiasm because we had to race the next day! But our jaws were dropping every night with the swim. We kept thinking, “How does it get better than this?” and then the next session it gets even better!
12. You, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal, Simone Manuel, Katie Meili, Maya DiRadio -- and so many others on the women’s team with such great character, what does that do for the atmosphere?
Kelsi: Thank you for those kind words. I really do think those few weeks we had leading up to the Olympics, you get to know each other well. The women on that team have such great character and are such great people. Katie Ledecky is a superstar but she’s also great at Scrabble -- and she’s humble (laughs) about that, too! But getting to know each other as people was a great part. These guys and girls on the U.S. team are great people, and that’s special.
13. How did you refocus after Rio?
Kelsi: I set some big goals after Rio. It was going to be my first year as a pro. I was a little nervous going to (Worlds) Trials. One of my goals was to get on that freestyle relay and qualify with Mallory (Comerford), so to be there with my (college) teammate is one of my favorite moments of all from that meet.
14. Worlds in Hungary -- what do those five medals -- including four gold -- mean?
Kelsi: It was just so cool to see everything come together, the hard work I put in last year, but also enjoying it. I am not on the college team but I still train with them and it’s such a positive group. We also had a lot of countries represented from the University of Louisville at World Championships, and that also means a lot.
15. How incredible is Mal’s maturity level?
Kelsi: It really is. She is so mature and I really respect that. She’s one of the hardest workers on the team by far. She has a 24/7 mindset as a commitment. She’s a team captain this year, and she earned it.
16. How about Mallory at Worlds?
Kelsi: To walk away from her first worlds with five golds, I am so proud of her. She’s a family girl, and has such character. She comes from a very talented family of incredible people. She’s such a hard worker in the classroom, too, and leads by example.
17. Becoming a pro is such a huge dream come true, but how about that Louisville has gotten so strong at swimming that you all have a pro club?
Kelsi: I could never have imagined that! It has changed so much here. I never thought I’d have a chance to be in a pro group here. We have four members, so it is growing. We take a lot of pride. We’ve been playing around with (laughs) some cheers. And now my brother just committed so he’ll be a freshman on the swim team next. I’m excited to have him over for dinner, and just be a familiar face he has here.
18. How about Katie Meili at the Olympics but also how great she was in Budapest -- what a talented, well-rounded thinker she is, isn’t she?
Kelsi: Absolutely. Our first team together was Pan American Games in 2015. She was so real with me. She told me, “We have a shot next year, how crazy would that be!” We were really the rookies on that team.
19. And then you and Katie Meili both make Rio and medal, and then clear the table of medals in Budapest -- such a cool person to have a parallel journey with?
Kelsi: We had similar paths -- we both barely qualified for that Pan Am meet. We finished that summer in a completely different position than we had entered it. And Katie was a team captain (for Worlds in Budapest). She totally deserved that. She’s been such an advocate for the sport. She’ll do well at Georgetown, and she’ll stay very busy!
20. What is the biggest challenge you face at this point in focusing on the Quad working toward 2020?
Kelsi: I am just enjoying it. This is a really good thing. I am getting married this fall and trying to stay focused. I have a honeymoon coming up! I want to stay balanced but enjoy everything in this process of moving forward in my life. My faith sustains me in all of this -- in everything. And I’ll come back from the honeymoon ready to get back to work!