Hyman had heard continuously about how she was a potential silver or bronze medalist at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Local favorite Susie O’Neill was expected to win while the rest of the 200 butterfly field, including Hyman, were competing for other spots on the podium.

What followed was a race that changed Hyman’s life. The Phoenix, Ariz.,native shocked the world, beat O’Neill and stunned herself with an impressive victory.

“I’m not the person I am because of the gold medal I have in my pocket,” Hyman told a lecture hall full of swim campers Tuesday at Bates College. “I’m the person that I am because of everything it took to get there.”

Hyman was in town to speak and work with swimmers at the annual summer swim camp at Bates. This year’s program, in its sixth year, drew over 300 kids from all across the country. Hyman spoke to the swimmers and answered questions before a pool and autograph session that followed.

“Swimming took me all over the world and taught me that I was capable of more than anything I could imagine,” she said. “The coolest thing about having a gold medal is being able to have the opportunity to come talk to young swimmers just like you and tell you about all the wonderful opportunities that lie out there for you in swimming and in life.”

Hyman chronicled her unlikely story of an asthmatic kid that didn’t even finish her first swim race to a gold medalist that beat one of the most dominant swimmers in the sport. O’Neill had not lost in six years and was a defending Olympic and World champion, who was also swimming in her home country.

When the race ended, O’Neill looked stunned. Hyman gazed at the scoreboard three times to be sure she had won. She shouted “Oh my God” amidst a hushed Aussie crowd 13 times in delight of her victory.

Hyman says she was smiling despite the nerves because she knew she had worked as hard as she could and she knew she had already succeeded. There were no guarantees in that moment prior to the race, but Hyman knew she had done her part.

“That night in Sydney was the best race I had in me,” she said. ” That was all I had control over. All any of us can control in our races and in our lives is that we do the very best we can with what we’ve got. No matter what happened that night, I was smiling because I knew it didn’t matter. I knew if I went out there and did my very best, I had already won and that my life was better for it.”

Hyman showed videos from her swimming career, including that gold medal race in Sydney. She pulled out her medal to the excited and audible gasps and oohs and aahs from the campers. She even handed it to one small girl in the front row, asking her to “hold this for me.”

“If you have that opportunity to have that big dream and have the willingness to do the work and do the preparation and put yourself in a place where something amazing could happen, then there’s only one way to find out and no matter what the outcome, I guarantee you that you’ll be a champion,” she said.

What led up to that Olympic moment Hyman said was years of work, improvement and finding ways to get better. When a rules change presented her a challenge, she adapted and made herself better. She told the young swimmers that she counted up the miles she had totalled in the pool.

“The reason the 25,000 miles are worth it is because there is always something cool you can do to get better,” she said, keeping her young audience attentive with her great energy and enthusiasm. “Each and every one of us can always do something to change to get better.”

Her first goal as a kid was to finish a race. She had been told swimming was the best sport for kids with asthma. She gave up midway through her first race and swam to the side of the pool crying. After conquering that goal, her next milestone was not finishing last. From there, she continued to evolve into a state championship and national record holder.

In an effort to trim her time, she began the underwater technique that made her successful. She tried to swim as fast and as far as she could underwater, with what became known as her dolphin kick. She won the state championship and fell just shy of a national record by using just 13 strokes in the 100 butterfly.

“Because I could be faster underwater, it made sense for me to train that way,” she said.

She even developed a tendency to swim underwater on her side. It was born out of a Scientific American article about how the military was studying the efficient swimming techniques of fish. In 1998, as a freshman at Stanford, she won the NCAA’s and set a new record, again using just 13 strokes.

That same year, a rule change limited swimmers to just 15 meters underwater.

“I was really sad,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could actually compete at the world class level without a 25-yard or longer breakout. I had spent a third of my training time on my underwater skill.”

Hyman adjusted and adapted. After missing the Olympics in 1996, she made it to the Sydney games, gunning for the 200 butterfly in 2000.

“In the 200, the speed down the first 50 wasn’t as nearly as important,” she explained. “I actually worked very hard to change my style of stroke to make it more sustainable for the 200. I still had to work my underwater because I had to take advantage of the 15 meters they did give us. I also had to take some risks and change the way I was doing my butterfly so I could last the full 200.”

Her swimming was setback a good two-plus years. It wasn’t until just before the Olympic trials before Sydney that she felt progress.

“If you stick through it, you can be better on the other side and it is worth it,” she said.

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