Stanford University - International Relations
At five years old, Misty Hyman was suffering from asthma and bouts of pneumonia. Her doctor at the time recommended something to her parents that, unbeknownst to them, would end up changing Misty’s life forever: swimming.
What began as an option to aid her struggle with asthma turned into a lifelong passion. As a young girl, Misty would watch the Olympics and dream of being the woman on the podium while her country’s national anthem played. The Mesa, Ariz., native began to realize that dream in March 1996. But it wasn’t quite her time: finishing third and fourth in the U.S.A. Trials in the 100 and 200 butterflies, she barely missed making the U.S.A. Olympic Team.
The deflation of missing out on her dream further fueled Misty’s training. In 2000, she not only qualified for the U.S.A. Olympic Team, she won gold in the 200-meter fly in a stunning upset at the 2000 Sydney games. After coming from behind to break the American record, she also upset Australian Susie O’Neill, an Australian native who was swimming to defend her title.
Known to many within the community as a pioneer in the sport for her underwater dolphin kick, Misty now serves as a coach and motivational speaker, determined to help others realize their dream while hosting clinics and camps throughout the U.S. and internationally. And just last year, in 2012, she was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.
I get so much joy out of sharing my knowledge and love for the sport that gave me so much.
What inspired you to become a swimmer?
I was diagnosed with asthma at age five. A very smart doctor recommended swimming to my parents as the best therapy for kids with asthma. That doctor was right. Now, thanks to swimming, my asthma is no longer life-threatening because my lungs are so strong.
At what point did you say, "I love swimming and this is what I want to do for a living"?
I don’t think there was an actual decision point; it just seemed so natural. I don’t think I would have considered doing anything else.
What was your path to the Olympics like?
As with probably all Olympians, there were a lot of challenges along the way. In 1996, I just barely missed making the Olympic team by three-one-hundredths of a second. Then in 1998 FINA, the international governing body of swimming, changed a rule that limited a technique that was my trademark. Although difficult at the time, all of these challenges gave me the perspective and character I needed to win gold in 2000.
What did it feel like to win an Olympic medal?
It really was a dream come true. I remember watching the 1984 Olympics on TV when I was five and deciding that some day, I wanted to be there standing on that top podium, hearing our country’s national anthem played for me. That’s something that has stayed with me throughout my life. I really can’t put into words what it felt like to stand up there. I just wanted to take it all in the best I could.
When the Olympics were over, what did it feel like? What made you decide to pursue motivational speaking?
I felt I had been very blessed and that I had learned a lot along the way. I wanted to share my experiences to help others reach their dreams.
What is your favorite part of your life right now? Why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I truly love coaching. I get so much joy out of sharing my knowledge and love for the sport that gave me so much. I coach all levels and all ages, from Olympic Trials qualifiers to adult beginners who want to swim for fitness. I believe swimming is one of the best exercises you can do for your health. You can do it when you are pregnant and when you are 100 years old!
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Prioritizing, saying no and getting everything done!
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Yes! It’s a constant juggling act. I haven’t found it yet, but if you know of one, please tell me! My challenge is that every day (and week and month) is different. As an athlete, I thrived on routine, and now that my life changes every moment, I have to be constantly vigilant about scheduling downtime and days off, or I could—and would—work all the time!
What are some of the rules you live by?
Always the golden rule. The rest are not as black and white. Life changes and so do we. I think having too many definite rules can be limiting.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
It’s OK to ask for help when you need it. I thought I had to know how to be an expert at everything, because I was an expert at swimming at such a young age. I put so much pressure on myself to know things that I would have had no reason to know.
What is one thing we might be surprised to know about you?
I studied for a semester in Santiago, Chile and speak Spanish.