Do you have a big dream? For our summer “Dream Big” issue, we interviewed Olympic swimmer Chloe Sutton, who proves that dreams really CAN come true! Here’s more of what she shared with BYOU Magazine about her journey to the Olympics (twice!), plus her tips on how you can make YOUR own dreams come true!
CHLOE SUTTON TELLS US ABOUT HER JOURNEY TO THE OLYMPICS…
“I grew up in a military family, my dad was in the Air Force Academy and then Civil Defense so we moved every year and a half my whole life. We lived all around country, a lot up and down the California coast. I started swimming when living in Colorado when I 6 years old. I did a bunch of different sports at the time—dance, cheerleading, gymnastics, all the girly sports, and also played soccer for a while. I had a friend who wanted to join swim team and asked me to go with her. As soon as I arrived at the pool, I knew that was the sport for me and I asked my mom to cancel all the other sports, and from that point on dedicated myself to swimming. Obviously there’s a huge learning curve, it’s not like I was a great swimmer right away, I just loved swimming and I love improving. When I was 8, I watched the Olympics on TV for the first time and I remember being in awe of how fast, graceful, and effortless these swimmers made it look. So, for the next 5 years, every Halloween I dressed up as an Olympic swimmer. All my friends were dressing up as princesses and I was putting on a track suit and putting on a medal pretending to be an Olympic swimmer. It was my dream and it was really an obsession from a really young age!
At 13, that’s when I really started to break out—I made the international travel team and the National Junior Team where I got to compete as a part of Team USA in Australia. I was showing promise for being a good distance swimmer so they invited me to Florida to come try out open water because the USA was preparing to make a strong first-ever Olympic team. My parents don’t really swim, and even though we lived on the ocean a few times, my mom would never let me get in, since it can be dangerous. So now I had an excuse to get in the ocean and swim around! I took off without fear. My mom said, “All we could see here her legs because she was down at the bottom looking at all the starfish, rays, and fish!” It opened up a whole new world for me. My whole life I loved swimming and loved being in the water, but in a pool, you’re just staring at a black line. I was at a point where I needed more stimulation and open water was the perfect answer to that. There are so many variables to open water; there’s no lane line, and you’re on top of other girls, and there’s lots of thrashing. There are currents and sea life—and cold water, salt water. It’s an amazing sport to be a part of. I ended up going to nationals and getting 2nd in the 5K, so they asked me, “why don’t you try the 10K?” I thought “that’s really far, but I’ll try it”, and at nationals, I did my very first 10k and I ended up winning it and it put me on the national team.
I went to California first to have a few team meetings to train for competition in Canada that year, and I remember showing up for my first meeting and being in the room with swimmers who were my heroes whose posters were on my bedroom walls: Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, Aaron Perisol, and Gary Hall Jr. And they were sitting next to me talking about how we were all on a team together—it just completely blew my mind! That was in 2006, and I ended up winning a Gold Medal at the Pan Pacific games in the 10K, and the year after that I was world championship, and the year after that I went to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 (I was 16) for open water – that was the first time open water sports was added to the Olympics. I was the first female open water Olympian for the USA swimming in the very first open water race!
In 2009 I started to transition back into the pool, and swam the world championship in Rome. That was an eye opening experience because Italy takes swimming seriously. The whole stadium just exploded with excitement and there were ripples on the water just from the sheer volume of people cheering. Open water events are more spread out, so this was my first time with having a huge fan base around me and just having them explode blew my mind. So, I was thinking I wanted to swim in the pool now and put my efforts into that, so I told my coach I wanted to focus on the pool more. I trained super hard and left no stone unturned, giving up everything else in my life, and was able to make a second Olympic team in 2012 for the pool 400m Freestyle.
After 2012, I started feeling anxious about swimming, like I needed a change of scenery, so in 2013 I decide to leave my coach in California and move to North Carolina, but I figured out a change of scenery wasn’t what I needed, I was just tired of competition and needed to move on to the next chapter. I still maintain a strong love for the sport, but my perspective is to be so grateful and humble for all the experiences I’ve had and now I just want to share my experiences and knowledge with as many kids as possible. I know that swimming gives people these amazing tools—like discipline, work ethic, and time management—and I love being able to share my love of the sport. I no longer compete but I go around the country coaching swim clinic and swim lessons. I still love being connected to the sport and am excited about upcoming things. I love making a difference and want to help other people to have opportunities to pursue their dreams. I want to inspire people to want to constantly be improving themselves.”
CHLOE SUTTON SHARES TIPS TO ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS…
“It’s important to find passion for something you want to achieve, have a goal, and just start to chip away at it. In life we have to have progress, and having a dream or passion helps motivate you to do that. Plus it brings life so much light, inspiration, and excitement to have something you can reach towards. When there’s no ability to have a milestone of improvement, life becomes less enjoyable. It’s more fun when you have the ability to improve somewhere!
Find fun in the process of reaching your goal, rather than thinking you’ll only be happy when you reach it. Enjoy going to school, doing your sport, or whatever activities you’re involved in. Kids will ask me, “What if I don’t enjoy it?” I tell them to CHOOSE to. My mom stressed this my whole life, and would point to a plaque on our wall that says CHOOSE HAPPINESS when I was having a bad day. It was annoying sometimes, but as I’ve grown older I realize that’s one of the main things we CAN control: our perspective and reaction to things going on in our lives. Our brains are so powerful; there is real physical evidence how our brains can affect every other area of our lives, and there are positive benefits to controlling our thoughts to keep them more positive. It’s part of our youth culture for it to be uncool to be excited about something. But I hope to be a part of changing that.”
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