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What Olympic Swimmers Teach Us About Mentorship

The Olympics are on every night in our house. As per usual, the swimming events kicked off the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. I’m constantly impressed watching humans move through the water like fish. It’s unnatural! If you pay attention to the swimmers, you’ll see more than just physical accomplishments. (Swimming spoilers ahead!)

It’s always fascinating to learn more about the personal lives of athletes. NBC does a good job producing short videos highlighting the journey to the Olympics. I noticed camaraderie in the swimmers that you don’t always see in such a competitive individual sport. Specifically, three pairs of swimmers showcase three critical lessons about mentorship.

1. Mentors Share Wisdom

Aaron Piersol & Ryan Murphy

Aaron Piersol is a swimming legend from the early 2000s. He is a three-time Olympian with seven Olympic medals specializing in the backstroke. Ryan Murphy is a current Olympic swimmer competing in Tokyo. He was a favorite to win the 100-meter backstroke.

Before the 100-meter race, NBC showed how Piersol wrote Murphy a letter on a typewriter. He chose to use a typewriter to add to the gravity of his encouragements. The letter is a fantastic gift of wisdom from one generation to the next. Piersol (who has done his fair share of winning) told Murphy that life is about more than gold medals.

Ryan ended up getting bronze in the men’s 100-meter backstroke. The loss was particularly disappointing because he won this event in Rio, breaking Piersol’s world record. In the post-race interview, Murphy showed a tremendous amount of class.

“Being third in the world is no shame but obviously you want to go out there and win. That was the best I had this day. Hats off to the Russian guys,” Murphy said.

The wisdom of mentors like Piersol helped Murphy maintain his composure after a brutal defeat. Some lessons only come through time. Mentors provide a glimpse into the future for the younger generation. I have always been grateful for the lessons I have learned from those who are ahead of me.

2. Mentors Walk Alongside You

Lilly King & Annie Lazor

Lilly King is known as a fierce competitor in the swimming world. She specializes in breaststroke and won gold in the 100-meter in Rio. Before races, she slaps her legs and stares at competitors.

Leading up to the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials, Lilly revealed a different side of her personality. Her teammate Annie Lazor had lost her father just a few months before the trials. King decided to drive five hours to attend the wake and support her friend. King told Lazor’s mom that she would help her friend stay motivated in training.

“She still treats me like a normal human but realizes what I’m going through. She’s like I’m going to pull you through this… I’m going to help you everyday and I’m going to help you in practice, that’s my role here,” Annie Lazor told TODAY.

King and Lazor both qualified for the American team in the 200-meter breaststroke. At Tokyo, they made the podium, with King winning silver and Lazor winning bronze.

Their relationship is a powerful example of how important it is to have people walking with you through difficult times. We all need people who know what is going on in our lives. I’m always honored when a mentor of mine takes the time to pray for me.

3. Mentors Are Role Models

Katie Ledecky & Phoebe Bacon

Katie Ledecky is one of the greatest female swimmers of all time. Long before all of that, she was an elementary student at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland. As a 4th grader, her teacher assigned Ledecky to be a buddy to kindergartner Phoebe Bacon.

“From a very young age, she was always super-active, the girl who would play on the playground. I think I was like that as well. I think maybe that’s why we were matched,” Ledecky told the Washington Post.

Another similarity little Katie and Phoebe shared was a spark for swimming. Years later, Katie would win a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle event as a 15-year-old at the London Olympic games. Imagine 10-year-old Phoebe watching her school buddy from home.

Nine years later, Phoebe Bacon is now a fellow teammate with Ledecky on Team USA. Although Bacon competes in a different event (200-meter backstroke) than Ledecky, her role model is her inspiration.

Good mentors provide an example of the life we want for ourselves. Find someone who is a parent, spouse, or follower of Jesus that you respect. Spend some time with those people and do the things they do. If mentoring works for Olympic swimmers, it can work for you!


What are the best things your mentors do? Let me know in the comments below!

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