By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Tuesday, August 1, 2017
After almost a year away from competition, Ryan Lochte returns to the water this week at the U.S. Open in East Meadow, N.Y., a self-described “changed man.”
Not only has he served his 10-month suspension for his regrettable antics following his swims at the Rio Olympics last August, he’s also a new father to son, Caiden, born in early June.
He’s recently engaged to Playboy model Kayla Rae Reid and planning a wedding for next year, and he’s ready to return to the pool and compete with a renewed perspective and appreciation for the sport and life.
“Life has changed dramatically for me,” Lochte said. “My outlook on life has completely changed for the better. Now, I am not just taking care of myself; I’m taking care of another human being.
“The greatest feeling in the world is now that I have a child. I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do, but my instincts came into play and it made it so much easier to be a father. I also have a bunch of nephews and nieces so changing diapers, feedings, etc. It’s easy.”
Last week, Lochte may have taken a peek at the results of his U.S. teammates competing at FINA World Championships, wishing he was there with them especially after the World meet he enjoyed two years ago in Kazan, Russia. He left with three gold medals and one silver medal.
Still, despite his absence from Phillips 66 Nationals and Worlds this summer, Lochte said his attention has been elsewhere – distracted by the arrival of his first child, whom he calls “the greatest honor of being his father.”
“All my attention has been consumed by Caiden,” said Lochte, who won a single relay gold last summer in Rio. “I haven’t even been to the swimming pool very much to train (since his birth). I don’t want to miss out on anything with Caiden.
“I didn’t see Nationals, but I know there are a bunch of new faces and some fast times. That’s the way the sport is evolving and will continue to do so.”
Months before Caiden’s arrival but just a few after Rio, Lochte made the decision to compete on last fall’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
Self-described as someone not as comfortable dancing the waltz as swimming the backstroke or freestyle, Lochte weathered early distractions – namely the interruption by two protestors his first night on the show – to outlast six other competitors before leaving on Halloween.
After that first night of competition, he admitted he came very close to quitting the show but decided to stick with it just as he always has in the pool.
He relied upon his own support group of friends and family and encouragement from his fellow celebrity dancers to not allow the negativity to derail him from doing something new and challenging.
And he couldn’t have been happier that he did.
“Prior to ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ I did not do any type of dancing ever,” he said. “Training for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was extremely hard. It was close to training for the Olympics. It was grueling, but it was a great experience.”
Even though he admits to spending less time training since Caiden’s arrival, Lochte said he is more motivated than ever to get back into the pool and train – and compete.
Shortly after his birth, Lochte said he was only able to train once or twice a week, but as Caiden’s grown and time has passed – and he has been able to sleep through the night more without waking for a diaper change or feeding or even just to hold his son – he’s been able to go to practice more.
This week’s U.S. Open – where he’s planning to compete in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley – is the first step toward his next adventure: swimming at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I know going into this meet I may not be at my peak, but it’s OK,” said Lochte, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday Thursday during competition. “Caiden being born is everything worth my time away from the pool right now. The big picture is 2020.”
Being back in the swimming spotlight for the first time since Rio, Lochte said he isn’t sure what kind of reaction or response he will receive when his name is announced and he waits to compete.
For the most part, the national and international response to what happened in Rio hasn’t been very positive, but he said he has relied upon his family and friends in the swimming community for support through it all.
As a result, he believes he has come out on the other side a smarter, more mature father, soon-to-be husband, swimmer and person.
“It was hard, but my family sticking by my side really helped me keep fighting,” he said. “I know that everything I do is under a microscope, and I have to be aware of what I do at all times.
“In life, you will always have haters. I know there will be some haters, but I’m not swimming for them. I’m swimming because I enjoy the sport and it makes me happy. My love for the sport has changed. I lost it, but with Caiden being born I have found a new love and passion for the sport of swimming.”