Former Olympic swimmer’s next chapter is working with Colorado youth
Kara Lynn Joyce came home from school at age 5 and asked her parents if they’d sign her up for gymnastics. Their response: “Sorry, Kara, your brothers just asked if they could be on the swim team, and the family has one car.” Swimming it was.
“I’m 6 feet tall—gymnastics would have been tough,” she jokes. “It was a blessing in disguise. When I got in the pool for the first time, I loved the feeling of being in the water.”
So, while it may have just been happenstance that got Joyce swimming in the first place, it was a lot of hard work and persistence that propelled the Denver resident to compete for Team USA in three Olympic games (2004, 2008, 2012), where she earned four silver medals.
Now Joyce has retired from professional swimming. Her next chapter? Working to inspire a future generation of athletes, namely by tapping into their confidence and helping them believe in themselves.
Joyce, a coach at SwimLabs, a swimming training facility, travels the country speaking to young women on behalf of the Play Like a Girl organization, which empowers young women and girls through sports.
She also recently created and launched the LEAD Sports Summit for teenage girl swimmers. The September 1 event, set to include Olympian guests Elizabeth Beisel and Missy Franklin, was a sellout—and she’s planning another one for 2018. The idea of the summit: Help teach the leadership and communication skills girls need to succeed both in and out of the pool.
“Participating in sports is so powerful for girls’ confidence,” Joyce says. “The best piece of advice I have for young girls is believe in yourself. Don’t rely on outside factors—or approval or ‘likes’ on social media.”
Joyce, who grew up in upstate New York and went to college at the University of Georgia, moved to Denver in 2010 to train with Franklin, a Colorado-bred swimmer who currently holds the world record in the 200-meter backstroke.
With similar physiques, and both with brown hair, people often confused the two athletes. “We were near body doubles,” Joyce says.
A documentary, “Touch the Wall,” chronicled their friendship and followed them as they trained side by side during their journey to the Olympic trials, which qualified them both for the 2012 Olympics in London.
At the start of the documentary, Franklin was 14 and cast as “the rising star” and, at age 25, Joyce was the “veteran.”
“Touch the Wall” has become a cult classic in the swimming community, and Joyce recalls how powerful it was to watch its debut alongside Franklin. The two hadn’t seen any clips throughout the filming process, and they watched the movie for the first time in a movie theater the filmmakers rented out near the University of California-Berkeley, which Franklin attended at the time.
Moving to Colorado, Joyce recalls, helped her see everything new again through Franklin’s eyes—or perhaps, goggles.
“Training with Missy gave me such a fun, unique perspective,” she says. “She had this energy and I knew she was going to be something really special.”
One of the most common questions Joyce, an 18-time NCAA champion, fields from parents is about when she “knew” she had a shot at the Olympics.
Joyce says she remembers watching the summer Olympics in 1992, when she was 7 years old, and telling her mother she wanted to compete in the Olympics as a swimmer one day. At the time, Joyce admits she was one of the weaker swimmers on her swim team. Her mom gave her an attainable goal, telling her she needed to start by making it across the pool without taking any breaks.
“My mentality shifted, and I began considering every practice and every meet as getting me one step higher on the ladder that would get me to the Olympics,” she says.
Kara Lynn Joyce On…
FAVORITE COLORADO SWIMMING SPOTS: “I love swimming outside,” she says. “It makes swimming so much more enjoyable.” Her two favorite outdoor places to swim in Colorado are Congress Park, which has a 50-meter lap swim lane, and the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs, which she dubs the “most amazing” pool she’s ever been to.
NUTRITION: When Joyce was training for the Olympics, she’d eat between 2,000 and 4,000 calories daily. Although her meals would rotate, a few things remained consistent. She never ate any fast food and she learned to fuel her body based on what it was asking for; if she was craving a steak, she took it as an indication that she needed some iron. Since she loves to grill, she often made grilled steak or chicken, along with grilled vegetables.
She also likes to have a smoothie for breakfast to help get the day started right with ample servings of fruits and veggies. Recently, she’s taken a liking to GreenBlender, a meal delivery service that delivers all the fresh ingredients for smoothies.
When it came to swim meets as a child, her dad would pack a cooler of bagels, sandwiches, apples and bananas—healthier options than the pizza, nachos and candy sold at the pools’ snack shacks. Parents often ask her what their kids should eat before a swim meet. She says “consistency is key” and it’s best that kids eat the same thing they eat for breakfast any other morning. “Find things that are healthy that you enjoy eating, and try to stick with them, especially leading up to your championship meet,” she says.
PRACTICE: “Most athletes love the game day or the race, but I loved really hard practices. During a challenging workout, when my lungs would be burning, I’d think ‘This will pass.’ Instead of focusing on the pain, I’d think, ‘this is a fleeting moment, and an opportunity to work really hard.’ ”
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