As a kid, Ryan Murphy’s dream was to be the best swimmer in the world. That dream came true when he won the gold medal in three events at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Murphy was born in Palos Heights and one of his early school assignments was to make a “dream book” about his goals for the future. In it, he wrote “I hope my swimming life continues and I become an Olympian when I grow up. I hope I will break the world records. I want to be the best swimmer in the world.”
Murphy’s path from kid with a dream to Olympic gold medalist began with a simple love of being in the water on a hot day.
“My path to swimming was just that it was really hot in the summer and so we’d go to the community pool and that’s kind of how I got my start,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where he graduated from Bolles School. According to his Team USA bio, his rooting interests represent both of his hometowns. He’s a fan of the Bulls, Cubs and Jacksonville Jaguars.
He went to the other coast to swim at the University of California, Berkeley. Murphy already had international success with medals at the 2011 World Junior Swimming Championships and the 2011 Pan American Games. Once at Cal, Murphy dominated backstroke.
Murphy won both the 100 and 200-yard backstroke all four years of college. As a freshman, he helped Cal win the team title in 2014 and finished second each of the following three years.
Three months after the 2016 NCAA Championships, he took part in the U.S. Olympic Trials. There, Murphy booked his spot in the Rio Olympics. He won the 100 and 200-meter backstroke, earning a spot on the 4x100-meter medley relay.
At 21 years old, Murphy went 3-for-3 in his first Olympics. He won both backstroke events and helped the relay team win gold. Murphy’s 100-meter backstroke time of 51.97 seconds was an Olympic record and he set a world-record split (51.85 seconds) in the medley relay.
When he first stepped onto the medal podium in Rio, Murphy had a flashback of the kid who dreamed of being in the Olympics.
“I was thinking of my younger self watching the Olympics and what that looked like on TV,” Murphy said. “That was kind of my thought when I was up there. I was flashing back to watching the NBC broadcast.”
After winning three Olympic medals, Murphy returned to Cal for his senior year to complete his dominance of the NCAA Championships in backstroke. He has also racked up 17 medals at Worlds (seven of them gold), with nine in long course and eight in short course. Now, the 24-year-old is prepping for a return to the Olympics.
“I think the Olympics are a very powerful sporting event,” Murphy said. “It was an absolutely incredible experience being a part of it in ‘16 and hopefully, I’ll be there in 2020.”
See more from Murphy in the video above.