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After 10 Olympic medals, Allison Schmitt’s focus is on school and teaching

Allison Schmitt

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 29: Allison Schmitt of Team United States cheer on teammate Katie Ledecky during the Women’s 4X200 meter freestyle relay final on day six of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 29, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

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Allison Schmitt, a 10-time Olympic medalist, knew since college that she wanted to teach upon transitioning from full-time swimming. Maybe have a kindergarten, first grade or second grade classroom with 20 to 30 kids.

Schmitt, a 32-year-old whose last race was at her fourth Olympics in Tokyo, had left hip surgery in September. She will have right hip surgery in December. She hasn’t officially retired, but she doesn’t have any upcoming competition plans.

Instead, she will get her master’s degree in social work at Arizona State next spring.

Schmitt had not imagined she would become this kind of teacher, using a platform earned through all those laps in the pool to share her mental health journey with the goal to help others.

She was a panelist this week at “Mental Wellness and The Student-Athlete,” an event through the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s youth sport outreach program, TrueSport.

Seven years ago, Schmitt began sharing her struggles, specifically depression, that dated to 2011. She was motivated to speak publicly after her cousin April Bocian died by suicide in May 2015 at age 17. Bocian was a promising basketball player, and Schmitt related to her.

“I knew her story wasn’t over,” Schmitt said Wednesday. “And even though she wasn’t on Earth to share her story, that I can share that story. And I could use my experience as well to share my story so that people don’t feel alone.”

Schmitt texted her agent at the funeral that she wanted to get involved in the mental health space. Leading up to the 2016 Rio Games, she shared her experiences across media.

“I avoided every public speaking class [in school] to the point where I’d be like sweaty hands and breathing into a paper bag, like did not want to speak in front of people,” she said. “Now I’m so comfortable with it because I’m so passionate about mental health and sharing that story that it comes a lot easier to me, and I actually really enjoy it.”

Schmitt joked that whether she will swim competitively again is “the question of the century right now.”

Her 2012 Olympic 200m freestyle victory was epic -- an American record time that still stands, fending off Katie Ledecky‘s best efforts over the last decade. She came back from not qualifying for the world championships in 2013 and 2015 to win two Olympic relay medals in 2016. In 2018, she came out of a two-year quasi-retirement and later made the Tokyo Olympic team, winning another pair of relay medals.

“I don’t have plans on competing, but right now I’m finishing school,” she said. “I’m passionate about that.

“I still want to be a teacher, but I feel like my sense of teacher is broader now. Yes, I can still go teach a room of 25 kids and impact their lives, but I feel like, now, my calling is more of a teacher in the mental health field.”

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