Ryan Lochte 'would wake up crying' after Rio robbery incident: 'I didn't want to be that person'

Since the 2016 Rio Olympics, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1119887/" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Lochte">Ryan Lochte</a> has become a dad, gone to rehab, and changed his life. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Since the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte has become a dad, gone to rehab, and changed his life. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Ryan Lochte has been through a lot since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, but now he’s taking all of that life experience — both good and bad — and using it to help him make it to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Lochte, 35, opened up about his struggles in an interview with Craig Melvin on NBC’s “Today.” The incident in Rio, which sunk his reputation, still weighs heavily on his mind. During the 2016 Olympics, he and three other Team USA swimmers claimed that they’d been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station as they made their way back to the Olympic Village after an evening of partying.

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The story wasn’t true, and Rio police accused Lochte and the three swimmers of vandalizing the gas station bathroom. While security footage showed that they had not vandalized the bathroom, the damage to Lochte’s reputation was swift and severe. He lost all of his sponsorship deals, fans turned on him, and he became despondent.

“It got to points where I would wake up crying and I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could just disappear — go on a remote island and just not see anyone.’ ...I was a role model. Kids looked up to me. They were like, ‘I wanna be like you,’ and then … reading some of the comments, it was, ‘I looked up to you and now I don’t.’ That hurts me. It hurt me inside, and I didn’t want to be that person.”

Lochte was cleared of any criminal charges in Rio, but USA Swimming gave him a 10-month suspension over the incident. At the end of the suspension he elected to keep swimming competitively, but his aspirations were dealt another blow in July 2018 when he was given a 14-month suspension after posting a picture on Instagram that showed him receiving an IV infusion. The infusion was of a legal substance, vitamin B12, but receiving it intravenously is prohibited. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would never have known about it if Lochte hadn’t posted the picture on Instagram.

The suspension, which was backdated to May 2018, gave Lochte time to self-reflect. And he didn’t like what he saw.

Melvin: When did you discover that drinking was part of the problem?

Lochte: About a year ago... [I knew] if I was to keep going down this destructive path that I was going to end up … something tragic. I checked myself into rehab. I don’t care to go out and party, to be the loud one anymore.

Spending six weeks in treatment for alcohol abuse helped change Lochte, but parenthood has changed him even more. He and his wife Kayla Rae Reid have two kids, with the youngest being born in June. Lochte credits parenthood with helping him kick his dependency on alcohol, but it also helped him put on 22 extra pounds. His 14-month suspension ended just in time for him to swim at nationals, but parenting a newborn and a 2-year-old meant less training and more junk food.

Melvin: Were you at all surprised by your performance?

Lochte: When my daughter was born, training kind of started slipping away. So I went to fast food, and I started eating just everything. And, so, when I swam nationals, I swam 22 pounds overweight. Since then, I’ve lost 17 pounds. My swimming, my times that I’m doing in practice, are things that I’ve seen back when I was at my peak in 2012.”

He swam at nationals 22 pounds overweight and still won the 200m individual medley. That’s a feat on its own, but when you consider that Lochte had only been training a few times a week due to parenting duties, it’s deeply impressive.

It’s been a long road back for Lochte, but he seems ready to take on the world — and the 2020 Summer Olympics — as a wiser and more grounded person than he was three years ago.

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