By Princess Arpeni, Heir to the Southwest Kingdoms
*Cue Russell Casse voice in Independence Day* I’m baaaaaaaack. Princess Arpeni here, remember me?
I have been an important part of the swimming world ever since I qualified for the Olympics at the age of 12.
And then I went on to win a gold medal at the age of 16. You remember? Okay, good!
I didn’t want to brag about my previous accomplishments because I’m going to brag about me winning five stinking gold medals in Rio.
That’s right. I won five gold medals. Move over, Michael Phelps, there’s a new sheriff in town. And she’s only five foot one.
And, I guess move over Katie Ledecky because I am a way better athlete than you. Sorry. Not. Sorry. But like slightly kidding, Katie, since we are best friends and all.
Okay, anyways, back to what’s important: Me this past summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil competing in the 2016 Olympics.
Four years ago, I only qualified to compete in one event. And eight years ago, I didn’t qualify at all. You can say that I have come a long way.
I was a nervous wreck going into the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska at the end of June. And let me tell you why. I compete for a Division III school, which isn’t bad at all.
I love my school and my team. And I am the top athlete at my university, and conference, and the state, and the nation. You get the point. But my team USA members all compete at Division I schools. Like Stanford, and Berkeley, and Georgia, and yadda, yadda U, yadda by the sea.
In 2012, we were all still in high school and competing for our club teams. But we were in college now, and our training was way more intensive than before. I’m talking doubles every day, that includes swimming AND lifting. Phew, it’s a pirates life for me.
And let me tell you, Division I compared to Division III is a whole other world. I am SOOOOO glad I didn’t go to a Division I school because, like, my friends live and breathe chlorine. I mean, I do too, but like, it’s not as much.
Don’t get me wrong, I still smell like a pool 24/7 and I have the trademark goggles embedded onto my skin like a tattoo, and my hair is always wet and in a messy bun. But I still have a social life, so yeah, score one for Princess Arpeni Okay, I’m getting off track. Back to my time in Omaha. It was crazy, fun, and intensive all rolled into one.
My coach, Coach Odnalro Moolb, accompanied me to Trials. He’s like a big deal in the swimming world. He’s also coached me since I was a little baby. He’s practically my second dad. Also, people think he looks like that actor, Orlando Bloom, but like, I don’t see it. Maybe it’s because I’ve known him for like ever. Anyways. Whatever. Moving on to the important stuff: me.
So we were at Trials and there’s a lot more swimmers around my age this time. Millenials, Generation Y, ya know. We were either all about to enter into our final year of college, were going to enter into our first year or were finished with our first year. I’m friends with all of them through club swimming and traveling around the world competing.
Honestly, this is why I love the sport of swimming so much. You make friends at such a young age and you’re stuck with them forever. You grow up together, you suffer swim sets together, and then you grow old and can’t swim so you put your kids to suffer through what you suffered through. Ugh, getting off track, sorry. Moving on.
This year, I qualified for the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle, and the 200-meter freestyle. All of them are sprints, and let me put it this way, they suck.
But I knew I could qualify again for the Olympics. *wink wink* I was in the final heat for all of them, so there was like a lot of waiting around.
But when it was time to race, I was so so SO excited. It was intimidating being five foot one, when everyone else around me was well over six feet.
But again, what I lacked in height, I made up in strength and endurance. The team likes to make fun of me being short.But jokes on them because I can beat them.
When it was time for the 50-meter freestyle, I was nervous. The 50-meter freestyle can be described in one way: life or death. Literally. I wish I was kidding. But I’m not.
It’s literally a one-way sprint and you can’t breathe at all. Or else you’ll totally lose momentum and then you’ll fail and you won’t make it to the Olympics. And then you’ll cry because you’ll tell yourself you shouldn’t have taken a breathe, even though you were like so close to passing out in the water from the lack of oxygen in your lungs. Or is it the brain? I don’t even know, I’m not a science major. I’m totally being overdramatic but whatevers.
Ok, back to my race. I was in the final heat and I was in lane 4. And to you non-swimmers out there, lane 4 is a HUGE deal. Like HUGE. It basically means you are the number one. And I like being number one. I like it a lot.
I lived and breathed this event, no matter how much I hated it. I got behind the blocks and did my pre-race rituals. I always do five jumping jacks and five push ups. Don’t ask me why I do five, I don’t knwo why I do five. I made sure to get my heart rate up just enough that I could race, but not enough to where I would crash. I mean, after swimming for like sixteenish years, these things become a second nature to you.
The officials blew the whistle that signaled us to get on the starting blocks. I positioned my body into a crouch, hands gripping the front edge. One leg was at the front, my toes curled over the block while the other leg was symmetrically behind it. Both of my hands were gripping the edge of the block as well, waiting for the shrill beep noise to go off so I could push into the water.
The official said, “take your mark,” and literally, like not even a second later, the noise went off. I dove into the water. My body was in a perfect streamline as I did my underwater dolphin kicks before emerging to the surface. After what seemed like forever, I touched the wall. I looked behind me and saw a 1 next to my name.
I made it on to Team USA and was going to Brazil!!! I mean I didn’t doubt myself for a second, but it was still rewarding. The other two freestyle events pretty much went the same way. I placed first in them and I even qualified for the relays. I was so excited!
Three Olympic individual events and two relay events, oh boy. After the Trials, it was time to go to training camp and then it was time for Brazil.
I was really glad that there were more swimmers my age this time. I loved the teammates I was with last time, but they were much older than I was.
Missy Franklin and I were the youngest ones last time, but now we had more friends. I was so excited to be rooming with my best friends Olivia and Leah, both of whom swim at awesome Division I schools. Don’t tell Leah, but I like Georgia more. Go Dawgs!!
Obviously, my favorite part about the Olympics is winning medals. But also the food. Cause who doesn’t love food????
I couldn’t wait for race day. I loved race day because the arena was loud, the audience was cheering and yelling. I thrived off that energy, I loved it. In case you couldn’t tell. But then, once the official said, “take your mark,” it was completely silent. It was so cool.
Anyways, I don’t want to brag but I placed first in all three of my individual events. Gold medals, baby! Woo woo! And of course, Nathan Adrian congratulated me after each of my events. God, he is SOOOO cayoot. We’re getting married, I hope he knows that. He probably does, because, like, I’ve told him so many times. Kinda embarassing, but he needs to know these things. And he swam for Cal, and I love Cal, and I love him. Ugh, sorry, I’m getting off track…again.
Anyways, like I said in the beginning, I won five gold medals. The other two were from the relay races. I was so proud of Team USA. And myself. Because, like, I won gold. Tears were streaming down my face as I stood on the podium, gold medal around my neck and watching the American flag rise as the “National Anthem” was playing in the background. I would cherish this moment forever. Forever, I tell you, forever.
Once again, leaving the Olympics was sad. I was so blessed to have won six gold medals in total, one from the 2012 Olympics.
I came back to school in the fall, ready to race one last time. After this, my swim career was really going to be over. I told myself that I wouldn’t compete in the 2020 Olympics, but like let’s be honest, Michael Phelps said he was going to retire like five times but then he kept coming back.
Right when we got back to the States, the newest members of the Olympics team and I went to go get the signature Olympic rings tattoo. I was only 16 the last time, so like, I wasn’t legal. But now I could finally get the one and only tattoo I had wanted. It hurt, but it was SO worth it. I love it. A lot.
Anyways, my final year of college has been memorable. Swim season started off with a blast, and I qualified for NCAA’s… again. I mean, is that even a surprise? I’m an Olympic medalist. It’d be like super embarrassing if I didn’t qualify. But I’m ready to graduate, hang up my swimsuit and goggles, and get ready for the real world.
I really have done it all. Being Princess Arpeni is still hard. People still expect a lot out of me. But I don’t mind. You know why? Because I’m Princess Arpeni. I’m ready to take a gap year and focus on my future. I’ll still be going to law school, but after I chill for like a second.
I can’t wait to cheer on Team USA from my couch in 2020. Or maybe I’ll be competing. Like I said, move over, Michael Phelps, there’s a new sherrif in town.
Princess Arpeni out!