It was the pinnacle of her career and her life thus far. In 2016, Swimmer Kathleen Baker stood on that podium twice in the Rio Olympics. Once for Silver, the other for Gold.
"I honestly just wanted to take it all in in the moment," remember Baker.
The Winston-Salem native trained nearly her whole life for that trip to South America. Kathleen's parents and her sister were with her every step of the way, soaking in the moment as she showed the world she was one of the best.
"You just are so happy, never have seen Kathleen so just deep in her soul happy," said Norris Baker, Kathleen’s father.
Their favorite part was the few moments in Rio they were able to spend together as a family the day after Kathleen's win. "And she had her medal on and we're overlooking the ocean and all that," remembered Norris. "We got to experience that moment as a family kind of by ourselves and that was incredible."
Back here in the Triad, family, friends and former swim coaches were having just as much fun watching on TV.
"The whole community here, it was very exciting to see her, we were all texting each other and just amazed at what she accomplished,” reflected Joe Rhyne, Kathleen’s high school swim coach and family friend.
Kathleen has been riding an Olympic-sized wave since leaving Rio. It started immediately upon returning to the U.S. and Winston-Salem. City leaders named a Kathleen Baker day and gave her a key to the city.
Then there was the meet and great.
"People standing in line for 3 to 4 hours to get their picture made with her and get her autograph,” said Norris. “She stayed and signed every single autograph."
"You see a lot of it on social media at the Olympics and then to come home and really experience it and relive all of those moments with all the people that have helped me get there and having such a great city behind me means a lot," added Kathleen.
Kathleen couldn't bask in the limelight too long. Within days she returned to UC-Berkeley. School and training were back in focus.
"I think the Olympics gave me a lot of confidence going into all of the meets ahead," said Kathleen.
And it surely helped.
Since Rio, Kathleen's won three NCAA championships, been named NCAA swimmer of the year, won Gold, Silver and Bronze in World Championships and was part of a world record relay.
Her biggest accomplishment out of the pool might be her work with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Kathleen, who has Crohn's disease, quickly became the face of the foundation and proof the disease doesn't define you.
"It's something I'm very passionate about and it obviously affects me on a daily basis so I really hope I can do more as I get older," said Kathleen.
RELATED: Kathleen Baker Wins Silver in Rio
She's also passionate about being a role model for younger swimmers, remembering it wasn't so long ago that she was in their shoes. "It's weird that I'm in that position now and that people look up to me that way but I just like to remember how much it meant to me when I was little and some Olympian even said hello to me."
So what about a second shot at the Olympics?
"I think it's always in the back of my mind,” admitted Kathleen. “I think it's been in the back of my mind since I was 8 years old so it's probably not going to go away."
And neither will she, so you should get used to seeing her representing us on podiums around the world.
Kathleen says she's really enjoyed watching athletes compete ahead of next month's Winter Olympics because she now knows how it feels to be in their shoes.
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