Before there was “Missy the Missle,” there was Misty Hyman; the 20-year-old from Arizona who stunned the world when she upset Susie O’Neill in the 2000 Sydney Games, capturing gold in the 200 fly and handing O’Neill her first loss in six years.
About 150 people gave Hyman an Olympic-sized welcome Aug. 16 at Southridge Recreation Center in Highlands Ranch as the former champion took center stage yet again, delivering an inspirational speech to all those in attendance.
Hyman, who spent the rest of the weekend putting on a trio of clinics for youth and adult swimmers, shared her story, which began as a 5-year-old asthmatic that couldn’t even finish her first race, to a girl who missed qualifying for the 1996 Atlanta Games by .003 seconds, to an underdog that shocked the world in 2000.
“Sports are one of the best illustrations of human potential,” she told the crowd. “When you see Michael Phelps record his 22nd medal or a gymnast perform a perfect dismount you are reminded of what we, as humans, have the potential to do.
“The reason we have races and the reason we live our lives is because on any given day, anyone who has done the work and has the courage to try their best has a chance to win. There are no guarantees ... it’s all a big risk. But as long you do your best along the way there are so many things that are going to help you with the rest of your life.”
Hyman spent a lot of time talking with kids in the audience about the importance of education and stated that no matter how far their sport or extra-curricular activity takes them, nothing would take them further in their lives than their academics.
Hyman, who graduated from Stanford in 2002, went to Switzerland to earn her MBA after retiring from swimming in 2005. When she returned to Arizona to write her master’s thesis, however, she began to get requests to give youth lessons and make public appearances and she landed right back in the world of swimming.
“I thought I was hanging up my cap and goggles,” she said. “But a lot of times the best things in life happen by accident. I had spent 25 years entrenched in swimming, studying it, training, living and breathing it. To have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with the next generation, the passion, the joy, is very meaningful.”
In addition to teaching private lessons in Arizona, Hyman spends between one and three weekends per month on the road, running clinics and giving speeches such as she did in Highlands Ranch. The latter gives meaning to more than just Hyman, too.
“She’s my favorite swimmer,” said Gianna Herrera, 11, of Highlands Ranch, a fellow butterfly specialist who said despite not being born when Hyman won Gold, she last watched Hyman’s Olympic race on YouTube the weekend before. “I want to be just like her when I grow up. I’m very excited to meet her and swim with her.”