Friday Conversation: Kathleen Baker

Kathleen Baker captured gold in the 4×100-meter medley relay and silver in the 100-meter backstroke at the Rio Games. The Winston Salem, North Carolina, native was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 12, but that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the top swimmers in the world. 

Sports Section caught up with the 24-year-old before she competes in the U.S. Olympic trials, which start today.

Below is an excerpt from our sitdown with Kathleen:

How have you juggled having Crohn’s with your swimming career and normal life?

Not only is Crohn’s hard when you’re trying to be Kathleen the Olympic athlete, but also Kathleen at various ages: Kathleen who wanted to go to sleepovers or go to school, or right now when I am a young adult and just managing my health. But I’m grateful because it’s given me such an appreciation for what I am able to do and overcome.

How has COVID affected your training?

It was definitely super-difficult, and my training was off. I’m grateful because I got to do things a lot differently than I’m used to. It also challenged me mentally to not only stay in that Olympic mindset for the year before the 2020 Olympics, but again in 2021.

Will it be different this time since your two medals in Rio have raised expectations?

I think it will be somewhat different for me mentally, but at the same time, I always feel a need to prove myself. That never really goes away. I’m not stuck in that, “I’ve done this, I’ve been there and done that.” I want to continue pushing myself and reach goals that I didn’t in 2016.

Can you describe that feeling when they put that medal around your neck, the culmination of all the hours you spend in the pool and the gym?

It’s incredible to just be standing on a podium, whether you’re getting bronze, silver, or gold. There’s nothing like getting that gold medal, hearing your national anthem, and watching your flag being raised.

Read the full conversation here.