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As a kid, Nancy Hogshead-Makar wanted to be the best swimmer in the world. At 14, she got her wish when she was ranked number one in the world for 200-meter butterfly at age 14. Four years later, she was part of U.S. team that boycotted the Moscow Olympics, and at 22, she swam in five Olympic finals at the 1984 Los Angeles games, winning three gold medals and one silver medal.
"I knew that the 1984 Olympics were really going to be my swan song," she tells NPR's Lynn Neary. She retired after those games and went to finish out a year and a half at Duke University.
"What's difficult about going from being very, very, very good at something — being blessed and graced and feeling strength and pride in what you're doing — is finding something else that is worth giving yourself over to," she says. "You do have to start at the bottom ... and that's hard."
Hogshead-Makar is now the senior director of advocacy for the Women's Sport Foundation.
On the value of parental support
"My parents are unique, I think, in some ways, in that they didn't always agree with all my decisions, but they always supported whatever my decisions were, and I don't think all parents would. For example, my parents, they paid for my last year and a half of swimming. I dropped out of college, gave up my college — I thought I giving up my college athletic scholarship, and they paid for the whole kit and caboodle ... I think a lot of parents probably wouldn't do that."
On the lasting benefits of being an athlete
"When you look at, kind of, the gestalt, the big picture of what it means for a girl just to play sports, not to be in the Olympics, but it is really powerful stuff.
"And I'd also say that, in my work at the Women's Sports Foundation, that so many other women athletes use their athletic career as a platform for giving back ... The social good that Olympians are doing out there, trying to use their Olympic fame as a way to help so many causes from, you know, diseases to social causes to ... all kinds of things."