I didn't expect winning Olympic medals to feel quite this good!
Since I started swimming, I've dreamed of competing at the Olympics and earning medals with the U.S. team. Seeing those dreams become reality this past summer has brought me immense satisfaction. Life since London has been more relaxed, and I have a big smile on my face all the time. I'm extremely grateful, and in many ways, fulfilled.
But I'm not done. Having those Olympic medals has not changed how I love swimming and the racing lifestyle. I'm a competitive person (some would say super-competitive), and even now, with my suits hardly dried out, I feel a strong urge to continue.
I did take a break after London -- I took a month off and did some inspirational speaking and clinics with children. I was part of a parade in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif., and traveled to the White House with many other members of the U.S. Olympic team.
I missed training, though. You get into this structured routine, and you begin to feel strange when you're not doing it. It was weird not to have a purpose. Sure, I could sleep as late as I wanted, but at the same time, I began to wonder: now what?
That feeling made it easier to return to the pool. My training regime is a bit lighter than it was before the Games: I had been doing three hours of dry land -- what swimmers call cross-training -- per day, and now I do two hours of dry land a couple times a week. But I still get up at 6 a.m., drive an hour to practice, and am in the pool at 7:30.
Remember those commercials where the winner of a Super Bowl or Olympic gold medal would be asked where he or she was going next? The answer was always "I'm going to Disney World!" During the months since London, I've traveled all over the world -- almost everywhere except Disney World, in fact.
I just got back from the World Cup series, and I'm very happy with how I did. I started off stronger than I expected after the nice post-Olympic break, and swam myself into even better shape by the end, ultimately going best times in the world for this season so far in the 50- and 100-meter breaststrokes. I ended with lots of medals, and lots of experiences from around the world.
I traveled as a "mentor" with the U.S. junior national team in Europe, so I had a lot of fun meeting the up-and-comers in our sport. They taught me about the iPhone app Snapchat (it's all the rage, apparently!) and we saw some amazing things like St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Berlin Wall in Germany.
The last part of the World Cup series was in Asia, and since I've been to Singapore, Tokyo and Beijing before, it was a more relaxed sightseeing schedule. My fiancé Dominik (a Swiss swimmer) and I visited friends in Japan and enjoyed awesome cuisine -- from teppan to sushi on a conveyer belt. In Singapore, we had our feet cleaned by fish, which tickled almost to a point of being painful! It was a nonstop, whirlwind trip, but was so much fun too.
Now I'm setting my sights on South America. Four years from now, Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Games. Though it's still very far away, the London experience got me hooked, and I already know that I want to try to make that team to Rio. I'm the world-record holder in the breaststroke, an event I didn't even compete in at the London Games. So that's one goal: to compete breaststroke in Rio. And to keep pushing myself, because there's more I want to do in this sport.