Ryan Held: Small Town Team To Rio 2016

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Over the past year, ​Ryan Held has become a household name across the country. The Springfield, Illinois, native has enjoyed a decorated collegiate career as a part of NC State's meteoric rise to NCAA prominence. Held, a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning 400-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is also a 17-time All-American for the Wolfpack and currently holds the fourth-fastest 50-yard freestyle and seventh-fastest 100-yard freestyle in history. He has taken time out of his busy training schedule to answer a few questions about his collegiate and international career.

FloSwimming: What were the initial challenges that you experienced coming from a smaller team in a small town to a major Division I program?
​Held: Coming from Illinois, especially Springfield, where the competition wasn't necessarily competitive -- I was the big fish in a small pond. I won almost every event I swam, and I walked with some swagger on the pool deck. However, that confidence quickly vanished when I got to NC State. I was training with much bigger and better guys than I was. I actually puked at the first practice I was there because the waves created from other people were tidal waves compared to what I was used to. Also -- if I didn't give 100 percent during a set in high school, no one would bat an eye because I was successful at that level. But that did not translate well at NC State for me.

Did you face any particular challenges when you first got to NC State?
I had two major issues when I first got to (NC) State. Both were a learning process, but they have also made me a much better swimmer. The first problem was a mental one. In the college dual meet season, I was swimming times that would have won Illinois high school state, but I was getting fourth or fifth in my events. This required a big adjustment on my part because I was so used to winning basically having medals handed to me.

The second major issue involved my practice habits. I had never given 100 percent effort multiple days in a row. I could do it physically, but my mentality was selling myself short and I was telling myself that I couldn't do it. So I ended up just sandbagging my sets until the last round, and then I didn't really improve.

Everyone was ecstatic to see you make it to Rio, let alone win a gold medal. What attributed to your success there?
Sleep! I think sleep made the biggest difference. I tried to get 10 hours of sleep per night, but if not sleep then just simply laying in bed. Sleep is the most underappreciated mode of recovery.

What, if anything, from your experience in club swimming helped you transition to swimming in college?
Especially from my high school, I learned faith in my coaches. Just believe in them and know that they know what's best for you. If they ask you to do less or more yardage, just know that your best interest is their intention.

What will you remember the most about your time spent in Rio?
There was a moment when ​Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger, Townley Haas, David Plummer, Gunnar Bentz​, and I were all on the Copacabana Beach and realized we were all Olympic gold medalists and enjoying the summer in beautiful Rio de Janeiro.

And the question everyone is dying to know... when did your obsession with cats start?
Haha, my cat obsession is because I'm allergic to cats so I'll never be able to have one.

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