Take Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps for example. You might not admire or respect Woods anymore after his infidelities were made public, but let's be honest: a piece of you deep down is cheering for him to overcome his troubled past and regain his former success as a golfer.
A little closer to home, Phelps rode the rollercoaster ride of redemption from 2009 to 2016, including rising from his second DUI arrest and a rehab stint in 2014 to get married, have a son, and recapture Olympic glory in Rio.
While the stories of Woods and Phelps may not exactly mirror one another, they both have a common thread: the search for redemption.
In August 2016, Ryan Lochte found himself in a position similar to Woods and Phelps: a once mighty hero comes crashing down, falls from grace, and needs to repair his image.
While the details of Lochte's gas station scandal in Rio following the 2016 Olympic Games have been hashed out and dissected for the whole world to see, it's imperative we shed light on our fallen hero's journey back to the top.
Over the past year or so, Lochte has moved from Charlotte, NC and SwimMAC Carolina to Los Angeles, CA and the Trojan Swim Club, and now back to Gainesville, FL -- his roots. He got engaged to girlfriend (now fiancé) Kayla Rae Reid. He fathered a son in Caiden Zane Lochte, and he has now made an official comeback to swimming -- the sport Lochte loves deeply.
The best thing about lessons in sport are that they parallel lessons in life. The two go hand in hand. Why do we love redemption stories in sport? Why do we have a tendency to cheer for those who have been kicked down and dragged through the mud?
Because we can relate. On a basic human level, we know what it feels like to make a mistake and to crave nothing more than overcoming the feeling of tremendous guilt and the feeling of letting others down. We can relate to feeling like we deserve a second chance when we mess up in our own lives.
Fortunately for most of us, when we make mistakes -- minor, major, and all types in between -- they are not as publicly scrutinized as a Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps. We also want something to cheer for. A story that makes us feel good. A story that gives us a sense of hope. A story that says, "If he or she can overcome adversity, repent, and move forward to become a better person -- then so can I."
That is why Lochte's return is good for the sport of swimming.
Swimming needs Ryan Lochte. Swimming needs a light-hearted personality unafraid of being different and unapologetic of straying away from the status quo. Swimming needs a not-so-serious, smiling face roaming the pool deck and cracking jokes. But most importantly, swimming needs an intriguing story to follow and a superstar to cheer for in a post-Phelps era. That superstar is Ryan Lochte.
Lochte's story is not complete, however. The 32 year-old has vowed to continue training with his sights set on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. At that point -- win or lose -- we will be cheering for Lochte to come full circle. We will be cheering for our hero to rise from the ashes and return to grace.
After all, isn't that what we all want for ourselves?