How Simone Manuel Swam Past Every Adversity to Make Her Return Trip to the Olympics

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The feelings were coming in as fast and furiously as Simone Manuel tackled that 50-meter free. 

For starters, the Olympian was thankful. Thankful that she'd calmly executed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the face of overwhelming stress and a very private physical battle. With everything on the line, she raced her way past all the competition just days after a ninth-place finish in the 100m—the event that earned her a history-making gold medal in Rio five years earlier—put her Olympic dreams in jeopardy. But also, as she put it in her June 21 Instagram post, she was "thankful to so many of you for believing in me when I needed it the most."

She was proud of herself, too: "Proud of my fight, grit, and courage to face my fears," she continued, "but most importantly, proud to walk away with my head held high regardless of victory or defeat."

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There was also a touch of excitement about officially cementing her place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, kicking off a year later than planned July 23. And, if she's being real, a whole heap of exhaustion, the same overwhelming fatigue she's been facing since receiving that diagnosis of overtraining syndrome in March that seriously hampered her plans for a repeat gold model. 

Joked Simone in her post, "I'm ready to finally get some sleep." 

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She's certainly earned the rest. 

At just 24, Simone has amassed a resume that proves—much like another Texas-bred Simone—she's one of the greatest of all time: Back-to-back world titles in the 100m freestyle in 2017 and 2019, plus another medal for winning the 50m, making her the first American woman to complete that particular sweep. Add in another six gold, three silver and one bronze World Championship medals and a total of four Olympic medals and the only female swimmer outpacing her in career swimming international titles is her friend and frequent roommate Katie Ledecky.  

It's a stretch of success she's been working toward for the past 20-plus years. 

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It was at a trip to a waterpark near their Sugar Land, Texas home that pharmacist mom Sharron—a two-sport athlete in high school—and business analyst dad Marc—a 6-foot-5 center who averaged 15 points per game at Xavier University of Louisiana—had something of an a-ha moment. "The second we put her in the water, she splashed and splashed and splashed," Sharron recalled to Sugar Land Magazine. "It was like a transformation."

By age 3 Simone was boldly jumping off the diving board and the next year, when older brothers Christopher and Ryan—who would eventually go on to college basketball careers of their own—signed up for the team at Houston Swim Club, she begged to tag along. 

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