Returning to the Bolles School for the first time since he graduated in 2013, Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy told an auditorium of students Nov. 22 that his Bolles experience helped him respond to an unexpected wake up-call the morning of his first ever-Olympic race.
The three-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer learned he had a random drug test just hours before his 100-meter backstroke final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He would have to wake up 45 minutes earlier than planned and rush down to the lobby of his dorm to meet a doping control officer. The methodical 21-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach said he had organized that day’s schedule into 15-minute intervals – including when he planned to stretch and nap – and this drug test was an unwelcome interruption.
“This was a very high stress day for me,” said Murphy, a senior at University of California (Cal)-Berkeley studying business administration. “I had been training for this day as long as I can remember, and this doping control guy is taking me all different directions. I swear I walked a mile before I got to this place.”
Yet in that moment, Murphy remembered this wasn’t the first time he had been forced into an uncomfortable situation.
“Bolles put us in a lot of uncomfortable situations,” he said. “It’s not an easy school: You’re swamped, there’s homework all the time and stress is through the roof a lot of the time. That’s no different than being in the Olympics.”
Murphy found solace in that experience and proceeded to win that day’s race and the 200-meter backstroke final later in the week. He was also a member of the gold medal winning 400-meter medley relay team that included Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian and Cody Miller – a race in which Murphy set the world record for the 100-meter backstroke.
Murphy spent the next 30 minutes engaging with wide-eyed students, answering their questions and then posing for photos with every student who approached him.
“Can I just shake your hand?” asked a fifth grade boy to his new hero. “I’ll never wash my hands again!”
For Murphy, it wasn’t important for him to be that larger than life figure; it was important for him to give back to the people that have supported him along his journey.
“I don’t want them to think of me as this big superstar,” he said. “I want them to think of me as a nice guy they can talk to. I wanted to engage with them a little bit more than just having a free-formed speech. I think that’s pretty consistent with the brand I’m trying to build.”
Murphy answered questions ranging from what it was like to swim with his swimming idol Michael Phelps to his favorite pump-up music and whether he received any demerits at Bolles – just a few, he said with a laugh. He also spoke about the whirlwind that has been the past few months and his goals for improvement moving forward.
“There are definitely improvements for me to make,” he said. “That’s kind of the addiction of swimming. You’re striving for perfection in a sport where it’s almost impossible to reach perfection.”
Both students and media members inquired about his future plans, to which Murphy jokingly replied that he has retired. All jokes aside, Murphy said he plans to continue swimming competitively after he graduates from college in December 2017.
He also reflected fondly on his favorite memories at Bolles – where he was the 2013 national high school swimmer of the year and a 15-time Florida High School Class 1A state champion – and credited the college prep school for propelling him to where he is today.
“Bolles has been incredible for me,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been on this stage without Bolles. Being able to come back here and talk to some of the students, it was really special to me.”