Al Bello/Getty Bowe Becker
Bowe Becker won his first gold medal on Monday after competing in the U.S. men's 4x100 freestyle relay with Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, and Zach Apple.
But 9 months earlier, swimming was the farthest thing from Becker's mind — the athlete retiring from the sport and working as a waiter at The Lodge in Reno, Nevada with no intention of ever getting back in the pool.
"If you asked me 9 month ago if I was going to be sitting here, I would have laughed at you," Becker told NBC's Lestor Holt on NBC Nightly News after his win.
The athlete went on to explain that he "wasn't in a good place mentally" during the COVID-19 pandemic, the isolation leaving him feeling "burnt out."
Abbie Parr/Getty U.S. men’s 4x100 freestyle relay team
He officially quit swimming in the spring of 2020, leaving the Auburn University Masters Swim postgraduate program in Alabama to return home.
While waiting tables, he even applied to become a Washoe County sheriff's deputy using his University of Minnesota criminal justice degree.
"I really thought I was going to be done with swimming altogether," Becker told reporters on Monday. "I wasn't in a good place when I was at Auburn, mentally and physically."
"The sport gets in your head a lot," he said on Nightly News. "You're staring at the black line a lot of hours a day, so it adds up. You spend a lot of time with just you and your thoughts."
Becker added to the Pioneer Press: "The previous year before COVID I was living by myself and not getting out much. It was basically swim, swim, swim, sleep, then swim, swim, swim, sleep. On repeat. I didn't really have much of a personal life."
Time at home allowed Becker — who has also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since he was a kid — a mental and physical reset.
"I was able to live with friends last year, and that helped quite a bit. After I had those six months away, I was in a much better place," Becker told the outlet. "That was a big part of it."
Tom Pennington/Getty Bowe Becker
He added to Holt that he developed "a better mentally towards the sport" and "reignited the flame to keep going."
When Jason Lezak — a four-time Olympic gold medalist and general manager of the Cali Condors club in the International Swimming League — happened to reach out to Becker during retirement to find out if he was in racing shape and wanted to work towards the Games, the 24-year-old didn't hesitate and said yes.
"I kind of lied there a little bit," he joked to reporters on Monday.
The swimmer went on to continue training at the University of Minnesota after the International Swimming League season concluded. There, Becker said he "just put my head down and went to work," before Olympic qualifiers.
Tom Pennington/Getty Bowe Becker
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"Normally you don't take six months off and then try to say, 'I'm going to try to make the Olympic trials," he told Holt. "Those 9 months were a grind but here I am."
Of his win, he told reporters that he's "still a little speechless on that,"
As for The Lodge, Becker's former place of employment, they shared the excitement for their previous employee on their Facebook page, writing, "Go Bowe."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.