It was the only thing Lauren Perdue ever dreamed of.
Growing up in a competitive swim family, she knew from an early age it was the sport for her. Perdue, a Greenville native, said she and her family would be “glued” to the television every four years to watch the USA swimmers compete on the Olympic stage.
Becoming an Olympian came to bePerdue’s highest objective in life.
At 22-years old, she exceeded that goal and became an Olympic gold medalist.
“It’s something I dreamed of my entire life. To actually have that happen is just phenomenal,” said Perdue, who won a gold medal in 4×200 meter relay last August.“It was just an amazing experience.”
Perdue visited Rotary Club of Kinston Thursdayto share her journey to the 2012 Olympics in London. From a discouraging back injury that ended in surgery to the opening and closing ceremonies, Perdue told her story to nearly 100 people and received a Kinston proclamation in return.
Perdue realized when she was 8-years old, if she wanted to have a shot at the Olympics, she had to make an ultimate commitment.
“Trying out to make the Olympic team wasn’t just a last-minute decision for me — it was years in the making,” she told the Rotary group. “Every swim practice … was a stepping stone to accomplishing my Olympic aspirations.”
She added, “I began to swim year-round and was diligent in missing as few practices as possible.”
Perdue’s family offered a lot of support and understanding, as both her parents and two siblings had competitive swimming backgrounds. She grew up swimming in oceans, lakes and other arenas and said there wasn’t time for much else.
“There weren’t actually any challenges (growing up in a swim family); it was just a lot of support,” Perdue said. “My parents understood what I was going through because they’d been through it.”
Her father, Philip Perdue, was himself an All-American at the University of Virginia and competed in the Olympic trials in 1980, the year the games were boycotted.
Lauren Perdue’s undying efforts awarded her swim scholarship to UVA in 2009. The 2012 Olympics were that much closer, but two years into college, a back injury almost changed everything.
Perdue suffered a stress fracture in her lower back during her sophomore year in college. After multiple attempts to repair an injury she said doctors were uncertain about, the only thing left was to perform back surgery.
“Here I am thinking that my career is over,” Perdue said. “I was terrified; I was disheartened; I was angry and I was crushed.”
She went under the knife in March of 2012, three months shy of Olympic trials. Although she was diligent in rehab, Perdue said she wasn’t prepared to make the 2012 team because there wasn’t enough time.
Perdue still attended Olympic trials to support her teammates and do what she does best: swim. As time went on, her back started healing.
“My back miraculously hurt less and less,” Perdue said about the trials. “In the final heat of the 200 (meter) freestyle – in less than two minutes – my life changed forever and the rest is history.”
The Olympic Experience
Perdue placed fourth in the event to make the Olympic team. She would go on to win a gold medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay on Aug. 1, 2012, along with Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Dana Vollermer and Shannon Vreeland. Their time was 7:42:92, an Olympic record.
“I’m super proud,” Philip Perdue said about his daughter’s accomplishment. “It’s one thing for me to compete and try to have made the Olympic team, but it’s much more gratifying for her to actually make it. It was a family effort … it’s just a dream come true.”
When Lauren Perdue made the team, she didn’t have much time to prepare for travel as she wasn’t expecting to get a spot.
She showed the Kinston Rotary a slide show of pictures from her first training camp in Tennessee to her Olympic experiences in Paris and London. All heads were glued to the series of remarkable photos, which helped tell Perdue’s story from opening to closing ceremonies. Team USA swam in pools where 15,000 to 20,000 spectators were looking down, flashing cameras and cheering.
Perdue, in earning an Olympic gold medal, gained “lifelong friendships and unforgettable memories” in her quest.
She brought her gold medal to Kinston, while receiving a city seal medal, as Mayor B.J. Murphy named Aug. 29 Kinston’s “Lauren Perdue Day.”
“It was so nice,” Perdue said of the gesture. “Everyone was so supportive. …I’m just so flattered to receive so much of a welcome.”
Perdue will move to Charlotte in October to swim professionally with Team Elite. In the meantime, she swims at a club in Greenville. A few young swimmers from the club were in attendance Thursday, walking away with a lesson from Perdue.
“I’ve been going through a very tough time lately, personally,” said 13-year-old Grace Fountain. “She’s taught me to never give up and keep your dream in sight. She’s really motivated me to keep swimming.”
Perdue said she was honored to share her story and provide encouragement, as she learned from the Olympics to stay humble.
“I was in the same position as many of these younger swimmers who had the same Olympic aspirations as I did,” she said. “Having a gift in swimming — or in any sport or any hobby for that matter — you’re born with that. It does obviously take hard work and dedication on your part, but I think that it has to be a gift from God.
“It really just took my faith in God and just realizing there is a plan for my life far bigger than what I could have ever imagined.”
Jessika Morgan can be reached at 252-559-1078 andJessika.Morgan@Kinston.com. Follow her on Twitter @JessikaMorgan.