Recently, there have been so many bright, sun-shiny days for Allison Schmitt to appreciate.
It’s not just because the swimmer so many affectionately call Schmitty has moved to Tempe, Arizona, to keep working out with her training partner of a decade, another Olympian named Michael Phelps.
The effervescent Olympic gold medalist has opened up recently about her struggles with what Schmitt has called post-Olympic depression that occasionally still dogs the 25-year-old University of Georgia graduate.
“It’s going really well right now,” Schmitt said. “I still have days where I’m struggling or angry for no reason or upset. Everybody has those ups and downs.
“It’s nice to have Michael there, who’s gone through it as well. He can tell when I’m going through it and he’ll help me out. He’ll support me. Our whole group wants the best for each other.”
Schmitt was one of 15 current or former Olympians in town Thursday for the Swim Stars Live show at Mutual of Omaha. The event was part of the lead-up to the June 26 to July 3 U.S. Olympic Trials at the CenturyLink Center.
The swimmers interacted with elementary- and junior high-aged students from area swim clubs during a formal panel show before signing autographs and taking photos with many of the estimated 500 youngsters who attended.
Schmitt began to share her struggles publicly in the last two years — after winning three gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, then helping lead Georgia to the 2013 NCAA swimming championship.
Phelps was dealing with some of those same issues after the London Games, and after finding the courage to talk about how she was dealing with her own challenges, Schmitt has been more bubbly than ever.
That camaraderie with Phelps and others in their training group has created a supportive training environment in the Valley of the Sun.
“It’s awesome, training all winter with the sun is great,” Schmitt said. “We have a great group out there, it’s a very motivating group. We pick each other up on the days that we have down days.
“We can see who’s having a good day, who’s having a down day, we’ll help each other out. It’s just a positive atmosphere out there.”
Known for her skill at telling corny, sometimes groan-inducing jokes, Schmitt was asked to share one Thursday with the kids who were attending the panel event.
“What’s brown and sticky?” Schmitt asked. After a perfectly timed delay to let potential answers run through the minds of attendees, Schmitt simply said, “A stick.”
Schmitt then just smiled and returned to her seat as the auditorium filled with genuine laughter and a few sighs of relief.
It’s the kind of sunny laughter that naturally accompanies Schmitt wherever she goes, laughter that helps keep the intense Phelps laughing with her through their shared good and not-as-good times.
“I tell Michael, ‘You can always tell when I’m about to break down or when I’m not in a good mood,’ ” Schmitt said. “He’s like, ‘Yup, you can’t hide it from me.’ It’s nice to have him there helping me out. I know he’s always there, no matter what.”
Schmitt’s setbacks have made all of the strides she’s made in her quest to qualify for a third U.S. Olympic team in the 100-, 200- and 400-yard freestyle races a much more enjoyable journey.
“I know a lot more about myself leading up to this one,” Schmitt said. “I think I’ve learned a lot about myself. I think I’ve learned way more from failures than I have from successes.”
Those setbacks keep fueling the fire that keeps Schmitty smiling.
“Having failures behind me and learning from them and still standing up and still being here today swimming, training and working hard, I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Schmitt said. “I’m appreciating the little things in the journey rather than seeing the end result.”
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