Conor Dwyer is no stranger to the Olympic Games and he has the credentials to prove it.
The Illinois native from Winnetka has earned numerous medals throughout his swimming career, including national champion in the 200m and 400m free at the 2015 AT&T Winter Nationals as well gold in the 800m free relay in the 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.
With a background in swimming stemming from the age of 6, and an All-American swimmer mother as a coach, Dwyer has proven time and time again why he is a great attribute to Team USA.
Dwyer opens up to NBC about his daily 6,000-calorie diet, the moment he realized that he was going to be an Olympian and his love affair with the Chicago Cubs.
NBC: What moment as a child did you realize “Hey, I can actually have a shot at being an Olympian?”
Dwyer: I always had that dream watching it as a kid at like age six. I didn’t really realize I had an actual shot until I grew like six inches in college. Then I became NCAA swimmer my junior year in college, so it kind of hit me later on; but I always was working toward that dream even when I was 5’6”, 125 pounds. I was getting the hardest work in on my team, but maybe I was the smallest guy.
NBC: Why swimming and what attracted you to it?
Dwyer: My mom swam in college. She was an All-American swimmer, so she taught us how to swim in my grandparent’s backyard pool. She got me into it at a young age.
NBC: And then competitively?
Dwyer: Competitively, I mean I was just competitive in every sport known to man. I have three brothers, a sister and like 30 cousins that I grew up with around Chicago. Some of them play Division I or almost played in the pros in different sports, so I was competitive in every sport [because of them]. Swimming was just like the passion that came to me and I felt the most natural in swimming, racing and competing there.
NBC: Do you have any advice for any young athletes who want to become an Olympic athlete one day?
Dwyer: It does take a lot of sacrifice and hard work, but you can set your mind to it. Listen to your coaches’ day in and day out [because] they’re usually pretty right even if you get mad at them a lot and give it everything you got.
NBC: Where are you mentally with Rio?
Dwyer: Mentally with Rio, I’m in a good place right now. I’ve put in some of the best training of my career. I’ve been very consistent this year, so I’m excited to see these past three years of hard work pay off.
NBC: So talk about your training a little more. How much work has gone into that?
Dwyer: A lot of work. [laughter] Four to six hours of training a day and then I have to try to consume about 6,000 calories a day to try to keep weight on and then get the proper sleep. Sleep, nutrition and training is a daily lifestyle for me.
NBC: 6,000 calories is a lot of calories!
Dwyer: [laughter] It is a lot of calories.
NBC: What are you consuming to get to 6,000?
Dwyer: A lot of carbs usually throughout the day to recover, replenish and get me ready for the next workout. Carbs are probably my number one and then a lot of recovery drinks, protein shakes, and chocolate milk.
NBC: You got gold in the 2012 Olympics in London. What was that like for you?
Dwyer: That was amazing just being one of the youngest guys. I was 23 on the relay at the time. Being with Michael, Ryan, Ricky, all veterans on our Olympic squad, was an amazing experience. I’ll never forget it. Getting to win gold, take away gold out of my first Olympics, was something I wanted to accomplish. I still have some unfinished business in the sport that I’m looking forward to accomplishing in Rio and hopefully pull out some more times on the podium than I did in London. [laughter] Yeah, I’ve been waiting three years and putting in the work, so I’m hungry to get back to Rio.
NBC: Have those vets, especially during 2012, given you some words of advice to help you through it a little more?
Dwyer: Yeah, combined on that relay alone without me, they had probably 30 something Olympic medals. They just told me like ‘Conor, you made this team. It’s probably the hardest Olympic team to make. Our swim team has been so dominate, so there’s a reason you’re on this relay, there’s a reason you’re on this team. Just go out there and treat it like any other swim meet; swim the swimmer you were to get on this team. Be that swimmer in these races.’
NBC: How much does your mental state come into effect here in swimming?
Dwyer: Huge. Any mental lapse or breakdown in a race can cost you from getting on that podium or even making the US Olympic team. You have to be mentally tough from start to finish at every meet for seven days.
NBC: Cool. So how often do you think about Rio and making it back? Is it something constantly on your mind or are you completely out of it right up to the Games?
Dwyer: Pretty much my goal right now is the Olympic trials and being the best I can be there. That event, Olympic trials, I thought sometimes even more challenging than the Olympics itself. Right now I’m trying to be the best American swimmer I can be and then once I get on that team, it’ll be fun and getting to represent your country is easier than the part of trying to make it.
NBC: Do you think even when you get there and you’re about to swim, you’re not going to feel more pressure?[laughter]
Dwyer: There is a lot of pressure. I mean they both have different types of pressure. You have the pressure of a billion people tuning in and representing your country andthat’s a tough task, but something we take a lot of pride in. Once you get on the team with all these Olympic medalists and veterans who have done so well, you have the confidence to go in there. Olympic trials you have yourself, your coach and you have to put yourself on that team to get top two. If you don’t, your dreams can be taken away.
NBC: Everyone talks about the swimming community being really tight knit and everyone’s close.
Dwyer: Yeah I think that’s why we do so well. We have such a good team commodity. We made the “Call Me Maybe” video in 2012 that was a YouTube hit. We do fun stuff like that to bond as a team and I think that that’s what makes us a strong team.
NBC: Could we be seeing another YouTube hit?
Dwyer: I think we’ll see something. Whatever’s hot, we’ll go with it.
NBC: So I hear you’re a big Cubs fan.
Dwyer: Huge Cubs fan.
NBC: Kind of a season that maybe gives you a little bit of hope?
Dwyer: Yeah, as a Cubs fan, we always learn there’s always next year. So I’m not too bummed that we didn’t get it done this year, but we’re such a young staff. We have Theo Epstein, who got it done in Boston and Joe Maddon, a great coach. So I think we’re going to see a Cub World Series within the next couple of years.
NBC: Have you been able to go to any games?
Dwyer: Yeah, I grew up going to probably 25 to 30 games a year! My grandfather worked with the Cubs and the Chicago Tribune, so I grew up a Cubs fan, been through a lot of heartache and a lot of ups and downs. I’m used to it [chuckle] but it’s good to see that there is such a young squad with so much promise and they dominated this year. Hopefully they can keep doing it.
NBC: You said that after swimming you would like to get involved professionally in some sort of sports team. What sports team and what idealistically would you like to do?
Dwyer: I’ve studied a lot about sports marketing and business, so ideally I would like to get back to Chicago where all my family is. It’ll be tough to leave the California sun; I don’t know if I can go back to those winters. But it would be fun to just work with the Blackhawks, Cubs, Bulls, Bears and work sports marketing management with one of those teams.
Follow updates with Conor Dwyer on Twitter @conorjdwyer.