3 - Time Olympic Swimmer
4 - Time Olympic Medalist
18 - Time NCAA Champion
Founder of the Lead Sports Summit
Kara Lynn Joyce is a three-time USA Olympic swimmer living in Denver, CO. Kara competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics for team USA. In 2010 she moved to Denver to train with Olympic star, Missy Franklin, in an attempt to make her third Olympic team. Her journey has been captured in the beautiful film, "Touch the Wall."
In 2017 Kara founded the LEAD Sports Summit for teenage girl athletes. Lead focuses on connecting female athletes with accomplished women in sports through their yearly summit and regional seminars. Learn more about LEAD by visiting LEADSportsSummit.com.
Kara also travels the country partnering with local club teams through her Club Partnership program.
I met Grant Barbieto and Christo Brock on an early June morning in 2011, a couple of months after I had moved to Denver, CO to train with Missy Franklin and the Colorado Stars. I was 25 years old at the time - in the twilight of my career - and looking for a place to help me achieve my dream of qualifying for my 3rd Olympic Games. The club team I was moving from had recently been enveloped in scandal, and the seven world-class athletes training there were forced to find new accommodations for the remainder of our run at the 2012 Olympic Games.
I chose the Colorado Stars. I had met Missy Franklin a handful times and heard good things about her coach, Todd Schmitz, and the team atmosphere in Denver. I was certain my decision, while not traditional, (a 25 year-old veteran moving to swim with an age-group swim team? You’ve gotta be nuts!) was exactly what I needed.
My year with the Stars began inauspiciously. Never had I trained full time at altitude before, and let me tell you – it’s no joke! At 25 years old, I felt the lack of oxygen in my muscles and the constant need to let them recover. At the 2011 World Championships, I was swimming tired, and I hadn’t been able to swim an individual event, (just the 400m relay). This put the pressure of me to swim well at Nationals immediately following world championships to qualify for the $3,000/month stipend.
We flew directly from the World Championships in Shanghai, China to the 2011 Conoco Phillips Summer Nationals in Palo Alto, CA. I have never felt so jet-lagged in my entire life.
And here’s the other thing about being an “older” swimmer – a 25 year-old recovers much more slowly that a 17 year-old. As you get older, you may have more strength and prowess, but you don’t have that unbridled energy you did as a younger swimmer.
At Nationals I was leading the 100 free at the turn, but my tired legs stopped listening to me half way through the last 50. I remember seeing the field rushing past me, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. It was so frustrating. I finished 5th, lost my stipend by .03 seconds, and would have to find some way to come up the lost funds the stipend would have provided.
As 2011 turned into 2012, I was beginning to wonder if I could make the 2012 Olympic team. It seemed that with every single meet I became slower and slower. Grand Prix events that I had won with ease in the past became a huge battle to make the top 8. I’d lost my edge. After a disastrous showing at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in March of 2012, I was at my end. If I was going to make the Olympic team, I needed to do something. I had to make a change. Missy and I had talked about going together, but at this point it looked like only one of us would be taking a trip to London.
My best shot would be in North Carolina at David Marsh’s Team Elite SwimMAC program. I would be training again with other 20-somethings – world-class swimmers like myself who were all trying to make the team. I called David Marsh immediately after the Indianapolis meet to see if he had space for me on his team in the 10 weeks remaining until Olympic Trials. David could have said “no” – I was prepared for that. But he didn’t. David said, “Kara Lynn, I am not going to take you onto my team if your goal is just to finish out your career respectably at Olympic Trials. I am going to take you onto my team if your goal is to make the 2012 US Olympic team” and I said, “David, I want to and I can make the 2012 Olympic Team!” He said “Great! Welcome aboard.”
Week after week, my confidence started to improve under David. Every day at practice when it was time for me to swim fast, he would come over to me and say “You are Kara Lynn Joyce, you can do this!” Little by little, David brought the confidence back in me. I felt like my old self again. “Darn it, I am Kara Lynn Joyce and I can do this!”
At Trials in Omaha, the very last race was on Monday night – the 50m free. I had some time to sit by myself before the race. I thought about all the great memories in my life that lead me to this exact moment: the practices I got out of bed at 5am for; myself dreaming of someday being an Olympian; and of my family’s love and support that helped carry me through my 21 years in the water. All these amazing memories made me feel more relaxed than I have ever been before a swim in my life. I had accomplished a lot in this sport, and whatever happened after this 50 free was going to be okay.
As I stepped up on the blocks, I heard a voice call my name – that same voice that had called out my name through all of my NCAA Championships, Olympic Trials and Olympic races: the voice of my brother Kevin. In the loudest voice of the arena he would always yell out “GO KARA!” as soon as I stepped onto the blocks. This race was no different. Hearing that familiar voice put a huge smile on my face. I was ready.
What I said in the movie was true – I feel incredible pride for having gotten to my third Olympics. Being an Olympian is always a special achievement, but this time was sweeter than ever. I learned so much about myself throughout this journey that has helped shape me into the woman I am today. I also realized how important and necessary it is to lean on people. As I stood on the 2nd place podium at Olympic Trials I was alone - but in my heart were the dozens and dozens of people who had given me that moment. My coaches, my teammates. Parents and brothers. My Doctor, my chiropractor, my strength coach, and every other single coach I’ve worked with over 21 years. So many people to thank that helped that dream moment become a reality.
I retired after the London Games. I felt as though I achieved what I was capable in this sport and I wanted to be able to end on the highest note and turn around and give back to the sport. Nothing makes me happier and more fulfilled now than to work with young kids and help them achieve their dreams the way the dozens and dozens helped me.