Winston-Salem native Kathleen Baker is still giddy after capturing the silver medal in the 100-meter women’s backstroke Monday night at the Rio Olympics.
How excited was the 19-year-old?
“I don’t even think it’s sunk in yet,” Baker said by telephone from Rio de Janeiro. “The first night, I couldn’t even sleep. I went to sleep with my medal around my neck.”
Her parents and her sister, Rachel, all traveled to Rio for the Olympics, and she couldn’t wait to talk to them after winning her medal.
“My parents knew. I called them at 1:30 a.m., and they were still up, so I was just, ‘I’m so excited. I can’t believe this just happened,’” Baker said.
Despite being thousands of miles from home, she has been able to keep up on social media with the outpouring of adulation coming her way after her success in the Olympics. She paid particular attention to the watch party at Forsyth Country Day School, her former school, had for her Monday night.
“It means the world to me,” she said. “Getting to see my old classmates and friends even come out and watch the entire race at school was so cool for me. Knowing that I have such a great support system all the way back home is just a really great feeling that I have so much love from back home.”
As the Olympics began, Baker was seen as a long shot for a medal. Then she posted the fastest qualifying time in the semifinals at 58.84 seconds. She went even faster Monday night in the final with a 58.75, but Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu won at 58.45.
“I just wanted to go out there and do my best and hopefully go a best time,” Baker said. “To get my best time three times in a row and get a silver, it couldn’t have gone better for me.”
Baker isn’t done with the Olympics in Rio. She said she’ll compete in the women’s 4x100-meter medley relay.
She said if the United States makes it out of Friday’s heats, as expected, she will swim the backstroke in the relay finals, scheduled for 9:49 p.m. Saturday.
“Representing the country in a relay is probably the biggest honor there is,” Baker said. “Swimming alongside my teammates, I’ve been looking forward to that. I couldn’t be more excited to do that.”
It has been much discussed that she has Crohn’s disease, a chronic gastrointestinal inflammation. She received the diagnosis while she was attending Forsyth Country Day. According to MayoClinic.com, Crohn’s disease can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. She is always mindful of that, especially in a different country.
“I definitely have a lot of times where I get pretty tired. So I have a little bit of a different training schedule than most elite swimmers just so I can keep my energy up,” Baker said. “I usually do a little bit less for practices, and that’s something that my coaches and my doctors and I have really thought about. And it’s something that’s kept me healthier. I have great doctors and great coaches that allow me to do that and support me along the way, and I think it’s really paid off.”
Baker plans to stay in Rio until Aug. 17, coming home for a few days before heading to Berkeley, Calif., to start her sophomore year at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I think it’s going to be pretty incredible,” she said. “I get to thank everyone for all the support I’ve gotten, and the all the people who’ve gotten me here.”