GREENSBORO — The eyes are still as blue as the water in the pool.
The chiseled Olympian’s physique, quick grin and boy-band good looks are the same as ever.
But this is a different Ryan Lochte competing at the TYR Pro Swim Series meet at the Greensboro Aquatics Center this week, and it’s not just the few strands of gray in his hair.
Loche is 35 years old now, married and a father of two young children, 2-year-old son Caiden Zane and 4-month-old daughter Liv Rae.
“(Fatherhood) was 100% a game-changer,” Lochte said after racing in two finals Thursday night. “It’s the best feeling in the world. It trumps everything, seeing them on a daily basis growing into these human beings. It’s just amazing. It’s freaking awesome, and I just love it.
“It does change your perspective. I’m very protective of them. I want to teach them things not to do, things that I’ve messed up throughout my life. But they’re so smart, and it’s so much fun to be their dad.”
Swimming in his first pro series races after a 14-month suspension — he violated U.S. Anti-Doping Association rules by taking more than 100 milliliters of a vitamin-enriched fluid intravenously — Lochte finished eighth in the 100-meter freestyle and seventh in the 200 butterfly.
But the results in November don’t matter much to Lochte.
Greensboro’s pro meet is a stepping stone toward the 2020 Tokyo Games. Lochte has won 12 Olympic medals since 2004, six of them golds.
“Of course I want it,” Lochte said. “I wouldn’t be in this sport racing if I didn’t want to win and go to my fifth Olympics. It’s something I really want to do, something only a handful of people can say they’ve done, going to five Olympics. It’s a big goal for me.”
It’s a goal that brought him to Greensboro’s expanded natatorium to compete for the first time.
“Honestly, I just want to do some racing,” Lochte said. “If you think about it, I haven’t really raced since 2016. It’s been a long time. I did miss it. It was a little weird being back on the pool deck, but I shook those cobwebs off (Thursday) morning.
“I’ve missed the excitement of getting on those blocks and racing the seven other guys that I’m going against. It’s fun. And I’m having a blast.”
Lochte is racing for himself, of course, and his place in U.S. Swimming history.
But he’s also racing for his young family, his wife, Kayla Rae, and the couple’s two children.
“Oh man, it’s different now (than in 2004),” Lochte said. “I have more gray hairs. But I’m smarter. I’m wiser on how to take care of my body. I’m eating healthier.
“The only thing I’m not doing is recovery, because I do have two little ones and they are, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy let’s play.’ And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m so tired.’ But I’m still trying to be that superdad. So, yeah, it’s harder, but I’m still trying to take care of my body outside of the pool, and I’m seeing results from that in the pool.”
Those blue eyes light up when Lochte talks about his kids.
“The girl does not sleep. She just does not sleep at all, which keeps me and my wife up constantly,” he said. “And my son, he’s like someone slipped him packets of sugar every day. He’s go, go, go. But every time I look at them, everything is perfect. Perfect.”