Speaking to a group of young summer-league swimmers, Raleigh native Charlie Houchin said his best memory of the 2012 London Olympics didn’t happen at a pool.
The gold medalist looks back on that first night in the Olympic Village, instead, when he and his fellow swimmers skipped the opening ceremonies only to be awoken by fireworks from the nearby event. With their hopes of getting a good night’s sleep dashed, Houchin said, he and Micheal Phelps embraced the situation and walked outside to enjoy the show.
“We didn’t really say anything, we just kind of hung out and appreciated that we were there in that moment,” he said. Training for the Olympics, “we spend all this time focused on what’s going to happen, that sometimes we forget to just appreciate where we are and who we’re with.”
On Monday, Houchin encouraged the swim team at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) to focus on having fun as they practice and compete this summer. Looking back on his time in the sport, Houchin said, he values the relationships he formed more than the medals he won.
“It’s all about the friendship and the team camaraderie,” he said. “Make friends, appreciate where you are, and enjoy swimming.”
After his talk, Houchin allowed each of the children to put on his gold medal and pose for a picture. Designed to fit the frame of the world’s top athletes, the medal looked massive when worn by the little ones. For several, the gold hardware hung below their waists and spanned about half the width of their tiny hips.
Houchin also signed team swim caps for everyone on the SRAC Sharks. Once the ink dried, Skyler Dunn, 10, of Benson, said she planned to wear the souvenir in all her future swim meets. Dunn enjoyed Houchin’s story, and she really liked the way his gold medal felt around her neck.
“I kind of want to swim in the Olympics like he did now,” she said.
Growing up in Raleigh, Houchin swam summers at Oak Park Swim Club from age 5-18. He competed in high school at Enloe and went on to swim at Michigan in college. At the 2012 Olympics, Houchin won a gold medal for the 4x200 freestyle relay.
In August, Houchin retired from swimming to focus on his role as CEO of Hydroxphere. The Cary-based company develops an app called Meet Central, which allows leagues to run a swim meet using iPads and iPhones.
Traditional pool timing systems cost up to $20,000 to install and require a lot of volunteers and ongoing maintenance to operate, Houchin said. That means many summer swim leagues are still using clipboard and stopwatches, he said, and Hydroxphere saw an opportunity to market an app between those two price points.
Leagues pay $150 for the equipment required to run Meet Central, and then it costs $4 per swimmer to use the service each summer.
The SRAC Sharks belong to the Southern Metro Swim League, which began using Meet Central this summer. They’ve had a few hiccups along the way, SRAC Aquatics Director Laura Crumpler said, but overall they love the new system.
“It’s super easy to use,” she said.