Swimmer Emily Overholt Image by: Getty Images
Swimming star Emily Overholt proves that Olympians aren’t just born—they’re bred.
Emily Overholt seemed to come out of nowhere when she burst into the spotlight at last summer's Pan Am Games in Toronto. As the youngest member of Canada's swim team, she was deemed the breakout star, garnering three medals, including a record-breaking gold in the 400m freestyle. Her outstanding showing came as a surprise even to her. "It was a breakthrough meet for me," she says. "I did a lot better than I was expecting."
Though her career has seen plenty of early success, 18-year-old Emily fell into the sport. When she took lessons as a child, she showed no particular talent for swimming; when she joined the West Vancouver Otters Swim Club at age eight, it was only because her pals were doing it. It wasn't until she started meeting national time standards that she realized she might have a shot.
It may be that Emily's success arises from certain personality traits that have been ingrained in her since childhood. Her competitive nature comes from her status as middle sibling to two brothers. "Everything in the house was a competition," she says.
Emily also learned incredible poise under stress. During the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, she appeared to win first place in the 400m individual medley but was then disqualified for an improper turn. It was a devastating loss, yet she went on to win bronze in the 4x200m free relay and gold in the 400m freestyle—proof that, even at 17, nothing could destroy her focus.
Swimming has become her priority—especially in this first year post–high school. (She's deferred her acceptance at The University of British Columbia until September.) For now, "it's swimming all the time," she says.
But such single-mindedness can have its downsides, and when the pressure becomes overwhelming, Emily's dad steps in. "He says swimming is part of my life, but it's not my whole life," says Emily. This mantra works as a stress reliever, helping the swimmer keep her athletic career in perspective.
Emily's competitive streak, positive attitude, strong support system and remarkable talent have taken her all the way to the Olympics. The final ingredient? Plain old sweat. "I've dreamed about going to the Olympics since I was young," she says. "But I didn't understand just how much work you had to put in to get there."
Emily's quick questionnaire
1. What song do you play to pump yourself up?
It depends on the day. I listen to a lot of Drake and Nicki Minaj. I listen to a lot of country music, too. I guess "Truffle Butter" by Nicki Minaj.
2. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ben & Jerry's Half Baked ice cream. That's my go-to after practice.
3. What's your biggest fear?
4. If I weren't an athlete, I’d be… I think if I wasn’t a swimmer, I would be a soccer player. I would have to be an athlete because I’m really competitive.
5. I’m proud to be Canadian because…everyone knows Canadians as being nice people and I think that’s really cool.
6. Someday I hope to… find a job that I really love outside of swimming.
7. Right now I’m watching… Scandal.