The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Sophia Herzog may be a Paralympian bound for Tokyo and determined to win a medal in swimming, but in many ways, she’s a lot like her 20-something peers: focused on her future. The Colorado native, who was born with a form of dwarfism, has been steadily training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, prepping for the Tokyo games — but she knows she can’t swim forever.
When Herzog, 24, isn’t training or obsessing over her dog, Odie, she’s been thinking about what lies ahead after swimming — and choosing to make her education a priority. As a graduate from DeVry University, an official education provider of Team USA, Herzog was able to get her degree on her own terms (mostly virtual), and showed off her ability to juggle her athletic training and career training.
Herzog will be competing in freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly heats as the Paralympic Games get underway on Tuesday. Before taking off for Tokyo, the athlete caught up with Yahoo Life and shared how she stays focused and mentally prepared.
How do you approach taking care of your mental health?
We saw how much pressure athletes are under from the [Tokyo] Olympics, and I think it’s really important. I have a mental health coach and a psychologist that I work with almost weekly to get me prepared and healthy, just like my gym coach and swim coach. It’s nice to shed a light on the pressure — Olympic superhero athletes are just like every other human.
Aside from being in the pool, what else brings you joy?
We adopted a dog last June, and he’s been [helpful] in disconnecting from swimming. Getting outside and watching him be joyous over the littlest things has been a huge help for me. He’s now my child [laughs], Odie. I’m only 24 years old now and this is what I’ve done professionally for 12 years. I haven't really experienced life outside of swimming and I’m looking forward to finding what brings me joy — besides my dog.
How was going back to school while training?
I got my bachelor’s degree in business communications; DeVry is incredible and all online and with my swim schedule (four-six hours of training every day), I was able to manipulate my schedules — which helped me learn time management, by juggling these two huge things. I’m one of 215 Team USA alumni and I’m honored to be in that club.
Any plans for another degree? Maybe a Masters?
My plan is to retire after Tokyo and take some time off [this year] and figure out if I want to pursue a Masters, or maybe I’ll find a job I really love. I need a little break: I graduated high school a year early and then three days later, moved into the Olympic/Paralympic Training Center and it’s been non-stop ever since. Just to give myself a break and find my joys and find what I want to do for my next chapter.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
When you make a goal and dream, doing what it takes to get there is worth all the hardships and sacrifices.
Do you have a saying or mantra?
"Tiny but mighty."
What stresses you out?
There’s a ton of stress getting ready for the Paralympics; competing at the highest athletic level is very stressful in itself. Being a Paralympic athlete, I’m super-competitive — like, even with deep-cleaning the house [laughs].
Aside from swimming, what’re you looking forward to seeing at the upcoming games?
We’re a pretty young team and I’m really excited to see how we shock the world. I’d like to bring home some hardware for our country. Besides swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby are really fun to watch.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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