Ever wonder what it takes to be an Olympian? Lia Neal, a two-time freestyle medalist and professional swimmer, talked to us about what it takes to stand on that podium. We don’t doubt the tips she shared will result in her success in the 2020 games -- and help inspire you to achieve greatness, too.
Walk us through your journey
How did your passion for swimming start, and how did you get to such a high level of achievement in the sport today?
Lia Neal: I started swimming when I was six, because my friends were starting to take lessons and their parents urged me to join. I just set little goals for myself, climbing the rungs of the ladder until I got where I am today. It started with two years of lessons, then I joined a team, then I started winning against kids my age, and then I started beating kids older than me. I broke team records, state records, national age group records. I made the Middle Atlantic Zone All Star team and the National Junior team before making the Olympic team for the first time. I did four years of collegiate swimming and made the Olympic team again. Today, I’m swimming professionally.
What’s been the biggest obstacle in your career (and how did you overcome this)?
LN: My biggest obstacle is the mental aspect of swimming, and it still is a struggle. I met with a sport psychologist for a bit in 2016, but that didn’t help too much. I probably started it too close to the Olympics and was looking for a quick fix. As a professional athlete now, I realize it’s a 24/7 job. Everything supplementary (recovery, weights, extra cardio/dryland sessions, mental health) is just as important as the actual swimming.
The older you get and the more experience you gain in a sport, the more you realize no one knows your body better than you. For the longest time I had people telling me to do certain things or telling me that I wasn’t pushing myself enough when in reality, I should’ve listened to my body. By pushing well past soreness and what my body was capable of doing, I ended up with slap tears in both shoulders. The injury however, was a blessing in disguise. With every mistake comes a lesson, and now I know to listen to myself if my gut and nerve endings are telling my brain, “Ahh stop, this hurts!” I also now know how to swim more properly, haha.
Tell us about your goals: We know you’re aiming for the 2020 games: What does success look like for you? Do you formally “goal-set”?
LN: Yes, the ultimate goal is 2020. I first have the World Championships and Pan American Games this summer where I want to swim uninhibitedly, showcase all my hard work and have fun while doing it. Once all that is set in place, everything else -- like the best times, medals, and top world rankings -- will happen.
Walk us through your typical day.
What does a day-in-the-life of Lia Neal look like?
LN: Let’s take a Monday for example -- Mondays I get to sleep in! I have a 45-minute drive to my 11 a.m. weights session in Chula Vista. I’ll have lunch after, maybe go get coffee and chill before practice from 3:45 to 6:00 p.m. Then I go home and cook dinner, watch “That 70’s Show” or “The Bachelor.” Finally, I light a candle, put my sleep playlist on, and go through my skincare regimen before going to sleep.
What does Lia Neal eat in a day? Does your diet change in preparation for a big competition?
LN: This is a combination of what I have had the last couple of days:
Before practice snack: Banana, peanut butter and honey drizzle toast.
After practice snack: A few sips of Boost.
Breakfast: Avocado, egg, tomato toast and a bowl of cereal 10 minutes later.
Post-nap meal/lunch: Grapes fruit parfait featuring Gr8nola!
Post-practice: The rest of the Boost from earlier.
Dinner: Sweet potatoes, asparagus and salmon.
Dessert: Chocolate covered pretzels.
If you could swim anywhere where would it be and why?
LN: Australia! I loved Australia when I was there training for four weeks. It’s beautiful and everyone’s so comfortable, nice, and carefree.
In terms of self-care, what are some rituals, products or hacks you swear by that can instantly add value to all our lives?
LN: Do a nighttime skincare routine! Not only does it improve your skin, but it trains your body to go to sleep. Always keep a full bottle of water beside your bed and drink it all as soon as you wake up.
What’s your number one tip for anyone who wants to achieve gr8ness in their lives?
LN: I recently came across this mantra, “The things you give your attention to are the things you give your energy to.” Do with that as you will to get the most out of your life.
Just for fun: You're stuck on an island and can only take three food items with you. What would they be?
LN: Grapes, chocolate and Cheetos.