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Olympic Swimmer Katie Hoff Shares Successes And Struggles In New Memoir

By Karen Rosen | Dec. 07, 2020, 11:40 a.m. (ET)

Katie Hoff's new book "Blueprint: An Olympian’s Story of Striving, Adapting and Embracing the Suck" was released on Nov. 27, 2020.

 

So many books have been written about the overachieving underdog. But what about the underachieving overdog?

Katie Hoff wrote “Blueprint: An Olympian’s Story of Striving, Adapting and Embracing the Suck” to tell that kind of story.

“How did I get back up? How did I stay relentless? How did I transition?” That’s something so many people go through,” said Hoff, 31, a two-time Olympic swimmer. “And I wanted it to be a story of, ‘Hey if you shoot high, that’s great, and if you don’t quite get there all the time that’s OK.’ It’s OK to fail and it really just forms you into the strong human being that you are today.”

Hoff was called “The female Michael Phelps” prior to the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.

After all, she won five individual events at the U.S. Olympic Trials – the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles and the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys. She was "Hoff the Charts," regaining her world record in the 400 IM and breaking American records in the 200 free and 200 IM. She also qualified for Team USA in the 4 x 200 free relay, giving her six Olympic medal opportunities.

Phelps, who contributed a blurb for the book's back cover, also won five individual events at the Trials and earned a spot on three relays.

Yet while Phelps was 8-for-8 in Beijing, posting a new Olympic record for most gold medals at one Games, Hoff went home with a silver in the 400 freestyle and bronze medals in the 400 IM and 4 x 200 free relay.

Hoff said being compared to Phelps was an honor – which she didn’t discourage at the time because it made her feel special. By not winning any gold medals, though, “the way that it framed my 2008 Olympic Games was in a negative light,” Hoff said. “Looking back, it wasn’t the best meet of my life, but it was a solid meet, so that was a hard pill to swallow.

“Eight gold medals wasn’t in my blueprint, as much as I wish it was.”

That’s how Hoff came up with the title of her book, which came out in paperback and Kindle on Nov. 27 and will be released as an audiobook – narrated by Hoff – in December.

“Everyone has a blueprint when they start out in life,” she said. “I’ve had to make adjustments, make edits, make new drafts, in order to continue to find my extraordinary and excel in life.”

As far as “embracing the suck” is concerned, Hoff writes that the term is military slang to accept something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable. The situation is bad, but deal with it.”

Hoff said the idea of a book had been percolating for years, but she wasn’t emotionally ready to begin until November 2019. She started out writing by herself, then collaborated with ghostwriter Richard Bader, who Hoff said acted as a coach in prompting her to go deeper into her psyche.

Hoff put it all on the page, just like she once put it all in the pool, and she said the result was cathartic.

“It was just about healing, about being able to look back on my career, embrace some tough moments, relive some exciting ones and then be able to move forward from there,” she said.

The book is chock-full of photos and, as a bonus, includes QR codes that take the reader to clips of her races, interviews and a TEDx talk she gave last year.

Hoff writes that she was so competitive as a child that she got mad at her grandma for not playing badminton well enough.

She channeled that intensity into swimming and made her first Olympic team at age 15. As the youngest swimmer on Team USA in 2004, Hoff compared the Athens Games to the Hunger Games. She won no medals but attracted unwanted attention when she got out of the pool after her first race and promptly threw up.


It was just about healing, about being able to look back on my career, embrace some tough moments, relive some exciting ones and then be able to move forward from there.

Katie Hoff, Swimming

Hoff said she was grateful for the chance to set the record straight 16 years later.

“So many people have said to me, like ‘Yeah, I get nervous, too, and I throw up,’” said Hoff, who had placed sixth in her 400 IM heat despite lowering her personal best by 10 seconds.

But she points out that normally people get sick before the race, not after. Hoff had pushed herself so hard that “this pure lactic acid was coming out of me without being able to control it,” she said. “It was nice being able to shed some light on what that looked like for me and how it felt and what truly happened.”

At 16, Hoff signed a 10-year deal with Speedo, which at the time was the longest contract the company had signed with an athlete. By turning pro, she gave up a chance to compete for a college team.

Hoff won three gold medals at the 2005 world championships, then three more in 2007, raising her profile going into the next Olympic year while behind the scenes she was riddled with self-doubt.

In Hoff’s first event in Beijing, it took two world records to beat her in the 400 IM.

“Watch the video of the medal ceremony – I don’t look happy,” she wrote. “When you’re a favorite to win a race, and finish third, you’re not thrilled.”

The next day Hoff had the lead in the 400 free when Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain caught her at the wall to win by .07 of a second.

That margin of victory, which Hoff compares to a blink of the eye, still haunts her.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to be at peace with it, and I think that’s OK,” she said. “Maybe if I had just won gold and didn’t feel that pain I wouldn’t be able to relate to people who have also experienced that.”

Two days later, Hoff swam two finals, finishing fourth in both the 200 IM and the 200 free. Her third Olympic medal was a bronze in the 4 x 200 relay.

Hoff wrote that after she came home from the Beijing Games, “I cried so much that I would hyperventilate.”

That depiction is at odds with the smiling photos the public is used to seeing. “Even my own dad said, ‘Some parts made me sad, honey,’” Hoff said. “I was like, ‘I know.’

“I think that was part of why I took so long to write it. I didn’t want to write something that was just a highlight reel. I wanted young athletes, young entrepreneurs, or anyone starting out on a big journey to understand that pain is just a part of the journey to the success.”

Hoff originally thought she would swim through the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but blood clots hastened her retirement in 2015.

“If hadn’t had the pulmonary embolism and it didn’t put a big speed bump there, I think I would still be going for it,” she said.

Instead, Hoff lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, with her husband, Todd Anderson, a former football player. She muses that had she gone to the London Olympics, she might never have married Anderson.

They founded a company called Synergy Dryland and Hoff is also pursuing speaking engagements.

She doesn’t swim that often, but during clinics she will get in the pool to demonstrate or race the kids.

“What I’ve really discovered is swimming was a vehicle to give me the feeling that I craved –  feeling extraordinary,” Hoff said, “and it doesn’t do that for me any more.”

She stays in shape by running, lifting weights or riding an exercise bike.

When Hoff watches sports, she finds herself commiserating with the athletes who lose or make mistakes.

And she admitted there’s still “some level of sadness” when she watches an Olympic Games.

“But each Olympic Games gets easier,” Hoff said, “and I still have people that I’m rooting for and I try to just channel my energy to getting excited for them.”

Her Olympic and world championships medals were tucked away until her birthday this year, when Anderson’s aunt declared, “Those medals need to be out” and created a display.

Twelve Olympic and world championships medals now hang on the wall of Hoff’s office under KTHoff7 and a single word:

“Relentless.”

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Katie Hoff