Donahue discusses life after London Olympics

Claire Donahue signs a baseball for Lt. Col. Marcus Carter from Nashville, Tn. Donahue threw out the first pitch at the Hot Rods baseball game on Sep. 06, 2012.

Allison Goodan

“I was probably 10 or 11 when I told people I was going to the Olympics,” Claire Donahue said. “It’s always been a dream of mine.”

    The alumna of WKU made her dreams come true when she won a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

    Donahue, 23, started swimming when she was 6 years old, but she said gold medals don’t come easy. She went through a stint around 15-16 years old when she wanted to give up.

    “Sticking with it was one of the hardest things but one of the most important things,” she said.

    She continued swimming and graduated from Lenoir City High School before many collegiate swim teams recruited her. Donahue chose WKU.

    As a freshman, she said WKU fit all the things she was looking for — a beautiful campus, the right majors and a great swim team. She started to love learning, which she said didn’t come easy in high school.

    “I found my niche in social work,” the Olympian said. “I loved going to class, which was such a great thing for me. If I didn’t go to WKU, I’m not sure I would’ve found that.”

    Donahue has another passion, and that’s winning gold. She started training for the Olympics about a year ago.

    “At trials, I was ready to go 100 percent,” she said.

    Donahue came in second for the 100-meter butterfly, qualifying her for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

    Arriving in London was her first time overseas, and although the athlete said “everything was gorgeous,” she was there on a mission.

    The first race was the most nerve-wracking, she said. However, she advanced from the semifinals in the 100-meter butterfly.

    “I made sure I didn’t look in the stands,” she said, per advice of a previous coach.

    She finished seventh in the finals and then swam the butterfly leg of the 4×100-meter relay in the preliminary heat.

    Her hard work paid off. The young athlete’s dream came to fruition when the American women won the gold.

    It was hard for Donahue to explain the overwhelming happiness.

    “When I was younger, I would dream of what it would be like to make it to the Olympics and win gold,” she said. “It isn’t what you think it’d be like — it is 10 times better.”

    Donahue said she didn’t expect all the attention.

    “I thought I’d come home and everything would go back to normal,” she said. “My first day back was very overwhelming. After the first 24 hours of shock, I’ve had fun with it.”

    Donahue said she sees another golden horizon. In the future, she wants to train for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and win an individual gold medal. She also plans to get a master’s degree in social work.

    The WKU alumna is reaching higher every time with hopes to keep hitting the mark, but for her recent success, she said, “everything was just kind of perfect.”