The world was introduced to Summer Sanders in 1992. As a 19-years-old, Sanders won four swimming medals, including gold in the 200-meter butterfly and 4x100 relay, at the Barcelona Olympics.
The past 23 years have taken Sanders through a second career that has included broadcasting sports from basketball to tennis, hosting TV shows on Nickelodeon and MTV, appearing on Celebrity Apprentice and becoming a noted philanthropist.
But none of those high-profile positions took her back to where it started.
"I hinted to my husband if you want to take me anywhere, take me back to Barcelona," Sanders says.
This summer, she returned to Catalonia as a 43-year-old.
"It was perfectly imperfect," Sanders says with a laugh. "The pool was 52 degrees. We had a hard time getting in. I kind of half remembered it. It was like a memory flood in my brain walking on the pool deck. I remembered what lane I was in, then I dove in and I was freezing and it was awesome. It was awesome in every way.
"I was shouting at the rooftop, 'I won a gold medal here 23 years ago!' Everyone's like, 'yeah, whatever.' It was hilarious. It was perfect."
Yesterday was a Pretty big day for me. I had hinted to my husband for years, saying, "If you want to surprise me and take me someplace...please take me back to Barcelona so I can actually take in the city!" We arrived in Barcelona on Monday afternoon. I had tears in my eyes when we're touching down. It makes sense...the last time I was here, my world was filled with over the top emotion and pressure. I guess this 43 yr old remembers how her 19 yr old self felt in 1992. Yesterday we made it back to Monjuic were the The Olympic Games took place. With every step closer to the pool, I began to remember. "Ah, that's right, our bus drove up a hill to get to the venue," I said to Erik. In 1992, was entirely too focused on the competition to understand the importance of taking in my surroundings. Now, I saw the venues the way my family and friends lived the games. Which was emotional in a whole other way. We had heard the Picornell pool was open to the public, so we came prepared. 12 Euros later, I got to fully relive my moment. Classic!I am going to share a few funny videos from the day.
Posted by Summer Sanders on Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Sanders says she also got to enjoy the tourism and food that she did not experience in 1992. Her schedule and diet kept her away from Antoni Gaudi and Spanish tapas. This time around, she walked streets of Barcelona unrecognized. Millennials know Sanders more for her role as presenter of Figure It Out than as an Olympian.
"Outside of sports," she says about where she wants to leave a legacy. "I think the perfect blend would be great. I remember my major moments in life. Right now, what fills my head is giving back, being a voice for change, positive change, and being a good mom."
One of Sanders' first steps outside of sports came in 1996. Norwegian speed skating gold medalist Johann Olav Koss contacted Sanders about visiting Rwanda shortly after the Rwandan Genocide.
"I met the kids -- the kids who had just experienced the worst atrocity you had ever imagined," Sanders says. "We said we're going to have a play day, and their eyes lit up and they had these huge smiles on their faces. I knew how resilient kids are, but I witnessed it, and it stuck with me. The least I could do was to be their voice, so for me, that's been my mission."
In 2000, Koss established Right to Play, a global nonprofit organization that uses sport and play programs to educate and empower children facing adversity around the world. Sanders transitioned to the Right to Play USA Board of Directors, where she has been an Athlete Ambassador for more than15 years.
Sanders attended the Big Red Ball fundraiser last week in New York with approximately 30 athletes, including Allyson Felix, Bonnie Blair, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Heather O'Reilly. Much of Sanders' work with Right To Play has been outside of the United States.
"So many of our programs are in Africa and the Middle East," Sanders says. "The fact is we have more refugees than ever before -- Johann was just telling me since World War II. We have more kids who are refugees than ever before. I do believe that through sport you can teach kids so many lessons and make them full of confidence."
Right To Play has raised approximately $380 million, globally, since its inception. Sanders has been with it every step of the way.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.