Alumna gained notoriety as gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer, but cemented her legacy by defeating alcoholism

December 10, 2018 — by Neeti Badve

Some alumni do not wait until after high school to achieve greatness. 1986 alumna Carrie Steinseifer gained widespread fame at before her junior year at SHS as an gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, but following high school, she gained perhaps her biggest and most lasting victory: defeating alcoholism.

At just 15, she not only won her first Nationals title, but went on to win two gold medals in the 4×100 medley and 4×100 freestyle relays at the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela.

Through constant training of fours hours a day, six days a week, Steinseifer not only qualified for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles at only 16 but also made it to the finals in the event.

Going into finals for the 100-meter freestyle, Steinseifer was seeded third overall, seemingly out of contention for the gold medal.

“Even at the first turn of the 100, I thought, I’m not going to medal. I wasn’t necessarily favored or even discussed in that winner’s circle conversation,” Steinseifer said in a self-written article for excellesports.com.

However, despite her doubts, Steinseifer finished with a time of 55.92, tying 22-year-old fellow American Nancy Hogshead for the gold medal.

At the same Olympics, Steinseifer won two additional gold medals as part of U.S. relay teams.

After her 1986 graduation, she continued her streak of freestyle dominance, winning six international medals — five gold and one silver — as well as three NCAA championship-winning relays for the University of Texas Longhorns.

But despite her wins and seemingly endless successes, Steinseifer failed to qualify for the 1988 Olympic team. This led Steinseifer to experience a loss of identity, and she unexpectedly decided to quit swimming altogether.

About a year later, Steinseifer returned to the water with a new goal in mind: to retire on her own terms.

“I started from zero, and that next summer I made the national team. I had peace and was able to retire knowing that it wasn’t about my capabilities,” Steinseifer wrote in her article.

Though her return to the sport was successful,  the end of Steinseifer’s career likely could have been avoided altogether had alcoholism not plagued her whole life.

Growing up in a household of alcoholic parents, Steinseifer used swimming as an escape for her fear and anger.

“I took it all out in the pool because nobody can see you cry underwater, right?” Steinseifer said, in an interview for rehabreviews.com.

At 17, she tasted her first drop of alcohol on a flight to Tokyo with the national team. Despite it being her first drink, Steinseifer had enough wine coolers to vomit and pass out on the airplane. That was only the beginning. She continued to abuse alcohol for the next 13 years.

Throughout her career, Steinseifer taught herself to push her body to the limits. She did the same with alcohol, slowly increasing the quantity and frequency of her drinking with age. She had trained her body to become invincible, but the poison she consumed every day for years finally caught up with her when she turned 30.

“I’d become everything that I hated in life,” Steinseifer wrote, “and I didn’t even see it coming.”

Steinseifer turned to Alcoholics Anonymous, chasing after sobriety as if it were her next gold medal.

After overcoming her denial, Steinseifer enrolled herself into treatment programs and now happily reports that she has not only achieved sobriety, but has also found new purpose in life.

Now, at age 50 and living in Oregon, she is a strong advocate against the stigma and stereotypes of addiction within the athletic community and works at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for addiction treatment and therapy, helping others who have struggled with alcohol.

“I talk about recovery openly,” Steinseifer wrote in her article. “It’s so much bigger than the medals. It’s about using this platform to help other struggling people who are ashamed to come out of their front door.”