Stroke of Genius

Who: Cullen Jones

What: The twenty-five-year-old professional swimmer, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay with teammate Michael Phelps at last summer's Olympic Games (he now has the Olympic rings tattooed on his right bicep), trains with SwimMAC Carolina and lives in uptown. "Now that I've settled in Charlotte, I love it here," he says. He's training seven days a week and has his sights on the FINA World Championships in Rome, which begin July 18. Two weeks prior, he and dozens of other top American swimmers will be competing at the trials in Indianapolis for the right to go.

The following conversation with Cullen Jones appears exclusively on CharlotteMagazine.com.

It seems like your first year living here was nonstop.

When I moved here last year, I was just going to practice and going home, and I didn't really know anybody. But now I'm having a blast. There's always something to do. This summer I won't be here, because hopefully I'll be going to Rome.

What's your training routine like now?

I'm lifting four times a week and I'm doing about twelve water workouts. I used to have Sundays off, but not anymore. I'm working out every single day of the week. It's pretty intense and it's more than I've ever done. My body has broken down in ways that I can't even explain. There've been times where, like, holding a glass of water is hard. 

They say swimming is a lonely sport. How do you stay motivated?

Watching the world record being broken. I have that drive to want to be the best. I've been hanging around some really big people, like Michael Jordan. Even to this day, he's very competitive about things and that just fired me up. One of the things my coach [David Marsh] said to me is you don't want to find a reason to roll out of bed; you want to find a reason to spring out of bed. There are some days when I can't help but roll out of bed [laughs], but mentally I'm ready to go. 

Swimmers are known for being some of the best-conditioned athletes.

My coach has an amazing ability to fit workouts to me and really challenge me. But challenge me in a way that I'm like, ‘I don't feel like I can push myself anymore,' but for some reason I push myself even harder. I don't how he does it, but he does. Coming to Charlotte and training was the greatest move I could've made. I'm excited to see the results. 

What do you do to get ready before you hit the pool?

I listen to hip-hop. Young Jeezy gets me pumped up. I'm a huge Jay-Z fan; and T.I. with Jay-Z you can pick pretty much any song. I listen to Jeezy's "Hustlaz Ambition" before I go to practice. Michael [Phelps] said it best: "Before I get out of my car I'm listening to that song that's going to get me ready to swim, because I'm going to be listening to that song for the next two hours [in my head] trying to get me through workouts."