After a heartbreaking defeat in the 2008 Olympic National Trials, Davis Tarwater was ready to give up competitive swimming.
Then Matt Kredich intervened.
Tarwater was a strong favorite to qualify for the U.S. National Team and go to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing until he finished 3rd in the qualifying finals, missing the team. Devastated, Tarwater returned home to Knoxville.
Unsure of his future, Tarwater contacted Tennessee swimming head coach Kredich about the possibility of working with the Lady Vols as a transition period away from swimming.
"It was a big risk to have this emotionally wounded older guy come and train with the women's team," Tarwater said.
"Working me into the broader framework of what (Kredich) was trying to achieve with the team was a huge vote of confidence in me. Him having trust in me meant a lot. It was a really positive environment for me to be in because he allowed me to work through the issues I was working through and gave me the positive reinforcement that I needed to rebuild myself as an athlete and as a person."
Slowly but surely, Kredich began to encourage Tarwater to not give up on his Olympic dream. Eventually, Tarwater's urge to compete resurfaced, and he went back to training. The pair spent hours breaking down Tarwater's technique and rebuilding his confidence in the pool.
"I wouldn't have made an Olympic team had I not spent that time with Matt," Tarwater said. "He was the guy that resurrected my career and made me believe again and was willing to be patient enough to walk through a really rocky learning process."
All the hard work paid off when Tarwater earned a spot on the U.S. team for the 2009 World Championships, where he earned a gold medal. Tarwater then retired from swimming to study at Oxford.
When he left for school, Tarwater thought he was finished with swimming, but on his return, he found himself going through the process of training again. The difference this time was that the Olympics weren't about personal validation.
"I had separated swimming from my personhood in the sense that I didn't need it to validate or invalidate my career," Tarwater said. "When I came back, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to do it for the sheer joy of the process and actually enjoy it, instead of having the burden and drudgery of every day being if I didn't do well it means I'm a bad person. It was going to be about the joy of being a professional athlete. When I came back and didn't have to have the validation, it was an awesome journey."
This time, Tarwater qualified for the Olympics and his contributions for the 4x200-meter relay team that earned him a gold medal.
In September of this year, Tarwater contacted Kredich about the possibility of returning to Tennessee to help coach again, an opportunity that Kredich welcomed.
"I really thought he was going to be done after London," Kredich said. "He called me at the beginning of September and said, 'I don't think I'm done yet. Can I talk to you?' Right now he's training and I'm not sure he knows why, he just knows he enjoys it and wants to keep swimming. His expectations right now are fairly simple. I think what he's looking for right now is really to be able to help the men's team.
"When Davis is in a practice, the dynamic changes. He has a way of connecting a group of guys in a set that really motivates them. He knows what a championship culture is. He brings a really clear vision on what the culture looks like in the water from a swimmer's perspective that really helps us right now."
Tarwater has capitalized on his post-Olympic fame by taking on numerous speaking engagements, but anticipates taking a break from swimming after this season to pursue career interests in business or politics.