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Vols swimmer achieves dream of competing in Olympics

Cherelle Thompson is competing in the 50-meter freestyle. She said it has been her dream her whole life to swim on the biggest stage in sports.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — A Lady Vols swimmer lived out her dream Thursday when she took the plunge to compete in the 50-meter freestyle swim at the Olympics.

Cherelle Thompson competed in Olympic heats against 83 other swimmers in the event, finishing 41st overall with a time of 26.19. Unfortunately, that time was just a little over a second shy of qualifying for the semifinals. 

She said that she raced for her home country — Trinidad and Tobago. However, she said that the swimming program at the University of Tennessee changed her life and helped her get where she is now.

"My dream has come true," she said. "This has been a long time coming. This has been something that I have committed my life my time to, for so many years."

She said that all she had was a dream and a will to compete on the biggest stage in sports. Thompson said it took years of work and preparation to jump into the pool, all of which is paying off.

"I was a teenager when I started my time at the University of Tennessee. And that was my first experience of growth as an athlete" Thompson said.

Going to UT was the first time she left home, and the university quickly becoming a second home she said.

"University of Tennessee became my second family. I left there with lifelong friends," said Thompson.

Although she was swimming for her home county, she said she finished her race with a salute to the place she credits for her growth — UTK.

"Look out for the last 15 meters of my race. And when I go up, I have my head down and I get my last few strokes, know that that it'll be a Tennessee finish," she said.

One of her coaches, Ashley Jahn, said that she knows Thompson as someone who believes in herself and won't stop no matter what anyone says. Nothing stops her from putting working towards her goal.]

"I think a lot of people probably didn't believe that she could make it to the Olympics, but she said she never stopped believing that she could," said Jahn.

She said she recognized the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as more than games. She said it also give competitors and the audience a much-needed feeling of hope.

"This is a celebration. And this is a true demonstration of hope that we have for the world — that we as humanity can outlast the challenges," said Thompson.