Holly Chafin, Kennedy Smith and Annabel Poteet ran giggling from the pool house at Augusta Swim Supply on Saturday after getting autographs and taking pictures with 11-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte.
“He’s like 1,000 times cuter in person,” Kennedy, 14, said excitedly.
The three are good friends and teammates at Greater Augusta Swimming, and they had their tickets for Lochte’s meet and greet by 8:30 a.m., even though it did not begin until 11 a.m.
Kennedy and Holly, 14, had their swimming caps autographed, while Annabel, 13, got Lochte’s signature on her T-shirt and a copy of Splash magazine.
“Once you meet him, you’re like, ‘I have met him,’ and nobody can take that away,” Poteet said.
Lochte visited Augusta Swim Supply in honor of its 21-year partnership with Speedo, which sponsors the swimmer.
“I would call it a gift to allow him to come over here and promote the store and Speedo,” said Glynis Johnson, who owns the store with her husband, David. “People are coming from all over – Kentucky, North Carolina, all over Georgia. That’s what we’ve heard so far.”
Johnson said she and her husband opened the store because their three children were swimmers, but they had to order their gear from out-of-town stores. They wanted to make swimming supplies more accessible to local athletes.
Robin Andrews, of Royston, Ga., brought her two nephews to Augusta on Friday night so they could be at the store first thing Saturday.
“I was so afraid we wouldn’t get here in time for a ticket,” she said. They were in line for their tickets by 7 a.m.
Andrews’ nephews, 11-year-old Zachary Andrews and 7-year-old Elijah Didion, are visiting for the summer from Sacramento, Calif. Both compete on a swim team at home.
Zachary said his two favorite swimmers are Michael Phelps and Lochte. He has a swim cap he uses that has been autographed by Phelps, but the one Lochte autographed Saturday will be framed, he said.
“I won’t swim with this. It’s too valuable,” he said.
Lochte said he never expected swimming to lead him to a point where fans would start screaming when he arrived, as they did Saturday. He also said he doesn’t feel like he does enough of these types of events.
“I love this,” he said. “I love seeing fans. I love signing autographs and taking pictures with everyone.”