Dear Ryan Lochte,
What comes to your mind when someone mentions Valentine’s Day? I’m guessing you think of chocolates and roses and those lame poems inside overdone Hallmark cards. To be honest, though, I don’t give a damn what Valentine’s Day means to you. And you probably don’t care what it means to me, either. But I’m going to tell you anyway.
Valentine’s Day reminds me of the time I was robbed.
Two years ago, I was 20 years old and traveling Europe during a semester abroad. It was Valentine’s Day in Rome and the sun was beaming; a February day so beautiful that I remember shedding my leather jacket. The Sistine Chapel was on my mind. You see, Lochte, I had spent the past year saving up money from two jobs to take this trip. And all I wanted to do that day was stare at Michelangelo’s painted ceiling. But on my way there, as my roommates and I boarded the underground metro, two teenage gypsies worked together to distract me and grab my wallet out of my bag. By the time I noticed, the train doors were shut and the gypsies had vanished.
I’m telling you this because I have a police report, a real Italian police report that I filled out with shaky hands. I lost my driver’s license, my credit cards, my student ID, and whatever Euros were still in my wallet. I had to work through the language barrier in the police station, borrow money from my roommates, and ask my parents to cancel my credit cards 4,000 miles away. I’m telling you this because I actually was robbed while traveling abroad. Unlike you, I didn’t allegedly damage public property or mouth off to authorities. I was on my way to Vatican City, the most sacred place in my religion, when everything I had on me was swiped away.
No gun was pointed at me. Aside from some pushing, I was barely touched. I guess I got lucky in that sense. And I will be the first to tell you that I’m not perfect, that I have made mistakes and disappointed those around me just like you have. I’m no martyr.
But I was an innocent college student that Valentine’s Day, traveling only off my saved up money.
For the next 20 years, I’ll be paying off loans just so I was able to go to school at all. Before Rio, you had everything – a successful swimming career, dedicated sponsors, enough money to travel around the world if you so desired.
You had earned it all, but you threw it away. You robbed yourself.
I know there is controversy over your situation in Rio regarding the police and testimony. I get that every narrative has two sides, sometimes three, maybe four. But there is no doubting your fabrication, your exaggeration of a story that actually happens to normal people all over the world. College students, single parents, the elderly with canes. People in their native countries, people walking foreign streets. Some go unharmed, like me, while others leave with physical reminders. So excuse us for not feeling sorry for you when you make up lies. And while I hope this will not define you for the rest of your life, I don’t think you should get off so quickly.
I don’t think you can swim your way out of this one, Lochte.