Tracy Caulkins is in the midst of a transition, and she seems to be moving through it with the same grace and smoothness with which she moved through the water en route to three gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
At 22, she is retired from the sport that was a focal point in her life for so long. The withdrawal had a few bumps, but she said it wasn't that hard because she had other things to fall back on.
"I think I've adjusted very well," said Caulkins, in town yesterday on a promotional stop. "Everybody said, 'Oh, no, what are we going to do?' And I knew I'd miss the people, but I don't miss getting up in the morning (for practice). But I went back to school and got real busy and before I knew it, months had gone by."
Her school was the University of Florida, where she won 12 individual NCAA titles and was an academic all-America. And in August, Caulkins, who didn't swim during her senior year, graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism.
She got one of her first tastes of broadcasting doing commentary on a meet between Florida and Texas for the University of Florida's public broadcasting station.
"It was hard because I was trying to be objective, but the meet went down to the last race, and I just started to laugh," said Caulkins. "I wanted to take the head set off and yell, 'Go Florida.' "
Caulkins does go back in the water, but with a different attitude.
"For about six months after the Olympics, I just needed to get away from it," she said. "At first, it was hard to go in the water and not go 100 percent. Now, I swim just for my own fitness."
And fitness was the reason Caulkins was in Washington yesterday. She is helping to promote a "Report on Women in Sports," a survey done in conjunction with the Women's Sports Foundation to determine some of the attitudes and behavior of women in the sports community.
The report suggests that there now is much greater acceptance of coeducational sports activities, especially by younger women, and that there is a strong link between such activities in childhood and adult involvement in sports. A total of 1,682 women of all ages responded to the nationwide survey.
"They should do away with the term 'tomboy,' " Caulkins said. "There is a stigma associated with it. Women are succeeding in business and other areas, and there is no reason they shouldn't feel good about themselves and be able to compete in sports."
Forty-six percent of the respondents picked a male as their favorite sports role model during childhood, with about 47 percent picking a female figure. Caulkins thinks that as more women participate in sports, and then gain recognition, those numbers will shift.
Said Caulkins: "I don't know how many kids will want to be like the Fridge (Chicago Bears' William Perry)."