Schmitt was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1990 to Ralph and Gail Schmitt. Raised as one of five siblings in what is still her hometown of Canton, Michigan, Schmitt's father is a financial analyst and her mother is a system project manager. Schmitt considers her parents have been the most influential and helpful people in her life. "They are so supportive of my dreams and ambitions," she said in 2008, adding, "they have given me so many opportunities to excel in life and have set a good example for me to follow."
She has an older sister named Kirsten who got her bachelor's degree from University of Florida, and her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. Her older brother, Derek, swam for the University of Pittsburgh, and is now an assistant coach for the Plymouth-Canton Cruisers swim team in Plymouth, Michigan. Schmitt's younger twin sisters, Kari and Sara, played in the USA Hockey national championship games in 2008 and 2009, lettered in varsity both basketball and swimming during their four years in high school, and now play hockey at Ohio State University.
She started swimming at age nine, saying she followed her older sister, Kirsten, into it. "I thought about quitting," Schmitt said, "but stayed one more season and loved it." Prior to settling on swimming, she said she tried soccer, dance, basketball, volleyball, softball; and though she said she had the equipment for hockey, she decided to swim instead.
From ages 11 through 14, Schmitt swam at (what was then) the Ann Arbor Swim Club (AASC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan (which, in 2006, merged into Club Wolverine). In an interview during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Josh Morgan, her then-AASC coach, said there was no indication in those years just how fast she would one day become. He said she started to show real potential, later, in the spring of her junior year in high school when she went to a 2007 Junior National Team competition in Orlando, Florida. Calling it "her first real breakout swim," he said she went "from pretty fast to really fast," dropping four to five seconds off her 200 meter freestyle short course time of normally around a minute fifty-two seconds, down to around a minute forty-seven, thereby putting Schmitt in what Morgan called "elite company."
Schmitt went to Canton High School in Canton Township, Michigan, from which she graduated in the Spring of 2008. During her senior year, as she continued to swim at what had, by then, become Club Wolverine (formerly AASC) on the University of Michigan campus in nearby Ann Arbor, she began training alongside Olympian Michael Phelps under the guidance of Phelps's longtime coach, the university's men's swimming and diving head coach Bob Bowman. Before the Summer Olympics in Beijing, having ended his tenure at University of Michigan, Bowman moved to Baltimore in anticipation of being named the head coach and CEO of the prestigious North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) the following September. Both Phelps and Schmitt followed, with Schmitt moving to Baltimore just after her spring 2008 high school graduation in order to train full-time with Phelps and Bowman during the weeks leading-up to that summer's Olympics in Beijing (at which Schmitt won her first Olympic medal, a bronze in the 4×200 meter freestyle).
After the Summer Olympics, in the fall of 2008, Schmitt moved to Athens to become a freshman at the University of Georgia, majoring in psychology, and minoring in Childhood and Family Development. She joined coach Jack Bauerle Georgia Bulldogs swimming and diving team, after she had just swum in the Summer Olympics under Bauerle in his capacity as the games' women's swimming head coach. She participated in NCAA competition during her freshman, sophomore and junior years, ultimately becoming a four-time NCAA national champion by winning the 500-yard freestyle in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and the 200-yard freestyle in 2010. While at college in Athens, Schmitt also became involved in Athens Bulldog Swim Club (ABSC) competitions on the University of Georgia campus.
During her first three years at the university, she trained with Phelps and Bowman in Baltimore only during summers, between semesters. However, in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, she took the 2011-2012 school year (her senior year) off, and so did not compete with the Bulldogs that year; and, instead, she moved to Baltimore and trained full-time with Bowman and Phelps at the NBAC; which training consisted of at least four hours in the pool and one hour on dry land, every day, six days a week. While living in Baltimore, Schmitt's roommate was NBAC teammate and Towson University Tigers freestyler and IM swimmer Meredith Budner.
After the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Schmitt plans to return to the University of Georgia to complete her senior year of college, where she said she looks forward to fellow NBAC teammate Chase Kalisz being a new Georgia Bulldogs teammate. Fellow 2012 Summer Olympic gold medalist in the 4×200 meter freestyle, Shannon Vreeland, will also, once again, be Schmitt's Bulldogs teammate when she returns to college. Though she will resume NCAA swimming in college when she returns, Schmitt has said she's unsure how much longer she'll swim: "...maybe to the next Olympics (2016), maybe not; it depends on a lot of things," she said.
Schmitt wrote on the bio form for her USA Swimming organization membership that she enjoys scrapbooking, taking pictures, playing outdoor games and playing board games; and that her ultimate way to relax is watching a movie or getting a massage. Whenever she returns home to Canton she likes to visit the local youth swim clubs and high school swim teams, both swimming and talking with the young swimmers, and encouraging them as a role model and mentor. "I love motivating these kids when they’re just starting to pave their own paths in life," she said.
About it all, Schmitt has said: "I didn't start swimming competitively until I was 10 and didn't really focus on it until I was 12, yet it's such a huge part of my life and I can't imagine my life without it. It's been an amazing journey, but more than that, it's shaped who I am as a person. The best part is all the friends I have made. I believe that I literally have the best friends anyone could ever imagine hoping for, and I met almost all of them because of swimming. Taking in all the memories with these amazing people, I feel pretty lucky with the paths I have crossed, and the people I have met because of swimming."
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