HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico's Townley Haas returned to where his swimming career began on Friday, the NOVA swimming facility in the West End, to meet with about 200 fans and their family members before he returns to college next week.
Haas signed autographs and posed for pictures with several kids, one of whom could be the next Townley Haas.
As a young teenager, Haas was not one of the top swimmers in his age group at NOVA, but with time and maturity he grew and developed into an Olympic gold medalist.
The Benedictine graduate also answered several questions about his Rio experience and his advice for the next generation of swimmers.
"I have to say just keep going... There's times when you don't want to do it anymore. I got up at 4:30 every morning for four years," said Townley. "Not many people want to do that, but you have to push through and you have to keep working hard because it pays off in the end."
Townley didn't bring much home besides the gold medal and a sunburn from Copacabana Beach. He was on a flight back to the U.S. when four of his teammates were involved in the now infamous gas station incident in Rio.
Townley said he didn't want to go in depth about the controversy, but he did say he is "happy they are back home and safe."
When asked about his famous Team USA teammates, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Townley had nothing but positive things to say.
"They're great guys. They'll talk to you. They'll let you ask them questions," said Townley. "We played cards with them almost every night, just stuff like that. They're not afraid to help people out if you ask, and even if you don't ask."
After a breakout performance in Rio, Townley is now considered one of the rising stars on the Team USA swim team. With the retirement of Michael Phelps, some say the Henrico native could be his successor.
"Wow. He's just so good at everything. It's almost hard to compare anyone to him," said Townley. "Just the fact that people are saying that makes me feel honored that they might think I might be able to have the chance to be somewhere near him in the future."
The 19-year-old is set return to the University of Texas for his sophomore year next week.
He has not yet gotten in a pool to swim since his gold medal winning performance in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay.
"It's actually been quite enjoyable," he said. "I took three days off since NCAA's and that was the last time I had off since last August. It's been pretty nice."