Ryan Lochte is finding strength in vulnerability.
The Olympic swimmer tells PEOPLE he's "glad" he opened up about his estranged relationship with his mother Ileana Lochte in an interview last month.
"I think it was just a point in my life where I was able to overcome on my own," Lochte tells PEOPLE while chatting about his partnership with rent rewards platform Piñata. "It was hard. I want people to know that just because I'm an Olympian, I don't have the easy way."
In the September In Depth with Graham Bensinger interview Lochte, 36, explained how his family dynamic has changed, saying of his mom, "when I told her that she was going to be a grandma, and I'm having a kid she said some very, very hurtful things that kind of ended our relationship."
Now, Lochte says he's happy his fans understand that "just because I'm an Olympian, I don't have everything handed to me." He continues, "I don't have the perfect family life. It was hard, but I'm glad I got it out there because I'm so happy with my life and the way it's going right now. I couldn't ask for anything else."
Lochte and his wife Kayla Rae Reid reside in Gainesville, Florida, and share son Caiden, 3, and daughter Liv, 16 months. The couple was married in 2018 after getting engaged in October 2016.
The athlete says he's happy to have such a strong support system in Reid amid the situation, explaining, "we dealt with it together."
"I had to protect my own family and with everything that's happened in our lives since 2016, Kayla was with me the whole time and she stuck with me the whole entire time," he says, referencing his Rio Olympics controversy, suspension from USA Swiming, and time in a rehab program for alcohol. "So honestly, we joke about it and we're like, 'There's only one way left to go, and that's up with us.' Because we've been through the rock bottom. We've been through everything."
Lochte says he would "always want everything to work out, of course. Because I want everyone to be happy and on the same page, but that's not life. Life is hard. But all I can say right now is that I'm happy where I'm at."
And where he's at is training for the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — his fifth and likely his final. The 12-time medalist admits he was "crushed" when he heard of the year postponement of the games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I trained so hard for it and I was ready. I was ready to get a gold medal," he says. Continuing, Lochte tells PEOPLE, "So then I had to start thinking of the positive side. I had to start thinking, 'So you're going to give me an extra year of training under my belt. You're going to give me an extra year of getting stronger in and out of the water. You're going to actually get another year of me mentally preparing myself.' If anything, this is going to be better for me because I'm going to get hungrier."
Now, he's going to do "whatever I can" to make his goal of a fifth Games and a 13th medal possible.
"My motivation also comes from my kids," he says. "I want to teach my kids that in life you get knocked down, but it's how you get up that's going to define you as a person."
When he's not laser-focused on his training, Lochte is having a little fun while teaming up with companies he cares about, including Piñata, which helps renters earn rewards on rent day.
"We just want more people to be a part of Piñata because this whole pandemic has really gone crazy, and more and more people now are renting — because they're either losing their jobs or homes," Lochte, a renter himself, says. "So now more than ever is the time to get on board with Piñata because you want those rewards."
Piñata — which is available on iOS and Android mobile devices in the U.S. — is free to download, and earns users rewards simply for being renters. Users get special in-app currency to spend on things like gift cards to local restaurants, or if they choose, charitable donations.
"The more money you save through Piñata Cash, you can spend it on parks from hundreds of different brands — from CVS and Costco to Jiffy Lube," says Lochte. "It's endless. So for me and the kids, it's definitely going to be, like CVS getting diapers."
He also worked on a special campaign short film with actor pal Jonathan Bennett for the brand called In Max We Trust, named after Piñata's mascot.
For more information on Piñata, visit pinata.ai.
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