As a member of the U.S. Olympic women's free relay swim team, Lauren Perdue (Col '13) is the only current U.Va. student who won a medal in London this past summer. The 21-year-old anthropology major lit up Twitter this past summer before capturing gold when she tweeted that she declined NBA star LeBron James' invitation for dinner because of curfew. What she could not capture in 140 characters or less, however, was context: Perdue didn't mean to imply that James was looking for a date; she was simply trying to convey to her Twitter followers how surreal the Olympic Village experience was. Perdue was born in Charlottesville and raised in Greenville, N.C.

Lauren Perdue won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. Olympic women's free relay swim team. Luca DiCecco

Where do you keep your medal? Is it in a bank vault somewhere?

Let's just say I keep it in a safe place—and let's make sure we let people know that it's not real gold. I read somewhere before we got to London that it's actually made out of silver and then it's gold-plated. There's a little chip I have on it from showing it to someone [she lifts the medal out of its box]. See? It's silver underneath.

How old were you when you first realized the Olympics might be a possibility?

When I was 13 years old, making the Olympics was a lofty goal of mine. It was not until NCAAs my sophomore season at U.Va., when I finished second in the 200 free, that this lofty goal became closer in reach. I realized at that moment that my dream could become a reality in London 2012 if I worked even harder and kept my focus.

How has Coach Bernardino and being a part of that U.Va. swim team contributed to your success?

Coach Mark and the U.Va. team have helped to keep my love for the sport of swimming. Mark is a phenomenal coach and excellent leader for this program.

What surprised you most about the Olympics?

For me, qualifying for the Olympic team was my biggest surprise. I had had back surgery in the spring and had no expectations that I would make it. And what else surprised me was that once I met the team and found close relationships, it was just like any other meet. It didn't feel different at all.

What was all that business about your LeBron James tweet?

It was interesting about how big it got, but it was a good lesson for me. Before the Olympics it wouldn't have blown up like it did. But I am 21 and still learning the ropes about the impact of what you do on social media. I was embarrassed more than anything. He probably didn't even remember me. I didn't expect that people would think I was saying he asked me out. Four or five days later he came to watch the team and he sat two rows behind me. I couldn't even make eye contact with him because I was so embarrassed.

If you were a fish, what kind of fish would you be?

That's a tough one. I think a dolphinfish. Not a dolphin—a dolphinfish. I go fishing with my dad, and when you bring them out of the ocean they're this brilliant blue; they are so beautiful. But once they are out of the water for a short time, they quickly fade and become grayish. That's like me, I think. If I do anything else, any other sport, I just fade. I belong in the water.