When Teri McKeever accepted her first swim coach position in 1984, she probably never imagined she would make history.

Regarded as one of nation’s pre-eminent swim coaches, she is finishing her 20th season at the University of California, Berkeley Next up, she heads to London as the first female head coach to lead the U.S. Olympic team.

McKeever’s mother was a national-level competitive swimmer, and McKeever herself won All-America honors as a swimmer at the University of Southern California. But when she graduated from USC in 1983, she planned to become a teacher.

“It was always in mind to coach at some level, but I didn’t really think about coaching full-time,” she says.

Born in Southern California, McKeever grew up in a family of 10 and learned to swim as an infant. She served as an assistant at USC for three seasons. From there, she moved north to coach at Fresno State University, where she worked until accepting her current position at U.C. Berkeley. Under McKeever’s direction, the Golden Bears team won its first national title in 2009. McKeever topped off that season by being named NCAA Coach of the Year. Cal won a second national title in 2011.

When it comes to working with collegiate athletes, in many ways her philosophy goes back to her interest in teaching.

“Coaching is teaching,” McKeever says. She views her job as preparing her swimmers for performance as athletes, and for life after their competitive experience ends.

As a coach, McKeever says one of the most exciting challenges is taking what is essentially an individual sport and bringing athletes together as a team. That’s particularly true with Olympic athletes because the team isn’t selected until about six weeks before the games. Until that point, athletes are basically competing against each other for spots.

McKeever became involved with USA Swimming in 2001. In 2004, she became the first female coach on a U.S. Olympic swim team. Two years later she became the first woman to serve as a U.S. head coach at an international event, the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships. She was selected as an assistant coach for the national team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and named head coach for the 2012 team in December 2010.

“Male or female, coaching the Olympic team is one of the highest honors,” McKeever says. “To be able to be a part of that in this capacity is really a tremendous honor that I hold very sacred.”