US swimmer Claire Donahue competes in the women's 4x100m medley relay heats during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 3, 2012 in London. By LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages
"You say 'wow, she's really here; she has really made it,'" John Matson recalled Friday -- just 24 hours since returning from London to watch his former student in the pinnacle of her career.
Lenior City native Claire Donahue competed in the 100 meter butterfly in the 2012 Olympics last Sunday. Friday, she helped the U.S. women's team get to the finals of the 400 meter relay.
It has been a long road to get to the London Aquatics Centre for the 23-year-old, a road that began in Blount County. That's where Matson first met Donahue more than a decade ago.
"Claire always put her goals down, very focused on them and worked on that goal," he added.
In a 2008 interview on Live at Five, Donahue was still working with Matson. She said getting to the Olympics is a goal she wanted to achieve.
"My whole life -- even when I was 12, I always thought, even though I wasn't good, I wanted to go to the Olympics," she said in that interview.
Fast forward four years, and Matson said it's rare to see Donahue develop to the Olympian that she is today.
"She's an Olympian for life, that's something that no one can ever take away from her," Matson said. "To see how far she's come, but to be part of the 400 meter relay, it will be amazing to see her come back with a gold metal."
But after London, what's next? Matson thought about the next Olympics in 2016.
"She might want to continue on her career -- even though she's 23 years old, she feels like she has one more left in her," he said.
Because of restrictions, Matson has not been able to talk to Donahue this week.
He said if Donahue gets gold Saturday, he wants her to show that medal off to the next generation of possible Olympians from the "BLAST" swim team.