CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NBC Charlotte has named Ricky Berens as its Person of the Year.
With 63 percent of the viewer vote, Berens took home the award. The Charlotte native edged out fellow nominees Beverly Howard, Brenda Stevenson, Leon and Sandra Levine and David Marsh.
It's not every day you get to see an Olympic gold medal in person, much less three Olympic medals, which earned the Olympic swimmer and Charlotte native the award.
"It's a huge honor. I looked at the list when they first told me about it and saw coach Marsh and the Levine’s on there--it's just a cool honor to be up there with those sorts of people," said Berens.
Berens got his feet wet as a small child and began swimming at SwimMAC Carolina at the young age of nine, training in Charlotte. He says he's carried the local support with him across the world.
"Just throughout my whole career Charlotte has supported me so much and it's great because when I'm standing there behind the blocks it's not just me, I'm not just swimming by myself, I'm representing Charlotte, representing USA," said Berens.
It’s a role he takes seriously. Just recently Berens visited his alma mater South Meck High School and took some time to visit with students.
"It was fun being able to talk to the kids. I got to sign autographs, take pictures and talk to them in the auditorium for about 30 minutes and it's cool because I was in the same position they are."
Working as a role model doesn't end there. Berens volunteers as assistant coach at his college alma mater University of Texas.
"If they have questions, if they want to fix something with their stroke, I want them to come to me and hopefully I can help them out. If they ever have any questions about the team or what it is to be an Olympian and how to get there, I want to be there for them and help them out as much as I can.”
Berens won his first gold medal in Beijing for the 4x200 relay with Michael Phelps, and then again in London, but this time he came home with a silver and gold medal.
He took a brief retirement, but it didn't last long.
"After I got to settled down from everything, I was like, you know, I'm at top of my game, swimming really well. Michael is going to be done which opens a spot for everybody. It's just kind of what I do and it would be weird to leave right now at such a young age."
So far he's made no decisions about the 2016 Olympics in Rio, having already reached all his swimming goals, but Berens says he's still focused on swimming, having fun and has some good advice for young kids wondering how he made his dreams come true.
"I always had a goal no matter what it was—school, swimming, life outside of swimming, I always had a purpose. I always had a plan and I think that's how I got to where I am today,” Berens said.