5 Life Lessons From a Retired Swimmer

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5 Life Lessons From a Retired Swimmer

I think we all understand the expression “hindsight is 20/20” a little better. The end of each calendar year brings about a flurry of resolutions of everything one will vow to change because of the metaphorical version of a clean slate that comes with the change of the year. It also brings about a unique opportunity to reflect on all that has transpired this year, and what we’ve learned from all aspects of life. Here are a few things I’ve learned this year after stepping down from a 15-year swim career. They are lessons I can thank the sport of swimming for teaching me and apply in all areas of life.

Lesson #1: Mentality and Manifestation Matter

I heard it my whole swimming career: Half the race is won in your head. It was a battle I fought internally before almost every meet, and I lost some key races I was definitely capable of winning because I didn’t know how to use the power of thought to my advantage. As I gained experience in the pool, my ability to do this grew better over time as well. Its implications, however, have followed me far beyond the water. You’ll fight battles of will, nervousness, anxiety, and stress for the rest of your life. Developing your ability to control your thoughts, hone them, and use them to produce a positive outcome is not something to take lightly.

Lesson #2: Attention to Detail Makes All the Difference

The little things truly do count the most. In the water, you can have the power, the stamina, and the speed, but if you don’t swim a technically sound race, it’s only a matter of time before someone steps in and takes your top spot. The same is true in the real world in a plethora of ways. In personal relationships, it’s the little details that allow for growth and fulfillment. In academic and professional lives, paying attention to the tidbits of advice from professors, administrators, or superiors might end up meaning more to you than the general concepts and skills they engrain in you. Always keep your ears open in conversation, and hang onto a phrase or fact that might jump out at you. Sometimes that backlogged info will mean the difference in a future situation.

Lesson #3: Everything Happens For a Reason

Maybe you got injured at the start of a key season. Maybe you plateaued and lost a pivotal race. Maybe you missed practice and it was an easy recovery day. There are a variety of coincidences that exist in the swimming world that can be related to this phrase. The same goes for the real world. You may not see why a certain situation happens in a way you don’t expect for weeks, months, or even years after it happened. Like we are taught, it’s about trusting the process and understanding that, while something may become harder, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another door opening for you later on down the line because of it.

Lesson #4: The Ability To Adapt Is Key

What happened to Michael Phelps when his goggles flooded with water during the 200 butterfly at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing? He remained calm, swam his race, and came out with another gold medal, and another world record. Now, yes, this is Michael Phelps we’re talking about, and he’s the best of the best, but it’s swimming that taught him the ability to roll with the punches and adapt. Being an athlete meant he was trained mentally and physically to perform under the least desirable conditions, and so are we. Hold this skill with you because it’s not one that everyone possesses. Swimming teaches us a unique ability to go with the flow, adapt to our surroundings, and still find success. Life is full of unexpected turns, much like an athlete’s swimming career, and learning that skill and maintaining it will give you an unimaginable advantage once your time in the pool is up.

Lesson #5: Swimming Isn’t Everything

I imagine logging onto a swimming-themed publication and seeing the above statement isn’t what you expected to read. Because when you become a swimmer, you eat, sleep, and breathe water, chlorine and training. It envelops everything in your life and your identity centers around its existence, but there’s a whole world out there where “swimmer” will no longer be your main identifier. When I stepped down from this sport, one of the most terrifying yet exciting questions I got to answer was what my universe would look like without swimming. If you don’t love it anymore, it’s okay to walk away and find something else to be passionate about, because I can assure you there’s so much out there waiting for you to discover.

Maybe this year you learned some of these lessons. Or maybe your list of reflections looks completely different from this list. Swimming takes each of us on a unique ride with many highs and many lows, not unlike life itself. So like life, sit back and enjoy the ride.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.