From Retirement to Global Success: Kasia Wasick Has Found Late-Career Surge


From Retirement to Global Success: Kasia Wasick Has Found Late-Career Surge

Believe in yourself. That’s the lesson Polish swimmer Kasia Wasick learned after retiring from swimming six years ago because of a shoulder injury, then returning with a newfound confidence and appreciation for the sport she loves.

Six years ago, Katarzyna (Kasia) Wasick, née Wilk, was done with swimming. After competing in her third Olympic Games (2008, 2012, 2016), a shoulder injury forced her to retire.

It turns out, she was just getting started.

Wasick opened the second wave of her career, which turned out to be even more successful than the first. She qualified for her fourth Olympic team that competed at Tokyo in 2021, earning fifth in the 50 freestyle—her best Olympic performance.

She then medaled later that year at the Short Course European Championships (November in Kazan: silver, 50 and 100 free) and Short Course World Championships (December in Abu Dhabi: bronze, 50 free).

This year, she continued that momentum, earning the silver medal in the 50 freestyle at the FINA World Championships in Budapest. Touching the wall in 24.18 behind Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom (23.98), Wasick became only the second Polish woman in history to medal at a long course World Championships, along with Otylia Jedrzejczak, who won seven medals (two gold, three silver, two bronze) in 2001-03-05-07.

And making it even more special for Kasia was the fact that she did it in front of her entire family!


“It has been a journey,” the 30-year-old admitted. “This year really gave me a lot of energy to keep going. I have days where I want to drop everything and say this is it. But then I think about times like this year, getting a medal at World Champs with my whole family there.

“It was not my best time nor was it about prize money…it was just about my family,” Wasick said. “It is not often that someone wins a medal at the World Champs (at my age). I was basically climbing the mountain every day to get there.

“It was a beautiful moment. I didn’t expect I would have so many emotions at that time. All the years of my career, before the retirement, I believed that medaling at (LC) Worlds was impossible for me. I believed that I wasn’t as talented as others, and here I am—after retiring from swimming—being able to medal.

“I finally did it, and I was just relieved and proud. I knew it was something more than medaling—it was showing people that you can make this happen if you believe in yourself. At age 30, you can be a great athlete. My whole family was there, and they knew my whole journey. My parents hadn’t seen me race in 12 years. I saw their faces and thought of the times my parents would take me to the pool growing up.”

It was the culmination of two spectacular years for Wasick.


Like Wasick said, it has been a journey—one that started prior to the 2008 Olympics and got a restart after 2016 when the shoulder injury forced her to retire. But she simply couldn’t stay away.

“I was in L.A. at that time at USC,” she said. “I was ready to swim professionally, but after a few weeks, I injured my shoulder. I was forced to take time off, then I got engaged and moved to Las Vegas. Right after I moved, I got a job doing clinical research.

“My life just all of a sudden shifted 360 degrees, and I stopped swimming. At that time, there were not many options in Vegas, so I didn’t think about (returning to the sport),” she said.

“However, after a year-and-a-half, it started getting really tough mentally to be done with swimming and realize I would never compete in the Olympics again. Going from being an athlete to stopping, your body misses the work so much. I tried running—and I would try to stay active—but it wasn’t at that level.”

But the feeling of having her career not end on her own terms continued to creep into Wasick’s mind.

“I think because it wasn’t my decision to retire (but, rather, because of the injury), a year later, I was working in the office and all of a sudden I realized I would never be a swimmer again. That was really hard to swallow for me. When I was watching Polish nationals or international meets where my teammates were swimming, I felt the hunger,” she said.

“One day I came home and was really sad. My husband asked me what was wrong, and I told him. He encouraged me to sign up for fitness classes. I started to get my routine back. That was the moment that one of my friends messaged me and told me about the Masters team in Las Vegas. I signed up.

“It wasn’t that I was coming back to swimming, so I didn’t tell anyone.” But it proved to be the start of a great comeback story.

“At the meet, I met my current coach, and I swam really well and had so much fun and so much energy. Ben Loorz told me after that they were starting a pro team. I trained with Masters for two months to be ready to join the pro team at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“From that moment on, I was really grateful for the chance to be able to swim again and have another opportunity,” she said.


Part of what has helped Kasia’s sprinting career was the formation of the International Swimming League (ISL). She competed in all three years of the league for three different teams: the Cali Condors in 2019, the New York Breakers in 2020, and she was drafted by the Toronto Titans in 2021. She said the pro experience with the ISL was invaluable.

“The ISL was huge,” Wasick said. “I feel like if I wasn’t part of ISL, I wouldn’t be the same swimmer. It gave me a lot of confidence and opened my eyes to other swimmers and the swimming world.

“Jason Lezak called after (the 2019) Worlds and offered me a spot on the team. ISL gave me a chance to race more. I used to go to big meets and choke. I didn’t know how to race. I met so many amazing swimmers,” Wasick said.

“Before ISL, I didn’t believe I could swim at that level. I believed U.S. stars and other world-class swimmers were like superheroes. But swimming with them really opened my eyes and showed me I was doing the same thing.

“I was shy and not comfortable in my own body, but my teammates gave me the confidence. I became a different swimmer. You realize the stars are also people.”

It helped her realize she belongs with that elite group now. However, even though she may not have been as confident during the first half of her career, Wasick’s accomplishments were still significant.

She competed for Poland in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, then went on to swim at USC, where she was a 12-time All-American for the Trojans, including being a part of the NCAA champion 400 free relay in 2016. Wasick then went to Rio in 2016 to compete in her third—and what she thought was her final—Olympics. Now, she is training for a possible fifth Olympics.

“When I first came back to swimming, my goal was to make a fourth Olympic team. But after a few months, I started getting back to the times from before I retired. I was just swimming so much faster that I had to change my goals every few months. I had to put something higher on the table. It didn’t happen overnight.

“Every meet I was improving,” she said. “My next big goal is to make the Paris Olympics. I don’t think about it as my final destination. I try to focus on something after the Olympics. I don’t like putting so much pressure in one meet.

“I try to have fun when I race and be grateful. Swimming achievements are amazing, but they aren’t everything.”

Wasick trains in Las Vegas, where she moved with her husband, Matthew.

“I love training in Las Vegas. I have a great relationship with my coaches. They treat me like a professional and really listen to me. They trust me and know I want to get better.

“Swimming is my job, so I have to be a professional. I am committed to it and can’t treat it like a hobby. I quit my other job to focus on swimming. It is an awesome city. My husband and I go hiking all the time. The pool is close. Everything is convenient,” she said.


Being away from her family in Poland for so many years has been difficult, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Wasick has been able to spend more time there recently.

“I go to Poland more often now, which I am really happy about. Every time I get a chance to spend more time with them, I go. My brother was my coach in Poland, and it has been great to see different coaching views. We have been able to keep that relationship over the years. I try to stop there after international meets,” she said. “That is an energy boost for me.”

It’s a boost that keeps her going as one of the world’s elite at age 30 after a spectacular comeback.

“People wonder how I came back and went so fast. I really believe I got another chance from God to be able to swim,” Wasick said. “That excitement and appreciation for the sport gave me a lot of energy and a different approach. I am thankful for every practice, every meet—for every hour in the pool.”


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