Hali Flickinger on Body Transformation: ‘I Need All the Strength I Can Get’

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Hali Flickinger has become one of the strongest swimmers in the water; Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona Photo Courtesy: Dan D'Addona

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From the moment Hali Flickinger steps onto the blocks, she is facing a little bit of adversity — every single race.

The U.S. butterflyer stands nearly 5 feet, 5 inches, sometimes being towered over by the woman in the next lane. It means Flickinger will likely have to take a few more strokes each length of the pool, thereby having to use more strength than the competition.

So Flickinger was determined to bring more strength to the table.

When she was younger, her small, quick frame allowed her to glide across the water, especially in the butterfly, looking like a skipping stone sailing to the wall.

But as she began to race in college, she knew she needed to do more to compete at the national and international levels and completely transformed her body into a pillar of strength.

That transformation propelled Flickinger into the Olympics and into the world’s elite swimmers. She will look to keep that going at the 2019 World Championships as the top contender in the 200 fly.

“I need all the strength I can get in order to compete with people who are a lot bigger than me. It comes from me always being the smallest and the weakest growing up,” Flickinger told Swimming World. “My training is where my confidence comes from. So if I know I am doing things that other people are not willing to do, then I should have confidence over them. I enjoy pushing myself further than what anyone else is — and knowing that I am. That is what I have to do to have the confidence. I can control what my effort is in the pool. Doing things that push me so far that I want to bawl my eyes out. If I do that, I will thank myself in the long run.”

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Hali Flickinger; Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

That is not how her career started, but things began to change when she arrived at the University of Georgia in the fall of 2012.

“I was very small when I came in,” she said. “You could probably break me in half. Every time I got up on the blocks, someone would say something about being able to see every single one of my ribs. I was just a twig.”

So Flickinger began doing weight training with her team for the first time in her life.

It was life-altering.


Hali Flickinger at 2013 NCAAs as a freshman; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I never lifted a single weight before I came to college,” she said. “That was really a huge part of how I got to where I am. I have a lot more muscle now. Who knew that I would be able to do the things I am able to do? I remember coming in freshman year and I couldn’t even bench the 45-pound bar. To see the improvement that I have made is crazy. I really take weights so seriously. The way I am built, weights are almost just as important as what I do in the water because it is how I am able to do what I am doing today.”

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

And today, she has the fastest time in the world in the 200 butterfly for 2019. Her competition knows the transformation Flickinger has gone through and what it must have taken to get there.

“It means a lot. I like to walk around the pool and know there is a respect there. People know how I used to look, and I worked really hard to be able to look the way I do. It is very flattering, too. But it gives me confidence,” she said. “Look how far I have come.”

Her teammates have noticed, too. In fact, sometimes it is mind-boggling to them how much Flickinger has transformed — and they see her train every day.

“To be here for every step of Hali’s career and be able to have the privilege of having a college career with her and see how her confidence is shifted is great,” Olivia Smoliga told Swimming World. “She has always been the hardest working person I know. When we do threshold sets, she does them fly. She is an absolute animal. She goes to weights and crushes it. She does pull-ups with 45 pounds wrapped around her waist. Then she goes into practice and beats the men up.”

Yet somehow, she is an under-the-radar star in swimming.

“The fact that she has the leading time in the world right now — nobody should be surprised by that,” Smoliga said. “She has been working so hard and she is about to take it all. She is in bed early, eating clean, she’s cut. She is so hard working and so nice. People take her kindness as weakness, and they really shouldn’t. She might have a smile on her face, but she will run you down every single time. She is just incredible. I am so excited to watch her demolish everyone.”

That kindness is something that teammates, competitors and fans see in Hali Flickinger on a daily basis. But Smoliga is correct: It is not a weakness.

“I never believe that I am above anybody, no matter what I accomplish. We are all here on earth to belong together,” Flickinger said. “That is something I live by all the time. Sometimes I think people don’t see me as this fierce weapon. But the more I accomplish, the more that kind of dulls down. I learned I have to be a little more fierce when it comes to certain things, speaking my mind a little more. But what you put out is what you receive.”

Flickinger puts in a lot, but is quick to credit teammates like Smoliga for helping push her.

“I am surrounded by so many crazy trainers,” she said. “My freshman year, I was training with Allison Schmitt and Shannon Vreeland. I knew what they had done and there were practices where I kept up with them. That is when I realized I was there with them and they have done so many amazing things. That is where it started.”

Flickinger helped that Georgia team win a NCAA championship in 2013, then helped Georgia win two more titles in 2014 and 2016.

She then rode that momentum to the 2016 Olympic trials, where she earned a spot in Rio for the Olympics. For as long as she could remember, her goal and dream was to make the Olympics. Actually competing past her goal was something new.

“The Olympics shaped me a ton. I went into 2016 just wanting to make the Olympic team. Then I made semifinals. Then I made finals. I remember hitting the wall seventh and being really disappointed. But my goal was just to make the team,” she said. “Within that amount of time, being surrounded by teammates whose goals are medals and world records. It switched in a second what I was actually chasing. I wanted so much more than that. I am so thankful I was able to have that experience.

“Since then, it has been a goal to keep pushing.”

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Hali Flickinger; Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

It led to a crushing performance at the 2018 USA National Championships when she won her first national championship in the 200 fly, finishing in 2:05.87 to smash the meet record of Mary T. Meagher from all the way back to 1981, the the oldest Nationals meet record at the time. She also won gold at the Pan Pacific Championships that same year.

“This year, it has been easier because I had that swim last summer,” she said. “It made me realize how much I love this sport and how far I want to go. It is the confidence. I needed last summer. It was finally a glimpse of what I knew I was capable of doing. Five years ago, Jack (Bauerle) threw out a time (2:04) for me that he thought I could go. Not being anywhere close to that time wore me down. But to see hope last summer at nationals (2:05), gives me confidence that it is going to come. It is in my head now. It has been a long time coming with a lot of patience.”

And a lot of strength.

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Hali Flickinger; Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona



  1. avatar
    Brenda Westcoat

    Amazing young woman. I am proud of her and have never met her (I do know her Aunt Joyce). The whole family must be over the moon. She I’ll do the 2.04!

  2. Keri Sullivan

    Samantha Arsenault Livingstone, OLY. This is a good read

  3. Dave Washick

    Allyson Mitidieri Washick cool story

  4. avatar

    Well-written article. Enjoyed reading it.

  5. Paul White

    McKenzie White take a read

  6. avatar
    Eve Thorr

    We here at home believe in you!