Life After Swimming: How To Prepare For What Comes Next

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Life After Swimming: How To Prepare For What Comes Next

Senior year for college student-athletes might mean the end of many things, including their sports career. Nonetheless, at best, that means a new chapter in their life.

With graduation getting closer, college swimmers start facing what might be the end of their careers. In fact, fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. Most student-athletes pursue their professional careers in their major fields. Nevertheless, many college athletes grapple with the idea of retirement.

It can be difficult to prepare for the mental struggles that retirement brings. Some testimonies might offer understanding as to why the situation is challenging.

Loss of Athletic Identity

“Permanently sidelined athletes have described their grief as feeling as though a part of them has died,” Christine Pinalto wrote for Sideline “Sports psychologists refer to this as losing the athletic identity.”

Most of the athletes who retired from their sport have said that, somehow, they have experienced a feeling of grief. They feel lost, and one part of them has died with their retirement.

Most swimmers and athletes build their life and identity around their sport. Their goals, purpose, and routine are based on their sport. They get into the habit of working out 20-plus hours per week. They barely have free time to find hobbies besides their sport. So, when their patterns change drastically, some struggle to find a life outside.

Swimmers Facing the Loss of Identity

“I had always identified as ‘Monika – the swimmer,’ and the swimmer part of me had just stopped existing,” said Monika Gonzalez-Hermosillo, a student-athlete who graduated in 2019 from Texas A&M.

Monika was part of the Mexican National Team and represented Mexico in international competitions like the Pan American Games and Central American and Caribbean Games. She swam and studied for the Aggies. She retired from swimming in the summer of 2021 after not qualifying for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In the first months after her retirement, she shared how complicated it was to be done with the sport that was part of her life for more than 20 years.

“I started questioning, who am I going to be without swimming? What am I going to be known for now? What are my new interests going to be?” Monika said.

Andrea Ruiz, a former-student-athlete for Evansville University, also shared how she faced a loss of identity.

“I have always been Andrea, the swimmer. So, after I graduated, I did not know who I was anymore and felt like I had lost a part of myself,” Andrea said. “Why isn’t this something senior athletes are told before graduating?”

College students need to be warned about lost identity. Athletes need support to build an identity outside of their sport throughout their careers. Coaches and counselors can focus on helping their athletes to find an identity outside of swimming before they graduate and help guide them toward a new purpose. Therefore, when they graduate, the loss of identity does not hit with ferocity.

Physical and Mental Health Challenges

Being in peak physical shape is crucial for athletes. Working out between four to six hours daily keeps them in excellent condition. After retirement, working out can become a challenge. Scheduling down time to work out between 1 to 2 hours per day within their new lifestyle and job requirements can be a balancing act.

Embracing the changes in your body is the first step to overcoming the challenge. Finding a workout routine that is satisfying is a key step. Seeking a new sport might be helpful.

Most swimmers, after they are done with the sport, decide to take a long break from working out at all and give their body some rest. Yet, finding another physical activity will eventually help you maintain your body and a healthy mind.

“After swimming for many years, your body and mind are used to a minimum of daily physical activity,” Andrea said. “I tried different sports and workout routines to help with my mental health and to stay physically active.”

Mental health has become an essential focus for athletes. Learning and accepting how to move on from swimming is crucial. Take time to get to know yourself, learn new things, and try rare activities you could not do when you were a swimmer. Take advantage of the free time that swimming never gave you. Look after your mental health by reinventing yourself.

Moving Into Your Professional Career

Prepare yourself to be in the best position in the real world. As student-athlete, sometimes we forget to prioritize the extracurricular activities that will give us experience when we finish our sport. Take the time to build your resume and put yourself on top of everyone fighting to get a job.

“I worked hard in school and my extracurricular activities to have a great job lined up in advance for when I retired,” Monika said. Understanding that there is life after swimming might put you ahead of everyone else. Use the skills you have learned as an athlete to show everyone what you can do.

Accepting that you are about to start your professional career might be scary and frustrating. However, planning things ahead of time and knowing what you want might give you peace. It won’t be easy, but swimming was not easy either. Accept and face the challenge as if it was any other swimming goal.

Swimming builds your character, and that is what will remain in you. The experiences, challenges, and hard work have made you the best version of yourself. That should be the purpose of any sport.

“That feeling of ambition, along with work ethic and dedication, will remain with you always and tend to translate very well to a professional life,” Monika said. “No one cares about the times and the medals once you’re done swimming.”

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Anthony Thompson Anthony Thompson
7 months ago

Swimming does not have to end after college. There is masters swimming. People keep competing into there 100s. See USMastersSwimming website or Masters groups all over the globe .

Alan Atkinson
7 months ago
Also republished in Swimswam on Feb 10th, 2023.

As a parent of a swimmer who had been in swimming for 16 years, I understand the sudden “lost identity”.

However, the swimmer should start creating a new identity for her or himself. The takeaway is you can apply the skills and mindset that you have grown into in your swim career. Your swim identity will in a way, still be a part of you.

Jerry Frentsos
7 months ago

Or… it’s just the beginning. I started at the age of 5. After 18 years of swimming, as a US National team member my world ranking got as high a 3rd in the world. Now after 33 years of masters swimming (21 masters world records), I have 48 years to go to complete my 100 year quest of being a swimmer with a world record when I’m 105! (Hopefully in the 400 IM!)

Kate Christensen
6 months ago

What about joining a masters program.?