Maddy Banic: Mental Transformation Makes Her Force With Energy Standard in ISL

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Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Maddy Banic had forever been known as a great short course relay swimmer during her four years at the University of Tennessee. When she concluded her career as a Lady Vol in 2019 as a national champion in the 200 medley relay, it seemed like the perfect way to go out — as a winner. After all, it had been a hard climb for Banic, who had struggled with mental health issues during her college career, where she attempted suicide during her junior year and left campus and swimming to seek help at a treatment facility.

And after fighting through all that she did, to become a national champion and leave a lasting impact on the Tennessee team, she left the sport of swimming. Storybook ending, right?

But there was a bad taste in her mouth. She hadn’t gone a best time individually in over two years up to that point.

“I’m very grateful that I was able to leave as an NCAA champion on that 200 medley relay, most people would say that’s a great way to go out – going out with a bang,” Maddy Banic said. “But it had been years since I had gone a best time and I knew I had a lot more in me. The last time I had gone a best time was my sophomore year in 2017 which was actually one of the worst years mentally for me and so I knew that if my last best time was when I was in a terrible mental place then I had so much more potential.”

And it was when the International Swimming League was created that drew Banic back to swimming. And in her rookie year, she represented the LA Current, who reached the Las Vegas final where she was used only on relay duty.

So when it came time to find a team to represent in the Budapest bubble for 2020, the prospects were grim.

“I reached out to a bunch of teams and all of them said they were full,” Banic said. “I knew in the back of my mind they thought I was not fast enough to be on their teams, but a lot of them were full.”

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Maddy Banic (left) and Sarah Sjostrom. Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

But things turned around for Banic, when she suited up in a practice in early September to race a 100 fly in Tennessee’s old facility. Her best time stood at 51.19 from her freshman year Tennessee Invite in 2015, and in that race she unofficially swam a 50.69. Yes, it was on a stopwatch by hand, but it was enough for her to believe she belonged among the world’s best swimmers. And when that video circulated around social media, then teams came calling.

“Energy Standard reached out and I couldn’t say no to the defending champions,” Banic said. “I wanted to try something new and I had been on LA last year and I just wanted to see what the environment was like with this team and the opportunity to train with some of the best sprinters in the world for six weeks. That was a hard offer to pass up.”

Energy Standard has one of the most stacked sprint training groups in the entire world with the likes of world record holder Sarah Sjostrom as well as decorated veteran Femke Heemskerk, and rising stars Anastasiya Shkurdai and Siobhan Haughey.

“I’m someone who likes to learn in swimming,” Banic said. “I still consider myself a baby in the sport and so being able to practice with them, learn different drills, getting to observe what the best in the world are doing was a great learning experience for me.”

An Opportunity

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Maddy Banic representing Energy Standard. Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Earlier this ISL season, reigning season MVP Sjostrom pulled out of match six due to minor back issues. In match one, Energy Standard squeezed all they could out of her, putting her in nine races across the two days. Pulling her from the lineup was the best option for her health, but Energy needed someone to step up in her place, and Maddy Banic gladly took the role in the 50 and 100 butterfly.

“I did come in thinking that I would only be doing relays but there was talk between me and Tom (Rushton) when I first signed that I had the potential to do an individual so I did kind of have it in my mind, ‘do as well as you can on the relays and maybe you’ll be able to work yourself into the chance of doing an individual race.’ I got that opportunity when Sarah hurt her back, which was terrible that she hurt her back, but I was very grateful for the opportunity to step up and show what I can do.”

And did she show what she could do.

In the 100 fly, she swam a 55.69 to place second in a 1-2 with Shkurdai. In the free relay, she swam the third leg on the winning team, and in the 50 fly she was the only one in the field to break 25 seconds.

“My main focus in the 100 fly before it was I’m going to go 1-2 with Anastasiya – that was my goal, because that was what she and Sarah had done in the first meet and the standard was set. I was like, ‘ok Sarah is out and we lost one of our best flyers’ but I knew we still needed those points and that was the standard we had — to go 1-2 in the fly. That was my main focus in that race. I wasn’t thinking about times or really anything except the last wall I saw Anastasiya and I saw we were right together and I was like, ‘Alright we can 1-2 this!’

“And I told my coach when I touched I had noticed that the lights hadn’t gone purple yet because when the first person finishes, the lights go purple and so the first thought I had was, I must be towards the front because the lights didn’t turn purple while I was swimming! I was really happy with the 1-2 for that, and then same with the 50 fly.

“I knew with Sarah out that we needed the points and that 100 fly gave me a ton of confidence for the 50 fly and I was feeling really good with speed. The 50 fly was my baby all throughout college too. We didn’t get to race it individually but I love the 200 medley relay — it’s my favorite event in college swimming and so I was really really excited to do a 50 fly as an actual event.”

In the 100 fly this season, she sits fifth in the league and sixth in the 50 fly. Not bad for someone who many teams didn’t really have any interest in before the season began.

Training Improvements

So where did the improvements come from?

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Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

“My training has changed a lot,” Maddy Banic said. “I would say one of the biggest things with my training is that I’ve stopped trying so hard. It sounds counter-intuitive because with how I was raised, the harder you worked the more successful you would be. But for me and my body, and this took me a very long time to learn, clearly, I’m not someone who can just kill myself in practice every day and go out every single rep and just try and grind myself into the ground. My coach had told me for years that I was a Ferrari and not a truck.

“After quarantine, we went on a training trip to Florida. And I was putting up times at practice that I hadn’t in years after having three months out of the pool. And Matt and I were like, ‘this is interesting.’ Because most people after three months out of the water are out of shape. Three months out of the water is not considered a taper anymore – that is just out of shape! And so we played around with the idea that I was being over-trained.

“Maybe I was just pushing too hard in practice and so we played around with not doing as much yardage and sprinting only when I’m supposed to be sprinting, and kind of slowing down the aerobic side so I’m not doing 100s holding a certain time with my heart rate at 170 or 180 for over 10 minutes. I’m not doing something like that anymore.

“When I’m doing something aerobic, my heart rate is 150, 160 and when I sprint I am going all out when I am supposed to be sprinting and I’m not going fast when I’m not supposed to be.”

It took a while to get used to her new training habits because training slow was not who she was. Often she would feel like she wasn’t pushing herself or trying hard enough. But when she suited up in practice and went a best time in the 100 fly for the first time in five years, it affirmed that her new training approach was working.

She has come a long way since a suicide attempt in late 2017.

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Maddy Banic smiles after a best time in the ISL. Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

“Every once in a while I will think about where I was in that very, very low point,” Banic said. “It wasn’t just swimming I didn’t want, it was being alive I didn’t want. It is kind of relieving and I’m very proud of myself that I came from there to be able to compete with the best in the world and being better in my swimming than I ever had been. It was such a rocky road. I stopped swimming for a while, left school, and came back. I didn’t have a great end to my college career and stopped swimming for three more months and then I came back again and now I’m doing better than I ever have in the sport.

“I feel like you don’t hear that a lot.”

But Maddy Banic is here, and she is making a name for herself. Many didn’t see her in this position and she definitely didn’t either.

“My confidence is a lot better than it ever has been. I’m one of those people that is big on self talk and throughout college even when I wasn’t swimming well, I always would go into my meet or races and say, ‘you got this’ or ‘you’ve been training for this. This is one of your best events. You’re one of the top people in this event’ and ‘just do the best you can do.’

“For the longest time none of that was coming true because I wasn’t going best times. Now my confidence is better because I can say that and actually believe it. I can walk up to the blocks at the ISL and say, ‘you can win this event!’ And I genuinely could win the event. So that gives me a huge boost of confidence that really boosts my mental health, too.

“I’m turning off swimming. Especially as a pro swimmer and I don’t have a day to day job so when I’m not training, I’m usually napping or watching TV or recovering between practices. So for me to be able to turn off swimming and not be constantly focusing on is something I have tried to do a lot more of. I’m engaging with friends and hanging out with friends a lot more. And I’m trying to keep myself busy and trying to keep my mind off of swimming all the time. I think that’s really helping because it allows me to approach competitions and practices with a more fresh mindset than just consistently being in the zone of swimming.”

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