NAIA National Champion Suzanna Gonzalez Transitions From Swimmer To “Swammer”

Photo Courtesy: Morningside College

By Grace Nordquist, Swimming World College Intern.

Making the transition from a swimmer to a “swammer” isn’t easy, especially when you’ve been competing your entire life. It’s part of who you are. Suzanna Gonzalez, two-time NAIA national champion, describes her experience on making the transition.

Meet Suzanna Gonzalez 


Photo Courtesy: Morningside College

Gonzalez hails from Southern Orange County, Calif., and is a two-time NAIA national champion in the 500 yard freestyle and the mile. Competing as a member of the Morningside swim team in Sioux City, Iowa, she finished her swimming career at the NAIA national swim meet last spring. Now, she is just a student.

Gonzalez had been swimming competitively since the age of five. Growing up, she was a member of the Coto Coyote’s swim club in California. Todd Conrad was not only her coach but also her mentor. He pushed her to achieve goals she didn’t know she was capable of.

There’s one reason in particular the young swimmer bonded with the sport. Gonzalez has dyslexia and processing disorder, and the water gave her a level playing field: “Swimming was something that made me feel equal with everyone. No one looked at me differently.”



Photo Courtesy: Morningside College

While Gonzalez liked fitting in, it seems that this two-time national champion was born to stand out. It was her senior year of high school when she noticed herself getting faster; this was from her training and dedication for the sport. “I’m the type of person who always set goals,” Gonzalez says. In practice, she would have a time in her head to achieve and would keep working until she conquered it.

These goals led her to the next step: swimming for Golden West Community College in California. She swam under Mark Schubert, who also coached the Nadadores club team. While Gonzalez specialized in the 100 and 200 freestyle in high school, she switched from swimming sprints to distance at Golden West. Regarding the mile, Gonzalez says: “It’s the most mental race.” Most swimmers would agree with this, as the mile is often referred to as the most difficult (along with the 200 butterfly).

It’s clear that Gonzalez excelled in the distance races. At the California Junior College State meet, she took home gold in the 500 as a freshman and the mile as a sophomore. This set her up for her next transition – to the NAIA. Gonzalez transferred to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. She recalls the switch being difficult to adjust to: a common experience when changing coaches. She gained some time in the mile and was touched out at nationals in the 500 to claim runner-up. The competitive swimmer did not give up: this only made her more determined.


Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @suzgonzo1

Gonzalez went out with a bang her senior season. She won not one but two races at the 2018 NAIA National Swim Meet in Columbus, Ga. The swimmer claimed her title in the mile, dropping a significant amount of time and redeeming herself by reclaiming the 500 title as well. Claiming to be in her own world when racing, she recalls her reaction to taking the title: “I was in shock, to be honest!”

When asked to describe the feeling of winning a national title in one word, she couldn’t sum it up. But since she won not one but two national titles, we gave her two words; she replied: “Worth it.” All the years of hard work and training had finally paid off. Doubles, waking up early, missing out on other social events for swimming – it had all been worth it.



Photo Courtesy: Instagram @suzgonzo1

Gonzalez, like thousands of others, dedicated so much time to the sport of swimming. But after that final meet, she would come back to Sioux City no longer a swimmer but a “swammer.” Making this transition was not easy, as it felt like losing her identity. “It’s weird not to be swimming, because it’s been such a big part of my life.”

A big reason that it was so odd for Gonzalez is because she returned to Morningside for a fifth year to finish her education. There were times when the retired swimmer felt like she needed to be at practice but was no longer was part of the team. During these moments, she knew she needed to fill her time with new things.

Gonzalez is using her non-profit management major by working a local internship at Camp High Hopes. In addition to the internship, she is continuing her love for swimming through coaching. Gonzalez helps coach the local sharks swim club in Sioux City.

While it may be sad, Gonzalez is positive about the transition. Advice she gives to future swimmers who will go through the same experience soon is this: “Try things you never could do during swimming.” From traveling or being involved in other activities to eating that cookie in the café.


Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @suzgonzo1

Gonzalez wants to encourage other retired swimmers to use what they’ve learned from swimming to help mentor others. She comments, “Take those aspects and qualities and work them into something else.” By doing so, this will make the transition from swimmer to “swammer” a little easier.

Some things Gonzalez has taken away from swimming are determination, always setting high goals, and never giving up. Although she is done swimming, these lessons extend beyond the sport. She says, “It helped me in the pool but also outside of the pool. It helped me learn to set high goals for myself in school or work.” As the retired swimmer finishes up her senior year at Morningside College, she pushes herself to reach the high goals she has set in school.

One way she is applying determination to her life is through her nonprofit management major. Gonzalez is determined to help others in her career path: “My goal is to one day either work for an organization that works with individuals who have special needs, or run my own organization.”

Finally, Gonzalez continues to never give up no matter what life throws her way. A phrase that has stuck with her is this: “You’ve always got to give it everything you have. Just remember all the hours you put in to your job and school will eventually pay off; everything just takes time.” The time paid off for this two-time national champion.

Although her competitive career may be over, Gonzalez can still be seen during open swim in the pool where a record board and a national banner are decorated with her name.

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

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