Part II: The Confessions of a Butterflyer

Michael Phelps - Butterfly
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher

Part II: The Confessions of a Butterflyer

Swimming World continues to dip into the archive and unites readers with some popular articles from the past. Today, we look at the Confessions of a Butterflyer, which follows the Confessions of a Distance Swimmer.

By Nicole Farina, Swimming World College Intern.

Sometimes I feel bad for butterfly. That’s right, I feel bad for a stroke. I mean think about it. No one ever picks butterfly for choice during practice. If you tell someone that you’re a butterflyer, their response is most likely, “I’m sorry.” Ask a swimmer what the worst practice they could ever imagine would consist of, and odds are it involves butterfly…and a lot of it.

But then I remember that butterfly actually fools us, and I don’t feel so bad for it. It is beautiful to watch. Gliding on the surface of the water as the momentum carries you across the pool. It can be mesmerizing. But, oh, looks can be deceiving. Underneath the beauty is a layer of torturous pain, only experienced by a rare species — the butterflyer.

As a lifelong butterflyer, I’ve learned the ins and outs of this roller coaster of a stroke. When I was 7 years old, I thought I was the coolest kid on my swim team for being able to legally swim butterfly. As the years went on, and the distances of butterfly didn’t go above a 50, I was thriving, living a butterfly dream.

The Cons

Until I had to do a 100. Four laps of butterfly is way scarier than two. It was around this same time that “training” butterfly became a thing for my age group. I didn’t like that very much. Swimming butterfly sporadically during practice and racing a 50 of it in a meet was just my cup of tea. I was not interested in anything extra.

“Why, oh, why do have to have the butterfly curse?” I’ve asked myself this question countless times in the almost 10 years of my swimming career since then. Sometimes, I ask myself this in the midst of a 200 fly set, as I gaze over at the cheerful sprinters through my tear-filled goggles.

Sometimes, I think about it when I’m actually swimming a 200 fly, untapered, and dying (which is a sad sight, because as we all know, there’s no hiding in the 200 fly). If you die, you die. And die hard.

And sometimes, I just wonder. Why do I have to always have that permanent third leg of the medley relay? What’s it like to lead off or anchor? Sharing a lane is impossible, because I’m constantly whacking someone every other stroke I take.

My shoulders are definitely larger than what is considered natural. Speaking of shoulders, mine feel like they’re going to fall off every day. I’m swallowing water during this set, and the backstrokers over there get to breathe the entire time. Nice. And to top it all off, this stroke only has one speed. I don’t ever get to swim easy.

The Pros


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

I could go on and on about the cons of this nightmarish stroke. But there’s something that’s stopping me. And that something is: Though being a butterflyer is a curse, it’s even more of a blessing. A love-hate relationship, if you will. And while they might hate to admit it, all butterflyers feel the same way.

There’s something magical about it. Maybe it’s the power of your killer underwaters that you’ve practiced for years giving you that extra push in a close race. Maybe it’s the graceful way your arms fall on the surface of the water almost effortlessly, with your muscles knowing exactly what to do. But it’s probably the fact that you’re good at what most people are scared of. The thought of swimming a 200 butterfly makes most swimmers shudder. Although you know the pain of it like the back of your hand, you still do it. And it’s never that bad.

There’s a pride to be had in being a butterflyer. Your stomach may be in knots after a tough practice, but you’re so proud of yourself for doing it. People respect you for the grueling work you put in, as it’s something most of them couldn’t ever imagine doing. What’s even more awe-worthy is that you’re still swimming butterfly this late in your swimming career. You didn’t try to switch strokes, and you didn’t quit. You accepted the fact that swimming is your sport, and butterfly is your stroke. And you own it.

Bad butterfly races are bad. Seriously bad. Painful, exhausting…the whole nine yards. But a good butterfly race…there’s few words that can truly capture that experience. Every ounce of exhausting effort you put in during practice paid off: You nailed your turns. You smoothly glided across the water. You feel on top of the world. To me, there’s no better feeling. And that right there is what makes all the difference to a butterflyer.

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


  1. Román Carey

    really feeling it. If you don’t #butterfly you´re not a true #swimmer… Every day in my sets @MySwimPro

  2. Tony Schorr

    I swam butterfly, IM and butterfly on relays.. it is a difficult stroke, but once you learn how to put all the parts together, it’s a great swim!!!

  3. Barbara King Ward

    It was my stroke as well. However, now in my 60s it has caught up with me. I can’t lift my left arm above waist height. My shoulder joint is bone on bone and I have to have a shoulder joint replacement to end the constant pain that was exasperated in my youth

    • Johnny Karnofsky

      My dad had calcium deposits that eventually had to be carved from his rotator cuffs… it got to the point where his arms felt like they just popped out of the sockets…. they did them one side at a time…

    • Barbara King Ward

      Johnny Karnofsky very interesting. I have no deposits. Just all cartilage and everything gone and joint crumbling away so the whole joint has to be replaced

  4. Jodie Murphy Lowe

    what do you say Alicia Lowe? You want to be a butterfly, ‘eh? Beautiful…. you can do it!! YOU can!

  5. Lone Weinreich

    Noget du kender til Laura Weinreich ???‍♀️

  6. Mica Botha

    It takes commitment…

  7. Dimitra Zoi

    I chose butterfly since day one but butterfly didnt choose me?. It is mesmerizing to say the least

  8. Jeanine Apuron

    Good read Evan Apuron and Darien Apuron

  9. Sari Puzio Carroll

    Delaney Walz, I was looking at your meet results, it’s great to be able to follow you online. This is a funny article, think you’ll like it!

    • Delaney Walz

      AHHH Thank you! I miss you guys! haha I love this

    • Hayleey Ann

      This is honestly the best thing I’ve read

  10. Ap Ril

    Julie Green Kristen Kenney Garcia

  11. Sarah Cress

    By far the prettiest stroke to watch when it’s done right.

  12. Lynette Hines

    I am 71 and swim 200 fly !!! I am mad thats why I still do it. My swan song will be Wotld Masters Games in April 2017. Then I can enjoy my freestyle and swim easy if I choose !!!

    • Karen Rose

      Amazing! and Inspirational!

  13. Sylvia Nowak

    Emilia Nowak you are the butterflyer ??❤️❤️

    • Tarah Ogilvie

      confessions of a butterflyer- tarah edition – IT FUCKING SUCKS

    • avatar

      Sometimes I can’t breath let alone speak after a lap of butterfly. Been there.

      • avatar

        breathe breathe breathe

  14. Alice Parslow

    Abi Abrahams isnt this your stroke?? ?

  15. avatar

    Obviously, people can relate to things in this essay, because a few actually read and made a comment instead of their Kilroy. Even the “stupid article” cooment is a good sign.

    I can’t swim 200 meters of butterfly – I wish I would have tried to learn when I was a teenager. Nevertheless, I have swum a lot of it now. I like it because it’s hard to swim but yet the design of the stroke is exquisite. In a sense, they all are; it’s just that butterfly is in its own class.

  16. John Fellows

    Kent FellowsAlexandria Fellows. So True.

  17. Melanie Loo

    So true! This is hilarious.

  18. Vaughn Wiles

    Annette Wiles, I wonder if this is how our fly boy feels about it?!

  19. Teresa Rhodes

    Still struggling with the butterfly, but love it! Total body exercise, especially for the abs!

  20. LeighAnn Saylor

    My butterfly man in the summers. D-lineman in Fall back in his day. 2008. The strength in his upper body made him extremely fast.

  21. Rawish Asrar

    Butter fly stroke is the difficult stroke among the four stroke but if you recognize it well so this is the perfect one.

  22. Joan Palmer

    So true Louise Jordan xx

  23. avatar

    I chose to be a butterflyer precisely because it is the hardest and most demanding stroke to swim. It allowed me to advance through the thin ranks much faster as I came to swimming late, e.g., age 15. It was because of butterfly that I became an All-American high school swim. I am grateful to the butterfly for giving that to me. It’s the finest stroke.