The 5 Phases to Becoming a Distance Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: Picasa

The 5 Phases to Becoming a Distance Swimmer

By Kelly Lennon (From the Swimming World Archive)

Potentially the worst part of being a distance swimmer, besides the unbelievable amount of yardage that comes with it, is finding out you’re a distance swimmer. It’s very similar to going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

1. Denial


My firm response every time my high school coach told me “You’re going to be a distance swimmer,” and again when my club coach told me “Your first YMCA Nationals cut is going to be in the 500.”


“Your sister was a distance swimmer, you’re good at the 500, you’re going to be a distance swimmer.”

I was in complete and utter shock. How could this be happening to me? What had I done to deserve this injustice? These men were clearly just confused. Until this point in my career, I’d considered the 500 to be survival instincts and nothing else. I don’t even think I had ever swum a 1500 at this point. Who were they kidding?

2. Anger

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

No, seriously. What had I possibly done in my short life to make the karmic swim gods so angry that this was the path I was being placed on? My coaches were wrong. I spent more time in practices arguing with my coaches that I wasn’t a distance swimmer than trying to work on other things to actually prove I wasn’t.

3. Bargaining

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

200 free? No.

100 fly? No.




Definitely not.

4&5. Depression and Acceptance


Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

The main problem with this whole ordeal was that deep, deep down, I knew they were right. I couldn’t sprint to save my life, I wasn’t a backstroker, I DEFINITELY wasn’t a breaststroker, and my butterfly was average at best. I had pretty much run out of options and had to face the reality of it: I was a distance swimmer.

At first, this seemed like the end of the world. Distance is incredibly tough. The yardage, the mental toughness, the long practices, and in case I haven’t emphasized it enough already – there’s a lot of yardage.

But there’s also a pride that comes along with swimming the longest events that this sport has to offer. Our shortest race lasts for longer than most non-distance swimmers races last combined together. And even that race – as I found out in college – is considered a sprint.

The mental capacity it takes to watch the counter turn from 1 to 3, to 5, lap by lap, slowly climbing to 63 then the beautiful double red blocks is something that a small percentage of swimmers can teach themselves. I’ve had teammates come up to me and say “I don’t know how you do it. I could literally never.” And that is a feeling that never gets old to me, and why I’m proud to be a distance swimmer.

I didn’t choose the distance life by any means. It chose me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick


  1. avatar

    Great article! I feel your pain 🙂

  2. Kristie Wisniewski

    That will be my one son. He is only 7 but he has no idea how to sprint at anything. He could probably swim continually for two hours now at his mediocre pace. He never sprints so he never burns out. He is going to have to go through quite a few more years of getting blown out in sprints first though. His twin is a sprinter.

  3. Madison Carris

    1. Read “swimming to Antarctica”
    2. Told my coach I wanted to swim the 500
    3. Loved distance and still do

  4. Nick T Hawkins

    Daniel Beaver Benvenuti Jorden. Matt Wilson Matt Flaherty Jaewook Yoo Nick Derkatch Hayden Hinds-Sydenham

  5. avatar
    Raymond Woods

    1650-500 free are middle distance.

  6. Kara Lennon

    Stacey Donovan Smith thought of Delaney when I read this! Say hi for me

  7. Martina Chione

    Thank you for sharing. I believe I am also being sucked into distance swimming… My coach has pushed me to sprint for the past year and I have never dropped below 30 in my 50 yard free. But I’ve been doing quite phenomenal in the 400 meter free. I think he is starting to see my potential in distance. It’s because I am able to build my way into a sprint and keep it for a long time. As long as I get my gears turning and a rhythm going, it doesn’t matter how fast I am going, I can hold it.

  8. Rob Duguay

    600 test in high school beat all but 3 people. Coach came up to me and was like “Rob you’re swimming the 500″…..and I have for the last 16years…

  9. Gica Deac

    Ha , ha, a perfect description! I know the feeling. ….

  10. Tanya Penrod

    I must have a weird child. He loves the 400 IM, 500 and 1650 free. Anything less than a 200 he thinks is a waste of time.

  11. Brian Battensby

    More chance of a medal swimming distance as fewer people want to do it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.