Life after swimming, what happens when alarm doesn’t go off at 5am anymore?

Competitive swimmers are a unique group of people. They spend several hours per day swimming back and forth in a cold swimming pool. They get up earlier than the early birds to jump into the freezing cold pool to swim laps. They don’t mind having shiny green hair and they don’t mind swimming with three or four swimsuits on. They have a large collection of goggles and they eat gobs of spaghetti. But, what does a swimmer do when they are finished competing? What happens when the alarm doesn’t go off at 5am anymore? How does a former swimmer get through the day?

Here are a few signs that you are finished with your swimming career:

  1. You still love to swim. Many former competitive swimmers still love to get in the water, but they can be picky about the time they go in the water and the time they spend in the water. Most competitive swimmers will get 6000 or more yards in the pool on a daily basis. “Retired” swimmers might be lucky to get 2000 yards. lap2They will also be sure that they get into the pool when no competitive swimmers are in there. It is too tempting to go all out and no retired swimmer wants to lapped by another competitive swimmer. Former swimmers will do their 2000 yards when no one is the pool – in the middle of the work day, while children are at school, adults are at work, and college students are not practicing.
  2. You realize you are swimming for fun. If you do go to lap swims at your favorite local pool, there will be other former competitive swimmers like you at the pool. If you swim near that person, you will find that you want to compete, but there will be a moment when that desire stops. You will realize that you are just swimming for exercise – not to be fast. This might a positive realization, or it might hurt for a bit. But no matter how it feels, you should now realize that you no longer have to do flip turns and you no longer have to be sure your stroke follows all of the competitive rules. This will also coincide with the moment you realize that you no longer have to do sets of IMs.
  3. Your bathing suits and caps are looking old. As you look around the pool, you will see people in all types of swimwear. Many casual, exercising swimmers will not wear competition-style swimwear. Those who do swim laps will wear caps and goggles. But, they will spend less on their gear than competitive swimmers do. But, you haven’t learned this yet because you are still wearing your gear from your competitive days. And after all of those laps, you swimwear might be developing some issues that could be leading to levels of transparency. While it was ok to have this problem with your teammates, you don’t want this problem in the public pool. It might hurt to retire the old suit and cap, but a torn cap and a transparent suit won’t do you any favors and might actually get you kicked out of the pool.
  4. Your hairstylist wants to businessdo fun things to your hair. One of the best things for retired swimmers is that because they are swimming much less than before, their hair can get healthy again. You will recognize this fact when your hairstylist comments on how non-green your hair looks and your stylist might start suggesting styles, colors, and more. You might as well enjoy it.
  5. You get a little teary eyed when you talk about swimming. Many retired athletes have trouble talking about their old life because they were so committed to being the best they could be. They spent so much time with their teammates and their coaches. Then, when it’s over, it’s really over. It can feel like a death in the family because the transition is so abrupt. It is helpful to know that you are not alone and that your feelings are real. If you need to have some help working through the transition, there are therapists who can help you with your grief.