I was a competitive swimmer from when I was six until seventeen. That’s twelve years of chlorine three times a day. It sounds like something a doctor prescribed but essentially that is what swimming was to me. A medicine for happiness, achievement, discipline and focus. I could go on, but you would most likely stop reading. I stopped competitively swimming when I left high school and moved country to go to University. Here are six things that happened to me when I stopped swimming that no one told me would occur:
1.The Fat Attack
As a swimmer, my life was very structured, especially when you had a big meet coming up. My daily routine was, wake up, go to swimming, eat breakfast in the car on the way to school, swim at school practice, play other sports and then onto another training session. Swimming was like breathing. Swim, eat, homework, sleep was my regular routine. Day after day, week after week. You didn’t have time to get fat. Your diet was meticulously planned to ensure you were fueling your body with everything you needed. Running on adrenaline the calories didn’t have time to touch sides. Even though my meals were structured, I could eat most things and have no issues. Well, that ended abruptly when I stopped swimming. It is strange what the mind does. Its like your mind feels you can continue to eat as though you were swimming, but my lack of sport meant no calories were being burnt. I was fueling my soul instead of my body. I was living to eat, not eating to fuel. I will never forget the dreaded call I had to make to my dad from University saying I needed more money as my clothes didn’t fit. I wish someone had told me that I needed to change the way I was eating as I was no longer a competitive athlete, or maybe they thought it was just common sense. My advice is re-evaluate your diet and how much you are consuming. Trust me it will save you from the fat attack.
2. Aches and Pains Galore
You would think, as a competitive athlete you would have more aches and pains than when you stop swimming. However, it seems when you stop, its harder to start again and each time you start, the body goes through the most horrific aches and pains which I don’t remember having when I swam. Swimming was never hard to me. Maybe my mind has just removed the aches and pains from my memory, or maybe it was just part of the process that you lived with. Newton’s first law of motion teaches us that, “a body in motion stays in motion”. This law was and is, very true for me. Don’t stop moving, it becomes harder the older you get and a lot more painful. Definitely listen to your body, it tells you what you need. Swimming is a great discipline and something you can continue for life, so if you have to stop swimming competitively, try not to stop swimming. Or if you are tired of breathing in the chlorine, find a new sport, there are loads out there.
3. The Couch Won’t Let Me Go
I’ve become super lazy and and I love my couch, most likely more than it loves me. I can spend hours on end surfing the internet and just chilling out. Swimming gave me focus, you loose the focus when you stop swimming, you have all this time which you didn’t have before. When I swam I did a lot of other sports too. Maybe I burnt myself out, maybe my body needed to rest. Well, I’ve been resting quite a few years now and the excuses keep coming. When I swam I was focused on my goals, how much training I needed to do to reach my goals. You lose that focus, you lose the team of coaches, family and team mates pushing you to always be better. You have to make your own decisions. I start a million different projects but never complete any as I don’t have the focus I used to have. When you stop doing something you are passionate about, you have to regroup, you have to find a new passion. No one tells you, that you need to redirect your focus or goals. Yes it should just come to you, but sometimes it doesn’t. So let me save you from becoming a couch potato. Refocus your goals, find a new project or projects and complete them. Always grow and refocus your goals.
4. Your Mind Needs An Outlet
Swimming was the place where my mind was continuously processing everything. The repetitive nature of swimming laps had its own strange soothing way about it and became my outlet for release. Being in the water was freeing, it made me feel alive and kept my mind healthy. Mental health in sport is extremely important and the benefits of swimming competitively should never be discounted or taken for granted. When you stop swimming competitively, you need to find another outlet, one which will give you the release you need to keep your mind healthy. There are many other outlets you could try like yoga, running, meditation to name a few, you could also just carry on swimming just not competitively. But you may want to take some time out of swimming and do something different and come back to swimming later.
5. Don’t Stop That Winning Feeling
There is nothing quite like that winning feeling. There is no way to describe winning to someone who hasn’t won. When you are competing, your goal is to win. When you stop competitive swimming and do something less competitively, its difficult. The recognition, respect and love you are receiving from being a winner somewhat disappears when you stop being competitive. Being respected by younger swimmers coming up through the ranks, is priceless. I will never forget the day a younger swimmer approached me and said, that when they grow up they wanted to be like me. What a privilege! Being able to swim competitively and have that passion is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The sheer joy that all your effort, all your blood, sweat and tears have paid off and you have won. The great thing about that winning feeling is that you can achieve it in all aspects of your life. Feel it, enhance it and live it. Having the passion for something is winning half the battle.
6. The Endless Battle
Swimming seemed to work every little bit of my body, from head to toe, it cleared my mind and made my soul happy. When you stop competitive swimming, the battle to find a sport that equates to swimming is hard. Trust me, I have tried the majority of sports out there. In my endeavor to find a sport that equates to swimming I couldn’t, but here are some sports that I find help, golf is a huge mind sport and is probably the hardest mind sport I have played. Running and yoga are good for my soul, running, not so much for my knees but definitely good for my soul. And for muscle tone I love hitting the gym for a Les Mills body pump class. There is hope.
So, there is life after competitive swimming, you just need to find what fits best for you. I hope some of my tips will help you navigate the journey outside of the chlorinated waters.