2016 Rio Olympian Jacob Pebley announced today on Instagram that he will not be competing at the USA Olympic Trials, which starts this week with Wave I and continues with Wave II from June 13th-20th.
Aggregated text of the posts:
I will not be swimming at Olympic Trials next week. My hope is that this message helps anyone feeling external pressure or anxiety to perform. Remember, you are doing this for you and anyone that cares about you will accept any result that follows!
Last December I decided to step away from swimming. I didn’t know if I was done swimming permanently; I just knew I was becoming someone I was no longer proud of. I hated myself for so long that even when I was around the people I cared about the most in this world I felt depressed and alone. I didn’t understand it. Eventually, I decided to seek out help and I’m so glad that I did.
Almost five years ago I made the Olympic Team in the 200 back. Unfortunately, after feeling that dream come true it became a five year burden to get back there and redeem for what I saw as a failure. I didn’t win medals at the Olympics. And every time I was asked about my experience, that was all I could think about. The history of American backstroke is incredible and I wanted so badly to contribute to that my whole life and I felt I had squandered an opportunity.
As the days, weeks, months, years following the games passed, my inner dialogue took its toll on me in the harshest of ways. It went from a fire of redemption into a desperation to achieve this goal. It went from something I dreamed about, to something I needed in order to be happy.
As I’m sure millions of people faced this year, the solitude of quarantine made these distressing thoughts even louder and more pervasive. I felt an enormous amount of doubt and fear sink in as those months went on and on without any normalcy to distract me.
Despite all of the incredible athletes who have spoken out about mental health, it is still a foreign and challenging experience for me. It was always something other people were dealing with and I was just fine. I had spoken with therapists and sports psychologists before, but it was always about how to be a better athlete, never how to actually understand and heal from emotional baggage I had been carrying with me for my entire life and actually understand who I was as a person. Even today, the experience of seeing a therapist is so emotionally charged that I struggle setting consistent appointments. It is not easy work, but it is so rewarding when I am able to uncover all the good, the bad, and the ugly.
My hope is that someone reading this finds some normalcy in their experience because you are not alone. I felt alone for so long and still often do, but there is always someone to talk to. I’m so thankful to USA Swimming for connecting me with people to get me help, for my support circle for understanding why I’m not swimming at Trials and knowing there is always more to life, and most importantly for my wife Nikki for staying by my side as she has absolutely seen me at my best and my worst.
After about four months away from the pool, I decided I didn’t want that version of myself to have the last swim. I came back to swimming in April to swim for myself. To enjoy it again. I’m on a new journey that is only up to me to decide how it goes. And I hope that everyone competing at Trials and the Games will feel the same way. I’m not going to lie, it will be difficult for me to watch Trials and the Games, but I look forward to seeing everyone compete and EJOY the experience. Until next time.
In his announcement, Pebley stops short of using the word ‘retirement,’ and he is registered in the draft pool for season 3 of the International Swimming League in the fall. He competed for the DC Triden in the 2020 ISL season and the New York Breakers in the 2019 ISL season.
Pebley had a solid career as a Cal Bear, helping the team to a national championship in 2014, before making the transition to pro in 2016. At the 2016 Olympic Trials, he finished 2nd in the 200 back behind Cal teammate Ryan Murphy to make the USA Olympic Team. In Rio, Pebley made the final in the 200 back, then finished 5th overall.
Pebley and Murphy would continue to represent the United States at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Pebley took 3rd in 2017, his highest finish in a major international meet, and also made the final in 2019.
Prior to becoming an Olympian, Pebley won at the 200 back at the 2015 World University Games.
Pebley is the 4th-ranked American in the 200 backstroke during the Olympic Trials qualifying period.
Top 5 Americans, men’s 200 meter backstroke, Olympic Trials qualifying period:
- Ryan Murphy – 1:54.12
- Austin Katz – 1:55.57
- Shaine Casas – 1:55.79
- Jacob Pebley – 1:56.35
- Clark Beach – 1:57.14
He is one of a number of major U.S. swimmers who have announced that they will either retire or not compete at the U.S. Trials in the last few months. That includes Lia Neal, Pebley’s former Team Elite training partner; Ella Eastin, Margo Geer, and Ian Finnerty.