7 Ways to Cope With Retirement From Competitive Swimming

I fell in love with the sport of swimming at the early age of six. It has been my passion for as long as I can remember. In February 2013, that part of my life came to an end when I completed my swimming career as a Wisconsin Badger at my senior year Big Ten Championships. In the past 16 months, I have had to deal with the harsh reality of adjusting to the swammer life, and let me tell you, it has not been easy. In my first year or so of retirement I have learned a lot, and I wanted to share a few ways to deal with the adjustment to the competitive swimming afterlife. Everyone copes with retirement differently, so you can take it for what it’s worth, and hopefully it gives you swammers some peace of mind.

1. First of all…take a BREAK!

What? A break? Like the afternoon off? Like the day off? I don’t understand… As a swimmer, you are conditioned to give your 110% at everything you do. All. The. Time. Whether it is training, lifting, racing, eating, napping… you are going give it everything you have and you are going to crush it! You have been working so hard for so long, you deserve a break! Don’t work out for a few weeks. Go have some fun. Let your mind and body unwind. Figure out what it means to not be completely exhausted all the time. Who cares if you gain a few pounds or if you stay up too late a few too many nights in a row. You’ll know when you’re ready to get out there and be active again, and before you know it, you will be in a routine that gets you back on track and makes you feel great.

2. When you work out, try new things!

When you are feeling relaxed and ready to get active, don’t feel like you need to swim. You are the one in control of your workout schedule now, so go try that Pilates or Zumba class. Go for a bike ride or a run with a friend. Take your dog for a walk. (Believe it or not, that counts as exercise!) The most important thing is to go out and do SOMETHING! There are so many fun, creative ways to be fit and active. Grab a friend and go try something new together. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense all the time; it can be fun and social. Now you can work out with friends and actually talk to them at the same time. (Crazy, I know…) Say good bye to that lonely, never ending black line on the bottom of the pool, and hello to a number of smiling faces who are excited to work out with you!

3. Don’t be afraid to take some time away from the sport.

You have dedicated practically your entire life to the sport of swimming. You’ve spent about 15-16 years focusing on stroke technique, stand-up sets, dryland workouts, racing suits, Michael Phelps, and I’m barely scratching the surface here. Every conversation you have ever had, you always manage to find a way to talk about swimming. Everything you do, you can relate it to a workout you had, or a meet you went to. It is a good idea to not only take a break from swimming, but also from the thought of swimming. At the end of many swimmers’ careers, they often suffer from identity loss. “If I am no longer a swimmer, then who am I? Swimming is my life!” Take some time to figure out who you are without swimming. Find a hobby that gets you away from swimming. Look for a job that does not focus on swimming. It is always going to be a part of you. Swimming taught you things that you will use every day for the rest of your life, whether you are on the pool deck or in an office. Know that it’s okay to get away from it for a little bit. You will soon realize how much you miss swimming, and when you decide to get back to it, it will be like you were never away.

4. When you’re ready…you can find ways to get back to swimming, without actually swimming a grueling 7,000 yards twice a day.

You don’t have to crush it in the pool every day to reconnect with your passion for swimming. There are so many ways to be involved in the sport! Coach a high school team. Coach a club team. Volunteer at swim meets. Lifeguard. Teach swim lessons. Write about the athletes, the coaches, or the sport! (Look at me!) There are so many ways to exhibit your passion for swimming without the training and the racing. The world of swimming needs passionate coaches, passionate writers, and passionate supporters. Try to experience the sport you love in a new way or from a new angle. It may even make you appreciate the sport even more.

5. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to! YOU ARE IN CONTROL!

If your alarm goes off for an early morning workout, and the last thing you want to do is get out of bed, let alone work out…GO BACK TO SLEEP! For the first time in a very long time you are completely in control of your training and fitness. You are not letting down a team and you don’t have a coach who will punish you for skipping either. Your goals are entirely YOUR goals. If you are not up for the challenge that day, it’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to bed and give it another shot tomorrow.

6. Don’t compare your old swimmer self to your new swammer self.

The swammer life is much different than the swimmer life. You will soon find out…It’s not socially acceptable to wear sweats everywhere you go. It’s also not okay to have permanently wet/messy hair. Your metabolism probably won’t allow you to eat an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting and not experience the repercussions (and your conscience probably won’t let you off the hook guilt-free either). The next time you get in the pool, it’s not going to be as easy to hammer out a tough IM set. You can’t take a three hour nap in the middle of the day either…I know…it’s rough. Part of being a swammer means you are ending one chapter of your life but you have to remember that you are also starting a new one, and an exciting one! Embrace it! It’s different and it’s awesome! The time you once dedicated to workouts, is now dedicated to earning some money and possibly even developing some sort of a social life. Work outs don’t need to be two hours. You don’t need to do doubles. Muggles, NARPS, Randos, you know, normal people, strive to work out for 45 minutes to an hour 3-5 times a week. Child’s play, right? Believe it or not, it is tough to get that workout in without a coach and a team holding you accountable. Don’t worry though! You are a swammer! Just because the swimming career is behind you doesn’t mean you are any less awesome. It is definitely an adjustment, but if anyone can make it work, you can!

7. For those of you not ready to quit…the dream lives on with MASTERS SWIMMING!

If you have the time, energy, and motivation to keeping swimming, why not? Master’s Swimming provides a laid back, yet structured environment for anyone 18 years and older to train. Whether you are going after lifetime bests or simply looking to maintain your hot swimmer body, Master’s Swimming is a great opportunity for swammers. There are tons of programs out there that offer a variety of practice times. It’s hard not to find a master’s program that fits with your schedule. Master’s Swimming is a great way to move forward in your adult life, but still continue living the dream of competitive swimming.

Elle Meinholz, headshotCongratulations on your retirement from the most difficult sport out there! Welcome to the swammer life.

Contributor Elle Meinholz fell in love with swimming at an early age. Born and raised a Wisconsin girl, she pursued her lifelong dream of swimming as a Wisconsin Badger from 2009-2013. She graduated from Wisconsin with degrees in English and Communications. A year out of college and out of swimming, she is now a full-time Admission Counselor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in Milwaukee, WI. She continues to fulfill her passion for swimming through high school coaching, writing, living vicariously through her younger sister, and getting in a couple thousand yards when time allows. (Twitter: @ElleMeinholz)


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Bradley Vincent
4 years ago

I am still competing competitively and i am 27 years old. I must say the years tick over the question in my mind about what my life is going to be like when i hang up the costume and goggles. The kinds of questions I ask myself are: Will i let myself go and get fat? How will I stay fit or where will I find the motivation to stay fit since competitive swimming was my main drive to do so. I really appreciate your swimmer swammer comparison and the ending says it all “Don’t worry though! You are a swammer! Just because the swimming career is behind you doesn’t mean you are any less awesome. It is definitely an… Read more »

Elle Meinholz
Reply to  Bradley Vincent
4 years ago


If you find something that stimulates swimmers as much as they used to be by training and racing, let me know! I think a lot of swammers, myself included, search for something that fuels that competitive nature and intensity. Many swimmers take up different sports or workouts, which allows them to fuel their intensity from a whole new sport. It’s eye-opening. Many dive into running and/or triathlons. My sister and I do some kickboxing. Others have really found their niche in CrossFit. Masters Swimming is a great way to stay involved in the sport we love, without the same level of intensity.

I do believe there is a little “depression” many of us go through once swimming is… Read more »

Bradley Vincent
Reply to  Elle Meinholz
4 years ago

Thank you Elle really appreciate your reply. Yes you are right when you say there are other options “eye opener” after swjmming and that the world does not just stop at swimming.

In your experience do you believe a swimmer should start visualising themselves as a swammer especially if they are coming up to that finishing line in the next two years. Or should I just deal with it when that comes?

Also my other question to you is: what would you advise a swimmer to do that would make the transition from swimmer to swammer easier or more prepared?

Thank you.

Elle Meinholz
Reply to  Bradley Vincent
4 years ago

I don’t think you need to visualize yourself as anything really. Swimming is what we make of it. Some of us have limited careers and some of us are lifers, but there are different stages along the way. Enjoy every second of the sport in the stage of life you’re in. I loved college swimming, and even though your collegiate career may be coming to an end, swimming doesn’t have to end. Master’s swimming is a freaking blast!

My advice to you is to enjoy your time and enjoy the sport. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Every big change comes with a time of adjustment.

New Swammer
7 years ago

I just finished up my division 1 college swim career this season and was trying to find advice on how to cope with the exponential drop in exercise and this article helped a TON! Thank you so much for taking the time to write it and share your experience with retirement. Ready to be a swammer!

Recent Swammer
7 years ago

I just recently finished up my last year of college swimming, and this article hit me hard. Thank you. One of the best articles I have read. 🙂

Gary P
7 years ago

Masters, all the way. Unattached so you can swim meets only when you want without any guilt that you’re not helping the team. If you’re already in good swim shape, three to four USRPT workouts a week, 45-75 minutes in length, is enough to maintain most of your speed. You CAN stay in the sport without devoting 20+ hours a week to it.

7 years ago

Nice article!

8 years ago

When people ask how far you swam for your retired-swimmer-workout, and you say, “Oh, 1900 m,” and the response is something along the lines of shock-and-awe… You think to yourself, “I just did LESS than a typical meet warm-up… And I did it ALL slow… BECAUSE I COULD!!” Even though you are also thinking at the same time that it hardly counted as a “workout,” regardless of how your arms felt while actually doing said 1900 m.

Joel Lin
9 years ago

Back in the day this guy could put together a nifty 50 fly. Short course.


And he’s still rocking it out in a Speedo. It is all about confidence.

9 years ago


Damn straight! I will get up when I want, wherever I want, and nobody can say anything about it. Murrica!

Next day: fired. 🙁

About Elle Meinholz

Elle Meinholz

Contributor Elle Meinholz has been in love with swimming all her life. Growing up she swam for the Waukesha Express Swim Team and Catholic Memorial High School. The oldest daughter of two former UW-Badger swimmers, Elle went on to college to fulfill her lifelong dream of swimming as a Wisconsin …

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