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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7 years ago

This is simply the best article I have ever read!!! It feels like you have lived with me for past two years and then wrote about it! Amazing 🙂

Reply to  Brandon
7 years ago

I know… Hits home. So many of us have had to cross this bridge. Elle’s a strong writer for sure…

7 years ago

when I retired 2 years ago, I seriously took 2 months to do absolutely nothing. get home from work, sit and play video games, or watch tv. occasionally I got an itch to go workout and i’d maybe go for a run with my dog. but I did nothing and it was glorious. then I started playing basketball again which I had stopped playing about 4 years before when I buckled down on swimming to make my last run. and now i’m doing crossfit . I don’t compete, just workout. I don’t think i’ll ever compete at a high level again unless its back in swimming. and I actually get to travel without having to worry about missing practice.

I… Read more »

7 years ago

Awesome article! One heck of a writer with great points!

7 years ago

The biggest challenge for me was adjusting my eating habits. No more ordering an extra large pizza for myself for dinner, or eating three or four huge baked potatos with all the fixings. I used to easily put one whole pizza away for a meal, and 15 years later I am content with two or three slices. The first year was the toughest as I put on 50+ lbs as I was still figuring out how much to eat without 4 hours of swimming per day.

Ct Swim Mom
7 years ago

Elle- Great article but I would doubt nothing less from you. Come back to visit- Badger Swammers are always welcome in our house:)

7 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. 🙁

Joel Lin
7 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.

6 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.

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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