Florida All-American Vanessa Pearl Medically Retires from College Swimming

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 12

February 02nd, 2022 News

University of Florida swimmer Vanessa Pearl has medically retired. After sitting out the fall semester, Pearl told SwimSwam on Wednesday that she made the decision to end her collegiate swimming career in December.

She does plan to remain at the school to complete her degree.

This would have been Pearl’s 4th year of collegiate swimming. Pearl was a three-time NCAA qualifier, earning eight career All-America honors. That included two as a freshman, five as a sophomore when the CSCAA gave All-America awards to all qualifiers after the NCAA Championship meet was canceled, and another as a junior.

Her junior season saw her highest individual finish at the NCAA Championships, placing 10th in the 200 IM. She also finished 25th in the 400 IM and 36th in the 200 breast at that meet.

As a freshman and sophomore, she was also the team’s primary breaststroker on its medley relays. She was bumped for that spot by Cecilia Porter as a junior.

Porter, who is on the Gators’ roster as a sophomore, has also been absent for most of this season. She raced at the team’s opener against Florida Atlantic, winning the 100 breaststroke, but hasn’t raced since. The school has declined to comment on her absence, and she has not responded to messages.

This has left the Gators very thin in the breaststroke races. Their top performer so far this season, Tyler Mathieu, was 1:00.95 at the midseason Georgia Tech Invite, which ranks her 17th in the conference.

Mathieu has primarily been a distance freestyler to this point of her college career, though she’s been swimming more breaststroke this season to fill in that gap.

With the challenges on the breaststroke leg, Florida’s 400 medley relay ranks just 10th out of 12 teams in the SEC so far this season.

Pearl was the Gators’ second-highest scoring athlete, and highest-scoring swimmer, at the 2021 SEC Championship meet. She scored 74 points, led by a runner-up finish in the 200 IM, as the Gators placed 2nd overall.

Porter’s last official meet was the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, where she finished 48th in the 100 breaststroke, 41st in the 200 IM, and 41st in the 400 IM. That was her second Olympic Trials meet.

Pearl was the #6-ranked recruit in the high school class of 2018 when she committed to Florida. A native of McKinney, Texas, she was the 2018 Texas 6A High School State Champion in the 100 breast and 200 IM, a US National Team member in the 2017-2018 season, 2017 US Open High Point Winner, and USA Swimming Scholastic All-American.

Florida’s next meet is the 2022 SEC Championships, which will be hosted at the University of Tennessee from February 15-19. Based on a Swimulation of current season-best results, Florida would finish 5th at that meet in swimming points.

Medical retirements generally offer athletes who suffer career-ending injuries an opportunity to still have their education paid for. Athletic directors have the option to pay out a student’s scholarship or offer them financial aid; it is essentially a form of insurance for college athletes.

Medically retired athletes do not count towards their former program’s total scholarship limit. Medical retirement also cannot be undone – if the athlete makes an unexpected recovery, they cannot regain NCAA eligibility.

In recent years, medical retirements have been used more frequently because of mental health issues in addition to physical health issues.


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9 months ago

Best of luck to Vanessa in all your future endeavors!

Just an observation, but looking at the rankings for the class of 2018, many of the top 10 recruits have had similar issues. #1 Eva Merrell I don’t believe ever swam for Georgia, #2 Taylor Ruck has been very public about her struggles, #3 Zoe Bartel retired, #5 Cassidy Bayer has been public about her eating disorder, #6 Vanessa Pearl medically retired.

I’m glad these girls are not only doing what’s best for them, but also shedding light on some of the issues facing swimmers and elite athletes.

Reply to  Ervin
9 months ago

Add in Grace Ariola in there.

All kudos to these individuals for doing whats best for them and also being vocal for others to potentially relate to the same struggles. All the best to them

Reply to  Ervin
9 months ago

some might say that is small sample size but some other might say maybe there is something wrong somewhere is swimming in USA….

stephen l wilson
9 months ago

Congrats to Vanessa on the conclusion of outstanding swimming career and for making an important, difficult decision. She’s a Lady Gator forever and will soon be a UF graduate! So many exciting events to look forward for her…

9 months ago

Go Ray Looze!

9 months ago

She posted on her Insta in 2020 that she’s had chronic migraines daily for the past (then) ten years, and it had gotten to the point where she was having multiple migraines per day and unable to concentrate on anything but the pain. My mother suffers from severe migraines, and she all but has to hole herself in a quiet, completely dark room until they subside. She becomes a shell of herself for hours after. It takes a huge toll mentally. How Vanessa was able to get through practices with them is incredible. That she was able to break the school record in the 200 breast at 2020 SECs after sitting out most of the fall is a testament to… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Aquajosh
9 months ago

That’s sad to hear. Wish her well. Has SwimSwam done any analysis of medical retirements over the past few years? It seems to me that the number is growing. Is this because we are hearing more about medical retirements? Is there an increase in psychological medical retirements? And if so, what’s the larger cause? Thoughts?

Last edited 9 months ago by Snarky
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

I swam in the early 2000s and swimmers did it back then too. I think it’s more publicized now with social media and sports media. Back then, you just didn’t hear swimmers say mental health but it happened a lot.

Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
9 months ago

I swam in the late 2000s and plenty of swimmers quit for mental health reasons, often eating disorders. I don’t think most were given the option to medically retire though, because it wasn’t seen as a medical issue. They just quit the team. I’m glad that’s changing.

Karen Smith
9 months ago

Can I speak to a manager?

ACC fan
9 months ago

Good Luck Vanessa. This has a been a rough two years on so many. Best wishes in all your future endeavors. Be well.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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