Stanford Senior Zoe Bartel Announces Mid-Season Retirement From Swimming

Stanford University senior and All-American breaststroker Zoe Bartel announced that she’s stepping away from competitive swimming on Monday.

Bartel, who was in action this past weekend at the NC State Invitational in Greensboro, made an announcement on Instagram and also shared her reasons for stepping away with SwimSwam.

 

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A post shared by zoe bartel (@thezomad)

Bartel made it clear that her decision is simply because she doesn’t have the desire to continue competing, and has nothing to do with Stanford swimming & diving or her performances since joining the Cardinal in the fall of 2018.

“I decided to end my swimming career early this fall,” Bartel said. “For better or worse, people like to take headlines and run with them, so I wrote this short piece to explain my decision and (hopefully) dispel some of the Stanford slander that will almost inevitably follow.

“Let me be very clear: my choice has nothing to do with Stanford swimming or my performances since coming to school.

“This is a personal matter, and I’ve been incredibly blessed with the support of my family, coaches and teammates throughout my 15 years of competitive swimming.

“That being said, my decision was not easy by any means. My life and most of my relationships have been woven in the context of swimming. Stepping away feels like abandoning the family that raised me and loved me even when I was at my worst.”

The 21-year-old says she’s always enjoyed the relationships she made through swimming rather than the sport itself, and has found outside interests recently that propel her to move on from racing.

“When it comes down to it, swimming is not something I truly love. Those of you who know my story a little better know that has always been true. What I’ve loved about this sport are the people I’ve gotten to grow with, and the purpose it has given me when I didn’t feel like I had one. I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time, and swimming has consistently complicated these struggles. I used the daily grind of swimming to exhaust my demons rather than have to deal with them head-on. This sport simultaneously saved me from myself and clouded my understanding of who I am and how to be that person.

“This fall I’ve been happier than I’ve been in a long time. I discovered academic interests and passions that make me excited for life past graduation, and I’m finally ready to give myself a purpose. Fortunately, Stanford and the continuous support of my coaches has made it possible for me to both discover and pursue these interests.”

A native of Fort Collins, Colo., Bartel joined the Cardinal as a freshman in the 2018-19 season, helping Stanford to the 2019 NCAA team title while becoming an Honorable Mention All-American in the 200 breaststroke by finishing 11th overall.

As a sophomore she place third in both the 100 and 200 breast at the 2020 Pac-12s prior to NCAAs being canceled due to the pandemic, going on to earn All-American status in both the 100 and 200 breast. Last year, Bartel placed 31st in the 200 breast, 35th in the 100 breast and 56th in the 200 IM at the 2021 NCAAs in her junior season.

At last weekend’s NC State Invite, she finished seventh in the women’s 100 breast (1:01.38), sixth in the 200 breast (2:12.12) and 16th in the 200 IM heats before scratching the final.

Allie Raab has typically assumed breaststroke duty on Stanford’s medley relays during Bartel’s career, but with Raab racing sparsely on the weekend, Bartel raced both ‘A’ medley relays for the Cardinal and was their only scoring swimmer in the 100 breast.

Looking down the road, if Stanford has legitimate hopes of reclaiming the title, Bartel’s loss could prove costly if Raab doesn’t return to top form.

Bartel’s personal bests in her primary events—100 breast (58.72), 200 breast (2:06.24) and 200 IM (1:55.70)—were set in 2018 prior to her joining Stanford.

“This is not how I envisioned ending my time in the pool,” she said. “It’s not the fairytale ending to a perfect four years that we all dream about coming into school.

“Nonetheless, I know this is right for my wellbeing and future—as well as the future of Stanford Women’s Swim & Dive. I can’t give them the all-in commitment they deserve while also setting myself up to live a life I want, so I’ve chosen to step away.

“I can’t express my gratitude enough for (head coach) Greg (Meehan), (associate head coach) Tracy (Slusser), and my teammates for their relentless support, as well as Chris Webb and the Fort Collins community for always welcoming me with open arms no matter the circumstances.

“I honestly don’t know how I got so lucky to have been surrounded by so many incredible (and extremely patient) people. Thank you a thousand times over.”

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Clownley Honks
13 days ago

Just another Stanford success story!

James Beam
Reply to  Clownley Honks
13 days ago

Stay Classy San Diego…

JKs
Reply to  James Beam
13 days ago

You know, you can wish her the best, like her and even like Stanford and not respect a person’s decision. People make decisions all the time that not everyone will agree with and that’s ok – doesn’t make them a bad person.
She was clearly aware that this would reflect poorly and it does. It reflects poorly on her and on Stanford. She’s ditching. Doesn’t mean she’d change her decision, but she made it knowing at least some of the repercussions. This is not a medical retirement. This is quitting. Maybe it’s the right decision for her, but it’s not the best decision for everyone touched by it.
I personally think Stanford has a problem and this adds… Read more »

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

Except many people think that quitting something when you’re unhappy is fine and actually good.
Our culture fetishizes sticking something out at all costs and it’s stupid.

Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

If you talk to anyone on the Stanford team, I think they will tell you it’s a fun and happy place.

Maybe the pressure put on “Stanford success” is actually pressure outsiders just put on Stanford to succeed. Perhaps it’s not Stanford’s problem, but the problem of everyone in the peanut gallery who isn’t a part of Stanford

I’m also curious how you would know what “the best decision for everyone touched by it” is…

JKs
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
13 days ago

Interesting, nice lob, – I’m an alum and Stanford involved.
There is incredible pressure to succeed there athletically and it’s hard for many when you don’t measure up. There are alot of alums in various sports from Stanford who feel this way. There are alot that wished to quit, but stuck it out – not at all costs, but to support the program that gave them opportunities and the teammates that became family. There are other ways to support a team besides publicly quitting that can be beneficial to the team and the individual without giving or sticking it out at all cost.
I personally had a great experience, but I saw issues. And there are issues everywhere,… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by JKs
jim
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

This sport, especially if you are good (let’s consider Stanford good), has a very rewarding career of course, but very few get to ‘walk into the sunset with a win’. In fact, I’d argue most sports are this way, but being biased towards swimming, for as much work you put into it, especially when you finally get to the collegiate level, and to perhaps not reach your best times, or make that A relay or make it to your conference or NCAA’s, or make the final, etc, given all the hard work, and sure, pressure, it’s mentally debilitating. It’s not selfish to learn that ‘you are more than swimming’, and honestly I do not think the leaders of this sport… Read more »

JKs
Reply to  jim
13 days ago

I agree with you on so many levels. Nice post. I love sports and I love athletes.

Sports are tough and brutal and taxing and almost no one reaches the goals they set and the dreams they dream. That’s the journey – to see what you can do, within the bounds of integrity – and the reward is the reflection at the end to realize (in or out of competition and training) just what you are capable of and all the people and experiences that came along for the ride -what you did for them and what they did for you. And the journey will end – especially in swimming. Teammates and coaches are gold. Educating people that they are… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by JKs
Walter
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

You cannot like her decision all you want. I personally don’t like your decision to comment about it and make judgements. I think comments should be closed on these kinds of articles. Young people don’t need the peanut gallery weighing in. The majority of us know nothing about the situation and will forget all about it after posting our opinions. There is more to life than swimming, and many older swimmers (esp. those who seem not make “after swimming” plans) need to realize this. Just my opinion, from an old person; seen a lot.

Cate
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

No, just viewed as selfish by you. What are you involved in at Stanford as an alum? Did you swim at Stanford? I suspect that you are casting judgment because of your own point of view about the school. I’m sorry you had a bad experience at Stanford and wonder why you’re still involved with the school. I hope you find your happy place.

SCCOACH
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

I quit (if you want to call it that) when I was a senior in college. I felt bad for a little bit about team implications, but my teammates supported me. When you just aren’t mentally in it anymore, it’s not worth it. Waking up early in the morning to go to practice day after day, reading an extremely difficult workout or set you don’t want to do, standing on the blocks dreading racing because you know it will hurt really bad and you aren’t competitive enough anymore to want to embrace that feeling, knowing that your heart isn’t in it enough to get to the point where you can go a decent time and then you have to talk… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by SCCOACH
Michael Murray
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

This doesn’t reflect poorly on her or Stanford, but your comment reflects poorly on you.

JKs
Reply to  Michael Murray
13 days ago

BS – anyone who ditches their team in the last few months publicly is a reflection on their team and team leaders. Anyone who ditches their family publicly, is a reflection on their family. Thinking that we should all act in our own self interests all the time without consideration for others, reflects on you.
I said a few times, that this might have been the right call for Zoe. I don’t know enough, but it absolutely reflects poorly.

All the hype
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

It is time that this outdated mode of thinking gets out to rest. WHY do grown men care so much about what a 20 something young lady decides to do? Making a personal decision to quit a sport that is not bringing you joy should be just that… a personal decision. I am sure she and Greg had many discussions and thought this was best. Swimming is important but there is so much more to life than swimming (or there should be.)

I really wish Braden et Co would block the comment section when our high school and college age swimmers 1) Make college decisions 2) Change their college commitments and 3) Go into the transfer portal. These are… Read more »

JKs
Reply to  All the hype
13 days ago

So many things wrong here among many assumptions you state about me.
I did/do wish her the best.
I’m not throwing vitriol. Disagreeing with a decision is not throwing vitriol.
I don’t agree with her decision based on what I do know, but caveated with I don’t know enough. I do think it reflects poorly and there were other better ways for this to be handled by Stanford and her.
That is not not supporting her. I can disagree with her rational and still not condemn her.

Walter
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

But you don’t know the situation as you sit on your golden throne, so what would you decree be done differently?

All the hype
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

I just think we should mind our words when articles are about our high school and college age swimmers. Comments should be closed. You are absolutely entitled to your own opinion and if we were speaking grown up to grown up I would have no problem with you having an opinion different than mine. I am just having a problem with negative things being said about a younger swimmer. Today is probably one of the worst days of Zoe Bartel’s life. She is probably upset, scared, maybe a bit unsure about her decision even if she knows in her heart she made the right one. We grown ups shouldn’t add to that.

Chas E
Reply to  All the hype
12 days ago

21 isn’t grown up? Just save the venom and malicious attacks in the comments for the real ‘adults’ based on what age exactly? 21 year olds can’t handle criticism but 27, 34, 51 year olds can and should?

Willswim
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

1. She made a decision that she felt was best for herself. 2. As far as I can tell, her family, friends, teammates, and coaches support her decision. What exactly do you mean when you say “it reflects poorly“? All the people directly affected by this decision seem to care more about Zoe and her happiness than the nebulous optics of “culture” or “quitting” that you’re talking about. Sorry this stranger didn’t live up to your standards of swim team valour. I’d say you should give up and take the L, but we all know how you feel about quitting so enjoy having this pompous hill to die on I guess.

Cate
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

Yeah, sweetie, you kinda are throwing vitriol.

swimapologist
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

On the one hand, I think a lot of what JKs said is wrong and unnecessary.

On the other hand, how many times do we see in coaching forums and mommy blogs lots of back-slapping and high-fiving when parents say “my child doesn’t have to pursue any sport or activity they don’t want to, but I tell them that if they start a season they have to finish a season. That’s non-negotiable.”

I think it’s totally fair for her to do what’s best for her. But, I don’t think she gets to dodge all criticism for a mid-season retirement if we’re also going to laud the “my team my teammates finish the season” mentality elsewhere. Those two things are incongruous.… Read more »

Texas A&M Swim Fan
Reply to  All the hype
13 days ago

Agree👍👍

Walter
Reply to  JKs
13 days ago

Nope. Your admission that you “don’t know enough” says it all and reflects poorly on you.

Cate
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

Michael is right. It does reflect poorly on you. I’m sorry you’re so unhappy. I hope you find joy in your life.

HoosierSwimTaxi
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

I don’t know what you intended to say with that parallel sentence construction in which “family” follows “team,” but here’s a LifeProTip: your swim team is not your family.

swimapologist
Reply to  HoosierSwimTaxi
12 days ago

Okay then why do all of the college coaches make their recruits write that in their announcements?

The whole thing is unraveling at the seams. Zoe Bartel is single-handedly bringing collegiate athletics to its knees! Huzzah!

Cate
Reply to  JKs
12 days ago

Are you at Stanford? Did you talk to anyone on the team? Or is your statement under the heading of ” some people say”. BTW it’s “adds fuel to the fire”.

Cate
Reply to  Clownley Honks
12 days ago

You didn’t read the article, did you?

I win, you lose
13 days ago

Article leaves out the first part of her comment:
“For better or worse, people like to take headlines and run with them, so I wrote this short piece to explain my decision and (hopefully) dispel some of the Stanford slander that will almost inevitably follow.
Let me be very clear: my choice has nothing to do with Stanford swimming or my performances since coming to school.”
Can we for once try to honor this and NOT slander Stanford or Greg?
Congrats on an amazing career and best of luck in your future, Zoe!

Admin
Reply to  I win, you lose
13 days ago

We reported based on the email that she sent us last night, not based on her social media post. That line wasn’t in her email.

Last edited 13 days ago by Braden Keith
applesandoranges
Reply to  Braden Keith
13 days ago

Her mistake was sending you an email about her decision. It is none of anyone’s business why she is retiring.

Big Mac #1
Reply to  applesandoranges
13 days ago

Well she just wanted to get it out to the wider swimming community and not just the 2200 people who follow her

Dubjayswammer
Reply to  applesandoranges
13 days ago

Not sure how the email was a mistake? It was bound to end up on this website at some point anyway. At least by emailing swimswam she could have some control over how the news got out to the swimming community, rather than assumptions being made about her

Beverly Drangus
Reply to  applesandoranges
12 days ago

It’s none of your business why she sent an email to swimswam.

Coach
13 days ago

Wishing nothing but the best for Zoe and her future.

NCSwimFan
13 days ago

All the best to Zoe in retirement, and what she stated about her mental health being paramount is something all athletes should definitely note!

Lil Swimmy
13 days ago

such a shame! wishing her nothing but happiness and good health in the future

Taa
13 days ago

Well I saw several encouraging posts from her teammates which is nice to see. If I was a teammate I’d be like wtf do you mean your quitting in the middle of the season? But ultimately you have to accept her decision. I think covid really punched Stanford swimming in the gut and they are still struggling. Of course I have no clue what I’m talking about. Is it weird that we evaluate teams based on how fast they swim? Hope they are having a great season regardless.

applesandoranges
Reply to  Taa
13 days ago

Struggling? But wait, they have a great coach and too many Olympians to shake a stick at.

Sakibomb25
Reply to  Taa
13 days ago

But you also want a teammate that is all in and believes in the same goals as you. If you have to wake up at 5AM in the morning for practice, you want your teammates to do that as well. It’s tough, this concept of team because you don’t want to let them down… but at the same time, if they respect you and value you as a friend, you’ll be happy AF for them. You can be disappointed in someone AND be happy for them at the same time. In the end, it’ll be the relationships that matter and those who do matter in her life will ultimately be happy for her.

Spectatorn
Reply to  Sakibomb25
12 days ago

Right! She is just stop swimming competitively. Nothing in her post mean she is cutting tie with the people. So many has said their teammates are friends for life, and I don’t believe her retiring now would change that.
Wish Zoe and her teammates all the best.

Ugly IS my alibi
13 days ago

I’m always very happy for people who retire like this instead of being proud and unsatisfied seeing it through to the end. I’m the latter but trying to be more true to myself

Coach Macgyver
13 days ago

Takes guts to do what she did. I understand she is concerned with her mental health, but for me, it takes a person of strong mind and will to bow out the way she did.

Great role model!

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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