Let’s take a trip down my memory lane. At my last NCAA Championships, being a redshirt senior, I was 23 years old. Over the course of those three days, I swam 10+ races, and while they were some of the best swims of my life, I felt more “old” than anything. My body had to recover differently, my stomach didn’t deal with Jimmy John’s as easily, and basically I felt like a grandma compared to my 18-year-old competitors.
I retired after that season, and my mom kept telling over the next year to give swimming another chance. I would describe my ability as above average, but my answer back to her was that I was “too old to be competing anymore”. And yes at 27 years old now I will admit that, maybe my mom was right.
The average swimming age has changed so much over these years since even the earlier 2000’s. I did some calculating of the average age in tonight’s A finalist and here it is below –
Most seniors in college turn 22 at some point, so basing off that assumption, the average age over most of these finals are at that age or even older, especially with the men. There is more than several college teams there, so it surprised me to see that age that high on the women even.
While I don’t think this is really news to anyone, I believe there are three main factors that contribute to this “older swimming age”.
Recovery & Taking Care of Yourself.
Let’s admit it.. we probably didn’t take the best care of ourselves in college, me included. For example, I swam outside in California in college and now coach outdoors in Florida. Did I ever wear sunscreen in college? Heck no. Do I now? Heck yes. Because I know now that taking care of yourself, in all facets, is so important.
I think older swimmers are just much more in tune to their body. They watch what they eat, they take recovery as seriously, if not more, than the actually training component, and they realize sleep is their best friend. Michael Phelps himself believes that now at his age of 30, that he “can’t wait to see what he can do giving it 100%”. You and I both know that he taking care of himself better than ever in and out of the pool.
USA Swimming & FINA gives swimmers great opportunities to continue their love for the sport and competition. There are incentives for these athletes, to make certain teams, participate in meets with prize money, hit certain rankings, for example, that all result in funding for these athletes to make swimming beyond college manageable.
From my knowledge, a post-graduate on the national team can make up to $2000 a month. Add that to participation in Pro Series or World Cup events where athletes can win money based on their placement, and endorsements, you can start to have a pretty good life while still swimming. Just taking a look at the USA Swimming Support Opportunities, there’s links for funding, reimbursement, health insurance, training center opportunities, and grants all geared to help our athletes pursue their dreams.
I have been “retired” for almost four years now. And all those days I said in my head, “I can’t wait until this is over and start real life”, I take ALL back. Swimming on a team and competing were some of my best memories in my young adulthood, and I wish I didn’t wish it away so fast.
When I graduated, jobs were a bit hard to come by, and swimming would have been a great thing to keep doing to keep myself focused. I think many athletes continue to find time to still swim while they work in graduate school or internships. They can continue to prepare themselves for outside the pool, while doing something they love and keeps them in great shape. I know I miss those abs I had many moons ago. Plus, if you believe you still have goals you can achieve, why stop when your college eligibility is up, if you believe you can still make it happen?
Some may say that having an “older” swimming age is holding back the “younger” swimmers from breaking onto the scene. But if you can make it happen, continue to have fun and hit best times, then why not? We see “older” players in plenty of other professional sports; there are quarterbacks in the NFL playing until they are nearly 40. And as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.