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The untold struggles of retiring from a professional sport.

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

Ugh. How much I resent stating aloud that I was going to write this blog. This is such a complicated topic for me to discuss, and I am hoping that at the end of it I will feel relieved. I'll let you know.


I retired from being a professional athlete over a year ago today. I was a swimmer. I was fast, not the fastest. This piece is not an endeavor of my athletic achievement, it's words I feel many athletes can relate to.


Swimming was everything to me.

Absolutely everything. There were times I'd say I would cut my own arm to reach my goal (which wouldn't help me much). I was completely devoted. When I won, I was on a drug-like high, The day I made the criteria to participate in my first international competition was my first time being high from swimming. Another big one was the day I raced at the national championships for the first time after recovering from ACL surgery, I won the race. When I came to college for swimming, one of my good friends who was a senior told me that he is 100% sure that by the time I'll be a senior I will not be as motivated and will not care about swimming as much as I did my freshman year. We didn't keep in touch but during my senior year, he emailed me out of the blue - "well, it's your senior year and I am dying to know - are you still as passionate about the sport? Do you want to keep going? Or do you want to be done?" I was surprised that he remembered, and that my "instance motivation" struck him like that. I think he was surprised to learn that I was going to take a fifth year as a college swimmer, and definitely want to keep going.


At the time this picture was taken (2013), swimming as my "hobby" became my everything.

Since retiring, I have disconnected myself completely from the world of swimming.

Not on purpose, but I felt like I can't bear it. I stopped following the world news, I stopped monitoring the current international competitions, and I stopped checking how my competitors/idols were doing. Big names from the swimming world even faded from my brain. I feel like an idiot. I ask myself "how could this matter to you so much? There are so many other things that are so much more important."


But why? Why can't I keep a positive attitude toward the sport that gave me so much? I have my theories.


Theory 1. I have had enough.

When you do something for so many years with such intensity, it's a lot. The sleep-swim-eat-repeat routine. I think back about the workouts I have completed and I am in awe. 10 swimming workouts a week, two to four lift workouts a week, the stretching, the "optional abs". I did it all. My body was my equipment. I was weighing myself and getting my body fat checked regularly. I knew I need to be under 20% fat to be at my best. I oftentimes felt like I didn't look fit enough. Crazy, ha?

I was religious about my 8-hour-sleeps and my naps. I would walk into my 10 am classes already having had two workouts and one napping session. I loved it. I was addicted. It didn't feel like this lifestyle would ever end.


Theory 2. I resent not fulfilling myself.

I didn't reach my ultimate goals. My big goals. The ones I was dreaming about. And now, GAME"S OVER. The never-ending chase of improving hundreds of a second is done.

I loved what I was doing and it gave me a sense of purpose. While I was still at it, there was a chance for me to get to where I wanted to get. Now, I will forever live with the fact that I was "just" a D1 swimmer, not an NCAA participant. "Just" a national champion, not a national record holder.

I feel like it's truly hard for me to live with myself feeling like I haven't reached my goals.

Theory 3. I feel emptiness in my day and in my life.

I miss being coached. I miss having a team. I miss having a structure to my day. I miss introducing myself as a swimmer.

Upon quitting, I started working out regularly. And all of a sudden it hit me. You don't have to work out if you don't want to. And, if you miss a day, nothing happens. This wasn't an option as a professional athlete. I don't have to lift heavier week-over-week. I don't have to lift at all if I don't want to.


I know, it's wild.


This notion brought an emptiness that I am not really used to, but being retired, there is no way back.

Theory 4. Identity crisis.

I was Michal Swimmer Liberman. The fact I was an athlete was the most important fact about me. Who am I anymore?

I tried working out on my own for a while, but it was tough not having a coach. So, I hired a personal trainer. At the consultation meeting, the trainer asked me to take my measurements. He also asked, "what are your goals?". I said, I just want to workout to be healthy and happy. He was weirded by it. I think he was used to women coming to him to lose weight. He suggested a goal of trying to reduce my circumferences. I told him I don't want to.


Me? Don't want to set goals? Who am I?

I didn't want to set "stupid goals", or "Small scale goals" that felt insignificant in comparison to those I used to have.


I didn't want to set a goal because I knew I'd start obsessing over my measurements, and it will not end well. But in reality, I worked very hard at the gym.


I swam for 15 years. It's not that much in the great scheme of a long full life. I am still myself without swimming. I believe that the things that made me a good swimmer, will also make me a good person, a good professional, and a good friend. What I want, is to let go of the "What Ifs" and the disappointments. To channel "Swimmer Michal" into Future Michal while being proud.


PS, I feel relieved.

Thank you for reading.

"Swimmer Michal"

2 Comments


avital liberman
avital liberman
Oct 12, 2022

You are perfect doesn’t matter if you are “Swimmer Michal" or just Michal

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I can see how much love and thought you put in this article and I have to say it is one of your best. I can relate with you and even you were able to put words into my thoughts over why do I feel like this after retiring.

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