Our journey’s in endurance sports begin with a single step. Oftentimes that single step is a why but sometimes that decision is made for us. Regardless of how that decision is made, that first step puts us into a space that challenges both physical limits and mental resilience. Dr. Sandra Harrell’s story highlights a journey that is shaped by early encounters with swimming, unexpected hurdles, and an unwavering passion for helping others. This passion has led her to becoming a voice for change in the sport of swimming.
A Start at Three: The Reluctant Swimmer
Dr. Sandra Harrell’s journey into swimming was not a conscious decision but an unexpected introduction at the early age of three. Initially, swimming lessons were instigated by her parents for safety reasons. “My mom took me to a pool and put me in some lessons when I was three. At first, it was more of just a safety measure,” recalls Dr. Harrell. Despite early resistance and a fear of water, a pivotal moment occurred when her older brother coaxed her into the pool, revealing a hidden passion for swimming.
As she joined a swim team at the age of five, it became evident that swimming was more than a mandatory activity—it was a skill she excelled at. Yet, the initial journey was not one of choice but a path guided by parental decisions.
The Middle School Resurgence: Rediscovering Passion
During middle school, Dr Sandra took a break from swimming. This hiatus may have been a prediction for the future as it hinted at the challenges Dr. Harrell faced. “Swimming was hard. Swimming has always been hard,” she reflects. It wasn’t burnout that led to the break but a fear of the demanding nature of the sport, coupled with a lack of self-confidence. Despite the difficulty, the hiatus was short-lived as the competitive spirit within her was put on display.
Returning to the pool at the age of twelve, Dr. Harrell discovered her natural aptitude for the sport. Making cuts for Junior Olympics and other age group meets, she found joy and success in swimming. The realization of her gifted ability marked a turning point, propelling her into high school swimming with renewed vigor.
High School Dedication: Overcoming Burnout
High school became a crucial phase where Dr. Harrell’s commitment to swimming reached new heights. Juggling morning and afternoon practices, along with school, she trained three times a day. Despite the intensity, the sheer love for swimming and the desire to compete on a bigger stage fueled her determination. She didn’t know it at the time, but those three training sessions per day would be a foundation for her becoming a voice of change in swim training.
Identifying as the underdog in a smaller high school, Dr. Harrell’s competitive spirit thrived. She embraced the challenges, setting her sights on experiencing the camaraderie of a larger team. The sacrifices and dedication paid off as she continued to pursue her passion, undeterred by burnout but slowly making her way toward a setback.
College Challenges: The Struggle Against Injury
Her career in college resulted in being a five-time NCAA All-American. Despite that success, Dr. Harrell faced a set of challenges that has helped her develop who she is today. Those issues were chronic injuries. The old-school mentality of pushing through pain without adequate recovery strategies took a toll on her body. Despite excelling in her sport, the physical and mental toll became evident, leading to a burning desire to change the narrative.
Dr Harrell would often question the reason for her training sessions. The time in the pool seemed to be overemphasized while the recovery portion of training wasn’t discussed. Despite her college team having a strength coach the idea of strength training seemed to be too little too late according Dr Harrell. Beyond that, the strength training didn’t have specificity to it. In other words, a swimmer needs different strength training workouts compared to a runner or another sport.
As a result of these challenges, the ability to be available to compete was being compromised. The reality is that her injuries were being compounded by the workouts and lack of specificity in strength training. This frustrated Dr Harrell and she believed that there was a better way. Her path to being a voice for change was becoming clearer.
The Swimmer’s Doc: A Mission to Prevent Injuries
Graduating college and starting her business “The Swimmer’s Doc,” Dr. Harrell’s journey came full circle. Her personal struggles with injuries fueled a passion for preventing them in others. Armed with the knowledge gained through her own experiences, she emphasizes the importance of proper recovery strategies and strength programs.
Known as the Swimmer’s Doc, her mission goes beyond addressing injuries; it involves enabling individuals to start their endurance journeys with insight and lasting vitality. Helping athletes, both young and old, understand that strength training isn’t just a nice to do, she is helping others avoid the chronic injuries that she had to work through.
The landscape for endurance sports, especially swimming, is changing. Dr. Harrell is a leading voice for change as she wants swimmers to enjoy the sports that have given so much to her. She is challenging outdated norms and advocating for a holistic approach that prioritizes both physical and mental well-being. Strength training for Dr Harrell is not a nice to have but must be embraced to endure longevity and enjoyment.