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From Burnout to Joy: My Swimming Journey Unfolded

From Burnout to Joy: My Swimming Journey Unfolded Hollie Sick Run Tri Bike

We go through phases when it comes to endurance sports. It doesn’t matter if it is swimming, cycling or running we will encounter moments when we don’t want to. When I think about my swimming journey and how it unfolded I can only think of 4 words. Those 4 words are how I’ve gone from burnout to joy in the sport of swimming.

If you’re an endurance athlete, you may be feeling the way I once did about swimming. If you find yourself seeing your passion turn to burnout, I hope this helps you find the joy that these sports can bring us.

Beginnings in the Pool

My swimming history has been interesting. By interesting, I mean a roller coaster with many highs and lows. I started off in middle school when my parents were trying to find a sport I was interested in. I was an okay swimmer, but never amazing or turning heads good. But like many middle school children in the early 2000s, I found myself playing computer games after school and not really getting a ton of exercise or having other hobbies. I lacked the coordination for ball sports and played a few seasons of soccer and basketball with no real interest.

High School: Finding My Distance

Throughout middle school and early high school, I was just okay. I swam on a YMCA club team and made plenty of improvements, but I enjoyed the social aspect more. My high school coach searched for distances that I might be good at, and one day she put me in the 500-yard freestyle. I ended up surprising everyone and winning. From there on, it was clear I was a distance swimmer. 

The last couple of years of high school, I swam on a more advanced club team. It made for long days—high school, then driving 30-40 minutes to a 2-hour practice, and then driving home, sometimes doing doubles on top of going to high school. I knew in my senior year of high school that I wanted to stay active in college, whether that was club swimming or something else.

College Years: Reaching My Peak

I ended up at a D3 college for my major and walked onto the swim team. I saw some success in college and for a little bit was our top female distance swimmer my sophomore year. My sophomore year of college was my peak for swimming. By junior year, I found myself burned out and not enjoying it. Swimming became a chore versus something I wanted to do. 

I enjoyed the friendships and competing, but slowly, after almost 10 years of hard year-round swimming, I was burned out. Between my junior and senior year, I made the decision that swimming wasn’t bringing me any joy, and I left the sport. I didn’t see myself spending my senior year dreading 2-4 hours of swimming most days. 


Post-College: A Break from the Water

From about 2012 to 2018, I can count on one hand the number of times I got into a swimming pool. I had no interest and wondered how people could just stop swimming, until it happened to me. I was still active during that time, and I set some of my fastest running PRs. But swimming wasn’t bringing me joy and I had no interest to do it again. 

Then, after a running injury in 2018, I decided to spend more time in the pool. Not because I had too, but because I wanted to. I legitimately wanted to see if I could still swim. The first time I went “actual lap swimming,” I tore the house up looking for my old college gear. Then, when I got to the pool, my swim cap ripped. So I swam about a mile with no swim cap and goggles that were at least 10 years old. It was possibly the slowest mile I’ve ever swum. After I finished, I felt so accomplished and realized it didn’t really matter. Nobody was there with a stop watch. It was just me. Then I was sore for several days after.

A Return to the Pool

From there, I bought a few new swim caps, suits, and goggles. I’ve gone through on-and-off periods with swimming, where I swim a lot, even getting up to 30,000 yards per week, and then not swimming for several weeks. Unlike when I swam competitively, I’ve removed all time goals, and swimming has become more therapeutic to me versus chasing a time. Writers note: Swimming can be therapeutic but it is not a replacement for therapy.

That isn’t to say I haven’t chased times, because I have in my post collegiate years, and I’ve done a few masters swim meets with friends since living in California. I’ve gotten my 500 yards back down to 6:30 and my mile down to 22:15. These times are shocking since I don’t do a lot of hard efforts. Sometimes I swim hard, but only if I want to.

After competitively swimming for so long in upstate New York in the frozen tundra, it is a lot easier to go swimming when it’s 80 degrees and outdoors. I never knew how much more enjoyable swimming outdoors truly is. Although now, living in the Mojave Desert, it’s not as fun when you have 30 mph winds and it’s 110 degrees.

Reflections on My Swimming Journey

In reflecting on my swimming journey—from slow beginnings to competitive burnout and rediscovery—I’ve come to appreciate the evolving role swimming has played in my life. There have been highs and lows, from surprising victories to periods of disinterest and injury recovery. Now,  I swim free from the pressure of competition and just for the sheer joy of it. I appreciate how enjoyable swimming is in this chapter of my life.

Swimming, once a demanding sport, has transformed into a therapeutic activity that allows me to reconnect with myself and appreciate the friendships and personal growth it has brought me over the years. It’s a reminder that while passions may change, the lessons learned and the joy found in pursuing them don’t and can shape our journeys in unexpected and meaningful ways.



Hollie is a runner, hiker, swimmer, residing in California. She has worked in run specialty for nearly 8 years and has fit hundreds of people for shoes. Outside of the running world, she enjoys the general aviation world, her two cats, and spending time with her spouse.