Below is a post from YoungTri Executive Board Member Patrick LaBrode about his decision to transition from swimmer at UT Austin to focusing on triathlons full time.
We (athletes) go through life planning out a straight path to our goals. We know what steps we need to take to reach our goals and work hard day in and day out to achieve them. But, sometimes we fail to factor in the future changes in our paths. Our paths could have major obstacles set before us that we must struggle to work our way around. For example, a major obstacle that temporarily stopped me on my path was back in 2010 when I broke my collarbone during a triathlon. Our paths can also be split in half, thus making us chose to continue on the same path or move on to a new one. I have been standing at the fork where my path divides in two since December 2013, and I have finally decided to choose a path. I am no longer going to be swimming for The University of Texas; instead I’ve decided to focus on a new path, triathlons.
Through the eyes of a non-swimmer, swimming can seem like the worst sport ever. You spend hour after hour, morning, noon and night swimming back and forth staring at a black line, while killing your muscles and not being able to breathe. Swimmers feel that way sometimes, but swimmers know and feel all of the positive benefits of swimming. We crave hitting our pace during sets and the feeling of accomplishing a tough workout. We live for dropping milliseconds of time in our events and beating the athlete next to us. Although swimming is tough, takes up so much time, and swimmers constantly complain about going to practice, when you are able to feel good in the water and drop time at the end of the season, it’s worth it. But when you put all of the effort and time into swimming, and you don’t enjoy it/you aren’t getting anything out of it, then swimming can be your worst enemy. I truly haven’t enjoyed swimming in about a year.
The main reason I’ve been having problems with swimming stems from medical issues that I’ve had on and off for about a year. I’ve had trouble breathing, extra heart beats, stomach viruses, higher than normal fatigue, and acid reflux on and off since January of 2013. Alongside those problems, add the stress of college, and slightly poor amount of sleep and there’s no doubt why I’ve been miserable in and out of the water. I’ve seen many doctors and specialists and taken many tests only to find out everything is 100% normal. And then in December 2013 I began seeing a sports psychologist thinking maybe my problems in the water are more anxiety/mental related. Seeing the psychologist helped with my sanity and motivation a bit, but never transferred to the water. And when the psychologist finally asked me where I stood with swimming, I broke down and admitted to him and myself that I no longer had the love for swimming that I had since I was 5 years old. I struggled to get through every practice physically and mentally, I was not the swimmer I used to be, and that was devastating.
If you ask my family and friends they will tell you I’ve been happy since the day I was born, and that’s the truth. But when I evaluated my fall 2013 semester, I noticed I wasn’t the 24/7-happy swimmer I used to be. Morning practices were more of a drag, and I spent the day fretting about going to afternoon practice. I began just wanting to survive practice and constantly wishing it were Saturday. That’s when I knew I needed to be done with swimming. The hardest decision to make was deciding when to finish. Many days in January 2014 I wanted to cut my season short and throw in the towel. There were many practices where I spent thinking and writing my goodbye speech to my teammates. It was not a good time for me at all.
After talking to the psychologist, my parents, and other athletes that have gone through quitting swimming, I decided not to care about how I felt in the water or how I raced — and just enjoy the rest of the season with my teammates. I could come back to the idea of quitting once the season was over. I also talked to my best non-swimmer friends and my family members about wanting to quit and they all supported me 100%. At first, I was devastated at the thought of quitting, but every time I told someone my story I came to terms with my situation and decision.
During my final taper meet (March 2014) I ended up swimming and feeling 10 times better in the water than I had been feeling all season long. I mentally relaxed and told myself not to care about my pace, my times, or how I was feeling in the water and just have fun, and it worked! This is why I believe the main source of my symptoms is anxiety related. I ended my collegiate swimming career with a best time in my mile (by .82 seconds, but hey a drop is a drop)!
Although it was a bit sad to swim my last race with my fellow longhorn teammates cheering and racing at my side, I felt a huge weight lifted off my chest when I hit the touchpad and looked up to see my time one last time. I celebrated the end of the season and the end of my swimming career, and got to relax and enjoy spring break camping with my family. I knew everything was going to be just fine.
I didn’t get to achieve all of the collegiate swim goals I set for myself on my path, but looking back from the first time I jumped in the water without floaties on, to today, I couldn’t be more proud of myself and happy with everything I have accomplished. I have been so blessed to have had amazing coaches and teammates throughout the years that have taught me so many valuable life lessons and giving me memories that I will hold on to forever.
And this isn’t the end of my story; it’s just the end of a chapter in my life. I am looking forward to pursuing triathlons full time again, begin focusing on getting into physical therapy school, and being able to enjoy other little things in life that I haven’t been able to cross off my bucket list. We struggle in life when we can’t control our own story, and I’m excited to take control again, and begin writing a new chapter of my life. It’s going to be the best chapter yet — just wait.