April 22, 2022
To the swim community,
Today I have officially submitted my retirement paperwork. While I’ve known for a while that my career as a professional swimmer was over, this moment still feels different. This year at Oxford has been my soft landing into retirement, allowing me to remain in touch with competitive swimming, but with more life balance and less stress. To be completely honest, I wasn’t prepared to face the fact that such an incredible chapter of my life had come to an end, and I’m incredibly grateful to those at Oxford who welcomed me with open arms as I figured out what my future relationship with the sport would be.
During this year I’ve had time to reflect on my career as whole, and I have more to say than fits in a social media post. I don’t expect everyone to be interested in what I have to say, but this letter is as much for me personally to express my thoughts on the period of my life dominated by swimming as it is to share my views on my career and this sport with others. It is difficult to leave the sport of swimming completely satisfied with what you have accomplished, and I don’t believe many do. I know that this is certainly the case for me, which I am not saying in a search for sympathy, but rather to let others know that you are not alone in this feeling. Instead of focusing on this though, I want to focus on the things that I am proud of from my swim career.
1. I believe that I did everything I could in order to be as good as I possibly could. Of course I wish that I could have medaled individually at the Games or set an individual AR, but I’m extremely proud of the fact that if I were to do it all again, I would not do it differently. I genuinely believe that I got as much out of my talent as I possibly could, and in every race gave it everything I had. I think that knowing I did everything in my power to accomplish what I believed I could in this sport is something to be proud of.
2. Everything I accomplished I did without bending or breaking the rules, whether that applies to doping or dolphin kicks. I can always look back and know that I did it the right way.
3. I’m proud to come from DIII. Too many people look down upon DIII as a lesser version of the sport, but I promise you, it isn’t. Sure the times are a bit behind DI, but I never once went to a practice at Emory and thought, ‘man, these guys just don’t care about swimming as much as at DI schools.’ Out of all my time training with different people, different programs, and in different places, the thing that makes a good training partner is someone who puts in the effort and someone who cares, and you find a plethora of people like that in DIII.
4. I’m proud that I didn’t give up, which is not to say I wasn’t close. I still remember vividly speaking to Jon Howell on deck at the end of World Champs Trials in 2017. In 2015-16 I completely dedicated myself to swimming. I did everything I possibly could to set myself up to make the Olympic team in 2016, and I thought I deserved to. But a lot of people deserve to, and the cards don’t always fall your way. That was a very tough lesson to learn, but I accepted it, and went back to work even more motivated for 2017. Then I missed the team again. I went to Jon, fighting back tears, and told him I wasn’t sure if I could keep doing this, working for a year for a chance, only to fall short by fractions of a second. Jon talked me down from the proverbial ledge, and I bounced back quickly to focus on WUGS, with a determination to prove myself. Managing to go a best time at WUGS is one of the moments I’m most proud of in my career. This sport is brutal. In swimming it sometimes feels like when you deserve something the most is when you’re least likely to get it. But I’m proud that I didn’t let the brutality of swimming win. I’m proud that I kept working and finding ways to get better until I did make those teams.
5. I’m proud of the relationships I’ve made through swimming. I’m proud that I get to call so many incredible people friends, and that we got to share moments that made us who we are. As a swimmer you spend so much time with your teammates and coaches, and give up so much of your life outside of the sport. These were some of the most important people in my life for the last 10 years, and I will always be grateful to them for who they helped me become, and what they helped me accomplish because I certainly wouldn’t have done it without them. I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of their journey as well.
I’m also proud of accomplishments, but realistically those are distantly behind everything I’ve listed above. There are of course aspects of my swimming career that I’m not proud of as well. I’m not proud of how I sometimes reacted in training when having a bad set. I’m not proud of moments when I sought to blame people other than myself for a poor performance. I’m not proud of relationships that I let get ruined by my borderline psychotic obsession with finding a way to be faster.
I will always miss swimming intensely, but I’ve come to realize that what I miss is that chapter in my life, and I don’t find myself wanting to train in the way you need to in order to write a few more words. What I really want most of all is to relive some of those moments of my life, with those people, in that moment in time, because it truly was incredible, even if at times I didn’t show it. Looking back at all the moments I cherish it’s difficult to believe that it went by so fast, and I only hope that others look upon those moments as fondly as I do.
My list of people to thank is too long to include everyone here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Jon Howell and all the coaches at Emory who took a chance on me. Cindy Fontana for being my mom away from home. Jack Bauerle and the coaches at Georgia who helped me live out a dream. Keenan Robinson for being the ultimate weight coach, trainer, and hype man I could ask for. Eddie Reese, Wyatt Collins, Emilie Hoeper and others who I had the pleasure of working with at Texas who taught me how to be a professional. Tim Kelly and David Fox who believed in me before many did. The entire USA Swimming staff for being the best, and most fun, in the world. Ken Ono and Russell Mark for helping me find measurable areas to improve and always supporting me as I tried to. Mike Lewis for capturing some of the most memorable experiences of my life. Sean McCann for helping me to train my mind; and of course, all of the incredible athletes I have been lucky enough to call teammates over the years.
I love the sport of swimming. I loved it even when I hated it, but there’s a point when everyone has to say goodbye to it, and for me that is now. To those who are still in it, cherish it, work for it, embrace the highs, embrace the lows, value the people around you, and savor it; because I’m so jealous that you are still experiencing your story instead of looking back and nostalgically longing for just one more of those moments with your teammates.
Until we meet again,
Andrew Wilson, OLY