“Swimming is my joy,” says Susan Williams, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist. As the first American woman to medal in triathlon, swimming was a big part of Williams life and, even though she is retired from professional sport, swimming has remained a fundamental part of her life. From her own practice to coaching others, from the perspective of both an athlete and as a partner and parent, Williams shares three simple joys of swimming.
The Mental Health Benefits
The mental health benefits of swimming have been well documented. For Williams, it is the change of environment— “just being in the water”— that always helped her mental health. “What I love about swimming is my brain can run a hundred miles an hour or it can go zero miles an hour,” Williams says. “Sometimes swimming helps me process things that are going on. Sometimes it's just an opportunity to not think about anything.” Williams says she could be working out a stressful problem, thinking about the next interval, or just enjoying the water. Either way, Williams says swimming was always an opportunity to have a break from “some of life’s craziness for just a little bit.”
A Connected Community
In college Williams had teammates, during her professional career she had training partners, and now, as a coach, Williams has athletes, but they have always been fellow swimmers. “Sometimes if I'm really down or super tired, I go to the pool and things just change,” Williams explains. But, whether she is on deck or in the water, Williams says it isn’t just about the physical act of swimming. Swimming gave Williams a community throughout her life and it was the camaraderie, support, and friendships along the way that kept swimming as a source of positivity in her life.“ I'm just happy to see friends and get in the water,” she says. “It's my happy place—and it's my happy group of friends too.”
Being In Nature
Part of what helps Williams disconnect was not only a change of environment but being in nature. Along with fostering mental health benefits, swimming outside has been a big part of what has kept Williams ’joy of swimming throughout the different phases of her life.
Swimming through college and her professional career as a triathlete, she admits she had times where she was “waterlogged” and didn’t want to swim in a chlorinated indoor pool. But swimming outside, being in nature, was always joyful for Williams. As a child, growing up in California, Hawaii, and Florida, “I just loved just playing in the ocean and bobbing around and that I didn't get tired of,” she smiles. Even now, swimming outdoors, especially in open water, is a special experience for Williams. “I just love having like the sunshine on my face and the blue skies, or even actually swimming outside in the rain can be really pleasant sometimes too… I'm looking at the mountains and the blue sky and it just makes me happy.”