Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 97 - Kim Vandenberg - BE A GOOD HUMAN

Everyone fails. We’re all going to fail at some point. But to have the resiliency to keep moving forward through the failure and to find the lesson to help you become a better human, not necessarily an athlete, it’s great to be an athlete, but way more important to be a good human.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 97 - Kim Vandenberg  - BE A GOOD HUMAN

KIM: [00:00:00] Everyone fails. We’re all going to fail at some point. But to have the resiliency to keep moving forward through the failure and to find the lesson to help you become a better human, not necessarily an athlete, it’s great to be an athlete, but way more important to be a good human.

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JESSE: [00:00:43] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist. She is the founder of Kim Swim Studios and has international medals in both the Olympics, the World Championships, and Pan American Games. She is currently a mentor with Rise Athletes and is a graduate psychology student at Pepperdine. Welcome to the show, Kimberly Vandenberg.

KIM: [00:01:09] Thank you, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

JESSE: [00:01:13] Yeah, Kimberly. Thanks for joining me. Sorry, I had to cut your intro short. We had to truncate things down because you’ve got a very impressive laundry list of things that we could list out about all the things that you’ve been doing since you started swimming at, I think age two or three, you had mentioned in the interview I’ve listened to. But basically your entire life you’ve been swimming and achieving.

KIM: Thank you.

JESSE: So, I appreciate you allowing me to truncate it.

KIM: Of course.

JESSE: So, obviously, swimming is your thing. I wanted to ask you as kind of a fellow business owner, why start your own thing versus tagging on to say an academy that already exists, or like a program that’s already around? What’s kind of compelling you to say I’m going to be in charge of me and my own thing?

KIM: [00:02:11] Right. Well, I still continue to work for other companies. I’m a contractor for some companies such as Fitter and Faster. I worked with a lot of different swim schools and swim programs when I was living in New York. And it was finally the time for me to just branch out and start my own program because I really love having my own independence.

And I like working for myself, and I love my clients. And I think with my schedule, traveling often for different events and whatnot, it was better for me to have control over my own schedule and my own life. And so that’s essentially what started it was my clients in New York also wanted me to start my own thing. And I had a lot of parents requesting that I start my own program. And it was a collaborative experience when I was in New York.

JESSE: [00:03:08] The one thing I don’t think you’ve ever lived this life. So, I wonder in your social circle how many people do. But obviously, that prototypical grew up, be an adult, get a job, nine to five, that world, at least from my glimpse of your life doesn’t seem like you’ve ever really touched that. Is that an accurate statement?

KIM: [00:03:31] Actually, no it’s not. When I moved to New York in 2012, I was just coming off of a big disappointment from missing the Olympic team in London. So, I got third place, I was the first alternate. And I decided to move to New York to explore other passions besides swimming.

And so I actually became an intern for the first time when I was 28. And I interned, no pay, at a photography studio, cleaning the studio washing all the stuff, and just really like ground zero compared to coming off of the Olympics, right. So, I started there, and then I started interning at another magazine. And then I started writing and I actually became a full-time employee for a sports media company.

So, I did get into that lifestyle of working nine to five, but on top of that, I was still swimming in training and teaching. So, my life was pretty busy. It was like waking up to swim, working all day, swimming and teaching. So, that wasn’t sustainable and I became a little bit more passionate about my swimming opportunities compared to sitting in an office all day. I still love writing and it’s something I’ll always do. But I did explore that lifestyle and I decided that what was natural and most impactful for me was to have my own company and to teach and inspire and mentor.

JESSE: [00:05:05] Maybe you’ll have a little more insight about this because you’ve done both. So, I come from a running and then triathlon background, so I’m not a great swimmer by any stretch of the imagination. But I have friends who went on to become pros, and you live that pro lifestyle.

But it is extremely difficult because there’s not a ton of money in triathlon, say compared to the big US sports, baseball, NFL, even soccer now. Is it similar in pro swimming? Is there enough sponsorship money where you can say, I’m just going to swim, or do a lot of your compatriots end up having to hold down other gigs to continue to swim at a high level?

KIM: [00:05:52] Oh, of course. That’s a great question. I mean, for me, I felt like I was very lucky at a young age because I was finishing my undergrad at UCLA, and it was 2006. And so I had graduated and I was getting ready for nationals that summer and nationals were in August.

And so at that point, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to continue swimming. I thought I was going to study abroad. I was about to just hang up my goggles and move on with my life. But my coach and I decided to train for nationals to see what would happen and the focus was just four months of swimming.

So, at that point, I was on scholarship for UCLA and so I had a stipend every month. And that helps me just prepare for nationals. And then once I focused on nationals, I ended up winning nationals. And so I made the national team. And that same week, I signed my first contract with Speedo, and then I was on the national team. And so I got another stipend from national team.

So, I was really lucky that my first introduction to swimming, I had a sponsor, I was on the national team, I had the support I needed. And then through that experience, I got an agent and then I had a couple more sponsorship opportunities with Oakley and different companies. So, I was very blessed and very lucky to have the financial support to pursue my goals. And then that led me into the Olympic Games in which I meddled. And then that opened up a whole new opportunity to travel abroad and swim abroad and continue the sponsorship relationships that I had.

JESSE: [00:07:33] This is something I think about because I have, I’ll say, an Olympic friend/mentor/coach, Barb Lindquist who competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in triathlon. I’ve had the fortune to know her over a number of years and learn a lot from her. And I hold her in very high esteem. She’s such an incredible woman. And just by extension, I kind of lump you into that group of people that have this experience because it’s not — I don’t think of it in terms of you went to the Olympics, so automatically you’re this thing.

But I have this inclination that you’ve gone through all these trials and tribulations, and that resulted in you going to the Olympics. So, you have a lot to share. My question or thought is what’s it like after that time period is over? Because when I think about her, when I think about Barb, she had all kinds of sponsorships and all kinds of things that I’m still learning about, but she doesn’t do near as much now. She’s well past competition age. Does a lot of that still taper off? Do you still get to engage with companies and get to be a face or? It’s just a curiosity I have. So, if I’m being too intrusive, just tell me.

KIM: No, it’s a great question.

JESSE: It’s just a curiosity.

KIM: [00:09:02] Yeah. I mean, I’m an ambassador, actually, for a lot of nonprofits now. And I work with [inaudible 00:09:10] Test Sports, which is a youth program that gives back to different communities within the United States. And all the sponsorship money, all the money that they get, it goes to mentors and coaches to help underprivileged children, stay in sports and stay active and get ready for college. And I’m also an ambassador for Room to Read. And so that’s for girls education worldwide. And so I’m very active in the nonprofit world with my ambassadorship.

And then I also work with Shaklee. And so Shaklee is a company that has supplements and also skincare. And so I’m a spokesperson and athlete ambassador for them. But for me, my impact I feel like is just working with youth and giving back. I think the knowledge that I’ve gained in my 30 plus years of swimming at the Olympic Games and all over the world, that’s only going to be useful if I’m going to share with other generations and the younger athletes that I get to interact with. So, that’s my focus and my goal now.

JESSE: [00:10:14] So, when you’re doing your clinics, you’re talking about [inaudible 00:10:19] clinic coming up. Are you strictly focused on like, “Hey, let’s get in the pool. Let’s look at technique, let’s watch tape?” Or is it also like what’s going on with your noodle? Like, let’s talk about what’s going on upstairs and working on that.

KIM: [00:10:33] Yeah, this clinic this weekend, it’s with Fitter and Faster. And so I think this clinic we’re focusing on breaststroke. So, usually, each clinic has a different focus, whether it’s breaststroke butterfly freestyle, or starts, turns, finishes the details. And then we — all the conditions give a little speech. And so I’m going to talk about my experience, and we definitely do Q&A. And we talked to them about how to deal with nervous energy before you raise, how to deal with disappointment, how to overcome setbacks. So, it’s a combination of in-water drill work and then also discussion and sharing the tools and the necessary — I don’t know — the necessary things to overcome that next challenge.

JESSE: [00:11:20] One of the things that I thought about earlier, when I mentioned my friend, Barb is in her clinics and her suggestions to upcoming athletes, she talks about developing a pre-race routine, which everybody does something a little bit different. But the one thing between that thought and then listening to the interview, the other podcast you’d done earlier, you mentioned something along the lines of the Olympics not quite being whatever we expect it to be. It made me think about Barb and how, when she traveled to race she talks about, well, yeah, I’ve been all over the world doing all these races, but I spend most of my time in a hotel room.

You go, you just sit in a hotel room. We’re not going to Paris and going to see the Eiffel Tower. We’re going to Paris and we’re going to stare at a wall until it’s time to race, and then we’re going to leave. And so part of her routine was she’d be in the room, her pre-race meal was to have pizza, pepperoni pizza with no cheese. Which I don’t know if that constitutes a pizza anymore. But that was her thing.

So, your thought that you had on the other show about the Olympics not quite being what everyone thinks it is. Obviously, there’s a lot of pageantry broadcast about it. So, with that insight experience, is your experience more similar to Barb, or do you have more exciting pre-race routines going on than she does?

KIM: [00:12:56] Yeah. I mean, I understand what she’s saying. I think most athletes are like that. But I definitely made an effort and a point to travel after the competition. So, my very first international trip was in Turkey in 2005. So, I raced in Turkey, I got a silver medal at the World University Games. And then I spent the next two weeks traveling by myself in Europe because I was flying back from Turkey to Germany, and I just said goodbye to the national team, and then went off on my own.

And then the next year, we were competing, or a year or two later, we were at the World Championships in Australia. And then me and one of my best friends competed, meddled, and then I spent another week in Australia and Sydney just hanging out and exploring with my Australian friends.

I did the same thing in China, I did the same thing in Japan. And so I always made it a really big priority to explore the country that I was in. Because usually, we take a week or two off after a big championship like that, like the Olympics or World Championships. But before, right, so before the race, I was definitely resting in the room, stretching, meditating, visualizing, hanging out with my friends doing face masks, just trying to mentally prepare to race. But it’s really hard for me to actually be still.

I think that that was the worst part. I was just like ugh, I can’t move, we have to rest and we have to be still and save our energy when I really just wanted to explore and I wanted to go wherever I needed to go. But I couldn’t because we were getting ready for the game. So, it was worth it. It was worth being still and calming down and resting and visualizing. But one of my favorite things about my career was that I was able to travel after. I was like great, got a medal. Now, I’m going to go get lost in Italy and try to find my way to a hostel.

JESSE: [00:14:59] That also made me think about one of the first things you talked about in that other podcast was about balance. Thinking about the balance between — Or I think about it as our identity or the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Which for you clearly can center very much around I’m a swimmer and this is what I do. And it’s so easy to get lost in like that’s all I do.

And I think you see this somehow and I’m very glad for you that it didn’t seem like it, at least from the glimpse of the iPad, of your story that you got so lost in that, that you didn’t know who else you were and what else you were involved in. So, is that something you coach with young kids now where you say, “Hey, if you have a bad day, swimming isn’t everything. You have other things that are part of who you are.”

KIM: [00:16:05] Oh, I think that’s such an important topic. And I think I always struggled with it when I was younger because I wanted to be hanging out with my friends. I grew up playing the piano, I wanted to play the piano, I wanted to play other sports. I did play other sports for a very long time. And by the time I was 12-13, I really had to focus only on swimming.

And it was so hard for me because I didn’t identify as just a swimmer. I wanted to be a friend and I wanted to explore and just be a normal kid. So, I think when I work with younger athletes now I definitely ask, “Well, what are your passions outside of swimming?” And I make sure that they do have passions outside of swimming, and that if they have a bad race or a bad workout, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the world.

And I think it’s really dangerous for athletes, especially when they’re really, really young, to wrap their identity completely in their performance. I don’t think that that’s healthy. It’s definitely not, especially because one in four athletes in NCAA are depressed. I think mental health is super important. That’s why I’m studying psychology and that’s why I want to promote balance and well-being to all younger athletes and athletes at our age. I think a lot of people have a hard time leaving professional sports world because they don’t know what else they care about.

So, for me, when I went to New York, I was like, “Okay. I’m an intern. I’m going to work in a photography studio, and I’m going to start writing and I’m going to start teaching yoga.” I got my yoga teacher training credits and stuff. So, I just kind of started exploring my other passions with swimming. So, I was always swimming, I was always somehow teaching and inspiring other kids.

But I was focusing on developing my other interests and my other talents. And I started painting and I got back to piano and I started writing. And so I kind of became more of a creative person after I was an Olympic swimmer.

JESSE: [00:18:19] I got a lot of thoughts. I’ll see if I can try to keep them all together. So, thinking about performance and identity, afew weeks ago, I was speaking to Olympic Rower, Aquil Abdullah. And he was saying that, as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten less critical of himself As far as performance goes and more curious. More like why didn’t it go well, is there anything I could have changed? Like, it’s not so harsh on himself as it is just trying to figure out the ins and outs and then making adjustments as necessary.

And it makes me think about you because you’re mentioning after the races, you just go wander through Italy, just to say hey, let’s go figure it out — I wonder how teachable that is. Because it seems like a natural curiosity where you’re just like screw it, let’s do it. I’m out there. I’m out the door, I’m going to go figure it out.

And it’s obviously — I think I value that aspect or that personality trait, whatever you want to call it, in a person a lot. And I just wonder how teachable it is. Is it just something that you have as a person and you can’t give it to anybody else? Or can you foster that in other people?

KIM: [00:19:35] I think you can. I mean, one of my coaches, Cyndi Gallagher from UCLA, who is one of my dearest friends and we talk, we still have dinners and I love her so much. And she coached me from 18 to 24. She coached me to become an Olympian, and we went through a lot together. And I think when I was really upset After like NCAAs one year I didn’t win. I got second or third.

And I was just really bummed out. And we had this talk, she’s like, “Okay. You have five minutes to be upset about this, and then let it go.” And the way that she just inspired me to look at my disappointments and continue to move forward. I was sick at a meet once and she’s like fake it till you make it. Make it till you make it, you could swim a 200 fly and then just drink a lot of water. And so she was always giving me tools to be like, okay — She gave me that tough resiliency that I’m just so thankful to her. So, I do think it’s coachable.

I knew when I was really young, I would have been like, “I’m not going to swim a 200 fly. Why would I ever do that?” And then my coach was like, “No, you’re going to do a 200 fly.” And so my coaches always just kind of guided me into the next step and believed in me enough that I eventually believed in myself. So, I mean, I credit Cyndi Gallagher and my coaches Ronnie and Donnie Heidary. And Greg Meehan was one of my coaches at UCLA. He was the assistant coach when I was a freshman.

And I used to not make intervals in the pool pull because I was like this is impossible. I’m like, “I can’t make the interval, Greg.” And then he would be like, “Find a way, Kim. Find a way.” And I used to always just hate him for that until I did find a way. And then eventually, I loved pull sets. And I was like, “Wow, Greg. You’re pretty good. [inaudible 00:21:29] coach at Stanford and like this amazing coach, and he always was. But I was very blessed to have so many coaches that I respected, and they believed in me, and they gave me the tools I needed. So, I do think it is. I do think it’s teachable.

JESSE: [00:21:50] It seems like you make a point to bring up your coaches and mentors you’ve had through the years. Is that cognitive realization that they had such an impact on you? Is that why you are involved with Rise?

KIM: [00:22:06] Yeah, 100%. I mean, I am so lucky that Natalie Coughlin is one of my very dear friends and she was always a mentor to me. We grew up in the same area, and we raced each other in high school, we raced each other in college, we were roommates on the national team. And we were at every single international meet together, for me, at least like the Pan Pacific championship, the World Championships, the Olympics. So, Natalie was like an older sister. Like, I was so nervous and she just walked by and patted me on the back. And Amanda Beard was my roommate at the Olympics.

And so I had all these more experienced, older swimmers that were so supportive of me, and I was very lucky to have them in my life. And even as a young, young girl, I loved the older girls on my team, I wanted to be just like them. And so I always had older girls that I wanted to be just like, and they showed me what it was like to be the best in the world. And so I hope to inspire younger athletes and just support them in their journey.

JESSE: [00:23:16] It seems you can’t underestimate the impact of just having tidbits from somebody that, I don’t know how to phrase this, but just somebody that has a little more shine. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but just basically a personality that has so much positivity. Because we all come from different places, right? Like, kid grows up, even if you’re coaching them, maybe you know what they’re home life’s like, maybe you don’t, and you don’t know where they are, where they’re coming from, but you do know that just being able to be a bright light for them, whether they’re already in a light room or not is impactful.

I mean, I can think of a dozen different coaches and mentors I’ve had over the years and things they’ve said to me, that they won’t remember that they said to me, but it stuck in my head. And so I think it’s a really neat platform that people have the ability to [inaudible 00:24:30] on and say like people watched you in the Olympics, and they really looked up to you. And they can say hey, I actually want to connect with her, and you’re available. It’s not so much of a question. It’s just a rambling admiration of the availability to be able to talk to somebody like you and have young athletes be able to get kind of that wisdom from you that maybe they wouldn’t have in their social circle otherwise.

KIM: [00:24:56] Yeah. I think it’s so important and it’s just — we’re social animals, we need people, we need that connection. And I think with COVID right now, that’s really, really important, like this, to have a Zoom call, to connect with people, and just to have that dialogue and the conversation and just to be there for each other is really, really important.

JESSE: [00:25:17] So, I have to ask about your graduate degree.

KIM: Yes.

JESSE: Is there a moment of Genesis that says, I’m going to study psychology as a graduate degree and kind of pursue this more seriously? Is it a series of things, like what leads you to that decision?

KIM: [00:25:36] Yeah, great question. So, my mother is actually a therapist. And when I was an undergrad, I started with psychology as my major. And it wasn’t until, I think, sophomore year, I couldn’t take certain classes because swimming was a priority. I had like practice in the morning, practice in the afternoon. And some of the classes I needed for my psych degree overlapped.

And then I had a meeting with my academic advisor about it. And she was like, “Well, you’re doing really well on history. Why don’t you change your major to history because it works better with your swimming schedule? And maybe one day you could go back to school and get your master’s in psychology.” And so I did it purely based on my swimming.

And so I always knew I was going to go back to school. Like, in my mind, I thought I was going to go directly into my master’s degree. I didn’t know I was going to make the Olympic team and traveled the world for 10 years. So, that was the process. I graduated from UCLA with a history degree, I focused on World War Two and genocide.

And then moved on, made the Olympics, traveled the world, moved back to LA last year, and I decided this is the perfect time to apply to graduate programs. And then I got accepted to Pepperdine. And now I am finishing up my second semester. I have a final next week. And I just, I love it so much. I’m really, really excited to be learning new things and to see where it’s going to take me.

JESSE: [00:27:08] So, is there a conscious effort in, let’s take this and apply this directly to what I’m doing at the clinics? Or is it like, I want to do this, I know it’s going to have a benefit, but I don’t quite know where it fits in yet?

KIM: [00:27:22] I know where it fits in. I mean, I want to focus on Developmental Psychology, I work with so many younger athletes. And I think that it’s really important for younger athletes to have that balance, like we talked about, and to understand that their identity is not surrounded by their performance. It’s not directly related. And so I think that working with younger kids and helping them with their mental process, if they’re athletes or not, I think for me, I just, I love working with children, because I think it’s the most impactful, and that’s going to set them — it’s going to give them the foundation that they need later in their life.

So, I’m hoping to one day have my own practice. Right now I’m mentoring, I’m coaching, I’m teaching, I’m doing clinics. But when I graduate, I want to maybe get my doctorate degree and see where that leads me and potentially, write books and give lectures. But also, just impact people the most.

JESSE: [00:28:23] So, you’re talking about — you want to have like a counseling practice or some other avenue with the degree?

KIM: [00:28:32] Yeah. I would like to one day have my own practice. [crosstalk] — in mentoring and all that other stuff. That could just be another thing I do.

JESSE: [00:28:42] Yeah. It’s just — [crosstalk]

KIM: With all my time. With all my free time.

JESSE: Right. So, I was like, you do all these things I’m like, oh, okay — [crosstalk]

KIM: [00:28:48] Well, it’ll probably be part-time. I mean, I think everything I do is part-time because I’m doing so many different things. I used to just be full-time with this one company, but now I’m part-time with multiple companies, including myself, including my own company.

JESSE: [00:29:03] Yeah. I don’t know. Your journey in some ways like, the reason you’re on the show is because you’re a smart athlete. And that’s kind of where I fall, although not nearly as successful on the athletic side as you. I specialized in psychology for my undergrad and considered and was a — what do I say — I said approved. I applied to and was accepted into a master’s in counseling program, but decided not to go down that road for various reasons.

But I think it’s tough having so many interests because there is only 24 hours in a day. And getting back to thinking about with you and swimming, balance versus specialization. Obviously, if you want to be a really good swimmer, you’re going to have to put time in the pool. Like, you can’t just get in, swim a couple thousand and be, “Okay. That’s it. That’s all I’m doing for the day.” So, the struggle is real. But it seems like you’re making the best of it and figuring out the places that you want to go to make you feel fulfilled.

KIM: [00:30:19] Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, of course, to me, to get to the Olympics, I had to dedicate years and years and years and hours and sacrifices of not being a balanced person. And it wasn’t until later after I finished at the Olympics and missed the Olympic team in 2012, that I realized how unhealthy that was. I mean, it was important to do to make the team but it wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t having time to socialize, I wasn’t having time to paint and play piano and travel. I’m much happier now than I was when I was preparing for the Olympics.

I was super stressed, I had so much pressure, I was trying to be the best in the world. And I think with that, it’s a point of, I think a lot of athletes experienced this where if you get a silver medal or a bronze medal, a lot of Olympians, and I was shocked by it at the Olympic Games were really unhappy with how they performed if they didn’t get a gold medal, or if they didn’t get the world record and the gold medal, which not many people do.

I mean, you’re at the Olympics, and you compete, but only one person could get the gold medal and one person gets the world record. And I think that’s toxic. I think that’s really dangerous. And that’s when people beat themselves up and hate the sport or quit and never want to play again. That’s not what I wanted to experience, which is why I kept swimming after the games.

And I kept swimming at a lower level. I competed for the New York Athletic Club and just started giving back and realizing that it’s okay to swim for 30 minutes. That’s a workout. Like a 30-minute workout is solid. I didn’t have to swim seven hours a day to be happy with who I am. But that took years and years and years of reprogramming my thought pattern.

JESSE: [00:32:14] So, to me, that kind of begs the question when we think about Olympians or just whatever the sport is. If it’s not Olympic sport, just the pinnacle of sport. Is it possible to balance performance versus happiness? Because no matter what the sport is, it’s going to take a huge amount of dedication. Is it possible to stay in any kind of lane of — any semblance of healthy mentality and still achieve those high peaks?

KIM: [00:32:52] I mean, that’s a great question. I don’t know. I mean, every Olympian I know, at some point when they were training like full-time training, not doing anything else. Like, sleep, swim, eat, sleep, swim, eat. It’s so intense, right? Like, you have your blinders on. You can’t see anything else. You can’t focus on anything else. So, I think as long as you’re aware that that is temporary, I think that that’s okay, that that could be balanced. Because you’re like okay, this is a four-year thing or a two-year thing. But I think what’s dangerous is when people don’t understand that there’s so much more than sports and so much more than sports performance.

And for me, getting third place at the Olympic Trials was the most devastating thing in the world until I moved to New York. And people were like, “Wait, what? You got third at the Olympic trials, like your third in the country? That’s amazing.” And I was like, “Wait, that’s a different perspective and that’s actually a healthy perspective.” And so I was able to be refreshed and have perspective once I got away from the swimming bubble. And I think a lot of athletes are so in their bubble of whatever sport they’re in that it’s really dangerous for their mental health if they’re just stuck in that, and they don’t see the outside world, if that makes sense.

JESSE: [00:34:19] Yeah. No, it makes sense. I’ll see if I can try to keep my train of thought on track here because I have a couple of things. This is a little tangential, but thinking about that shift in perspective, it made me think about, you’ve probably or hopefully, heard this idea and don’t think I’m a crazy man. But I’ve seen people talk about they wish that when we watched the Olympics, you could have like average Joe competing next to all the Olympians so you can see — [crosstalk] the comparison.

So, I want to get your thoughts, I’m trying to slowly ask more Olympians this to get the inside scoop on whether this is a good idea. I would think more so like a virtual average Joe than an actual average Joe. Because I feel like who you’re going to get to sign up to do that, number one, but also that’s distracting for the athletes trying to compete. So, doing it digitally I can see.

Anyway, I’m curious about your thoughts on that, giving that perspective so that people can see truly how fast people are because people don’t. And this is not to toot my own horn by any stretch of the imagination, because I’m like a middle-of-the-pack triathlete kind of swimmer. But I’ve had people at my gym go like, “Oh, you could go to the Olympics.” And I’m like, “You have no idea.” By the time I’m down and back, Michael Phelps would be down and back three times. It’s not even. It’s not even a contest. But there’s no perspective, so anyway, I’m curious what you think about having that juxtaposition so people could truly see how fast you guys are moving?

KIM: [00:36:04] Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if they could actually do that at the Olympics. I don’t know if they would actually be able to have a non-swimmer, just like an average swimmer swim in the heat. I think it probably would be distracting. And that person who was doing it would probably be really freaked out. I don’t know. Like, I would freak out competing at that level and [inaudible 00:36:26] my whole life. So, I don’t know. I feel like it would be maybe not at the Olympics, but to do some type of fun event where it was like a mix of Olympic swimmers and then different levels. Yeah, I think that’d be cool. I think they should do that before Tokyo before swim meets, before any big swim meet to have that, like in warm-up or something. That could be fun.

JESSE: [00:36:51] It’s just something that I think about, I think people think about, anybody that has a glimpse into the high levels of any sport. It’s hard to communicate through TV. I don’t know if you ever watch the Tour de France, but those guys are going down mountains at 50-60 miles an hour. And they make it look like it’s no big deal. But it’s like if you were screaming down that mountain in a car at that speed that would be terrifying, let alone on a bicycle. And it’s so difficult to communicate that without having experienced it. The fastest I’ve gone going downhill is like 40 miles an hour. I can’t imagine trying to make hairpin turns going faster than that. It’s just —

KIM: [00:37:37] I have a funny story about something similar to this.

JESSE: Please, please.

KIM: [00:37:41] I was with a friend in Napa and it was my break. So, I’m like having wine with my friend, we’re drinking by the pool. Then she wanted to learn, like how to swim. So, I was like okay. We’re like playing around the pool and swimming around. I was like demonstrating stuff. This random person comes over and he’s like, “You,” to me. He’s like “You, I want to race you.” And I was, “Oh, okay, you want to race? What stroke?” And he was like, “Butterfly.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.” He had like no idea. And so my friend’s cracking up, her husband’s cracking up. And then he gets his friends and they’re like, “We’re going to make a bet.” I was like even better [inaudible 00:38:22]

JESSE: You’re hustling people.

KIM: Yeah, this random guy’s like we’re going to swim. We have a bet, $100, who wins. And so we like a butterfly on the way down and freestyle on the way back and like I push up and I swim butterfly like sprinting, and then freestyle back and I beat him and his friends were like crying-laughing. And I guess while I was swimming, my friends said to his friends, she’s an Olympian. And so we get to the wall. He starts cracking up and it was so fun. Because he didn’t see me race, he just saw me moving in the waters. And he was like, “Oh, I want to race you.” And then he was just a really funny guy. So, I think things like that are fun.

JESSE: [00:39:04] Did he have a swimming background? Like what — [crosstalk]

KIM: [00:39:07] Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think he had when he was younger, and I think he swam butterfly when he was younger. But anyway, it was funny that he chose that stroke because that’s like [inaudible 00:39:17] stroke.

JESSE: [00:39:18] Right. Well, it’s I just — I don’t know. There’s something — It’s a very funny story. But in my own mind, I’m like I could never imagine just going up to a random lady and being like, “Let’s race.” Like, no matter how confident — [crosstalk]

KIM: [inaudible 00:39:33] He was like — [crosstalk] like a vineyard area.

JESSE: I was wondering because it’s just such a — [crosstalk]

KIM: It was fun because the whole pool turned into a swimming — Like, the whole pool is cheering and my friend was cracking up and her husband was just — it was really fun.

JESSE: [00:39:51] Did your heart start racing, you’re this is what I trained for, like this is it right here?

KIM: [00:39:54] No, I was laughing. I was swimming and laughing the whole time. It was like my day off. And why am I racing on my day off? But it was fun.

JESSE: [00:40:05] Was it short course? So, it was like 25 down and back?

KIM: [00:40:08] It was probably a 25-yard pool, yeah. So, we did —

JESSE: [00:40:11] Okay. Okay. So, not too difficult.

KIM: [00:40:14] No, not bad.

JESSE: [00:40:16] Yeah, I’m not trying to like kill it. This is a hard juxtaposition, but I think I spy the piano in your background.

KIM: [00:40:24] Oh, yes. That is my piano. That is the piano I grew up playing when I was a little kid.

JESSE: [00:40:31] Can you play something for me? Or is this too impromptu? [crosstalk]

KIM: [inaudible 00:40:34] my neighbor is gone because she has a baby. Let me see if she’s gone and then I can — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:40:42] Okay. Sure. If you’re just listening, Kimberly has walked out her door to check on whether her neighbor is there or not. She’s coming back.

KIM: [00:40:59] Yeah, I can play.

JESSE: Okay.

KIM: [00:41:02] What should I play?

JESSE: [00:41:04] I don’t know. It’s dealer’s choice. I wish my classical — I mean, I play the violin and I always should know great classical songs. But my classical repertoire off the top of my head is horrendous at best. So, it’s whatever you want to play.

KIM: [00:41:22] All right.

JESSE: [00:41:26] I haven’t had the opportunity to get anybody to show off their musical talent, you know, it’s the Smart Athlete Podcast. So, obviously, you’ve got other things going on and this is here so I thought well, I might as well ask.

KIM: [00:41:36] I’ll just do a little bit.

JESSE: [00:41:39] Yeah, no worries. [playing piano] Bravo.

KIM: [00:43:35] Anyway, that’s just a little bit of — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:43:37] No, thank you. No, it’s great. So, I’ve been incorporating a lot more music into my average day since I started writing music over COVID. So, it’s just — it’s a personal thing. I saw the piano so I was like I just wanted to see if I can get you to do it. I really appreciate it. It was wonderful.

KIM: [00:44:00] Thanks. That’s actually – So, that was the piano I first started playing when I was five, so I’m so thankful to have it. So, it’s an old Steinway, and that was my first passion was playing the piano and then swimming came into the picture and swimming took over. But now I’ve been — I play almost every single day and I just love it so much.

JESSE: [00:44:22] Does it take you to a similar place that, I imagine, the depths of concentration in swimming can, like to that nice zone?

KIM: [00:44:32] Yeah, it’s different though. I find it very healing and very meditative. And I just kind of — if I’m having a stressful experience in the day, I just go to the piano and I play. And so it’s different but the same, yeah. I think it’s like meditative because swimming’s meditative for me. And it’s an outlet, right? But with piano, it’s way more creative, I think with swimming, I try to be creative in the water. But I think with music it’s a different thing. The two are the best, swimming and playing the piano. If I can have those two things in my day, then I’m happy.

JESSE: [00:45:11] Yeah, yeah. I always love hearing from fellow musicians, just because that’s not a large part of my circle. Because like you, I kind of specialize in sports. And although I did both, I played in the symphony in college, I really have moved away from all those people. It’s like I said, I wanted to know whether you felt like you’re in that same spot because it is the same and different and that creative aspect is hard to come by. And it’s just a different way of thinking.

KIM: [00:45:50] You know who else is a really good musician who’s an Olympian is Ian Crocker. Ian Crocker is amazing. I think he plays guitar and I love that. I love finding other swimmers who are musically inclined and also I think Elizabeth Feisal. I think she also plays piano and maybe some other. There’s a couple of athletes who are super into music. Also, my friend Will Copeland is really a beautiful singer and guitarist. So, yeah, I used to train with him in Berkeley, and he’d come over with his guitar and I had a piano in Berkeley, and it was just a sports musical group.

JESSE: [00:46:32] Sport jam time.

KIM: Yeah.

JESSE: [00:46:35] Kimberly, we could probably keep talking for a while, but I know you’ve got a hard out here coming up soon. So, this season or each season I have a question I ask every single guest. This season’s question, which I’ll ask you is, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?

KIM: [00:46:53] Yeah, I think staying motivated after you reach a goal — I mean, I tried out for the Olympics five times, right. I made it one time. I think that for me, swimming was just my passion and I loved it. And making the Olympic team was like icing on the cake. But it’s about enjoying the journey. Like, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing day in, day out, what’s the point, right? So, I think for me, my motivation was just always to be the best that I could be.

And then also to learn from my failures, and I still try to learn from my failures. Like, we’re all human, we’re going to make mistakes. But when you make a mistake, what is the lesson? Right? So, I think I’m always searching for the lessons in life.

And thankfully, my mother and my grandmother and Cyndi and my mentors, everyone kind of taught me that. You know, well, what’s the lesson? If you’re struggling, if you’re having a hard time, what can you learn? Right? So, it’s not about — Everyone fails. We’re all going to fail at some point. But to have the resiliency to keep moving forward through the failure and to find the lesson to help you become a better human, not necessarily an athlete.

It’s great to be an athlete, but way more important to be a good human. And so I think I’m always just trying to find lessons and trying my best to be the best that I can be and allowing myself to make mistakes because we all will at some point. I hope that answers it.

JESSE: [00:48:20] No, absolutely. Absolutely. Kimberly, where can people find, you keep up with you, see what you’re up to, all that kind of stuff?

KIM: [00:48:26] Instagram probably. My Instagram is Kim Swim and then my company is Kim Swim Studios. Instagram is the best way to find me, and then I always respond to direct messages. So, when people DM me with questions. Also, my website is So, that has a little bit more about what I offer. And then I also work with Rise, and so Rise is another way to reach me.

JESSE: [00:48:54] Thanks for hanging out with me today, Kim.

KIM: [00:48:56] Of course. Thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

JESSE: [00:48:59] You too.

KIM: [00:49:00] Bye.

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