JESSE: [00:00:00] Go ahead.
LEAH: I was just going to say I think it’s good to remember in those moments where you’re not hitting those times where you used to, it’s just remembering that you’re still putting in the effort. So, you’re still gaining something from that workout, whether you realize it or whether you want to admit it or not, because I too easily get mad after a bad workout. And I have to remind myself like, well, I still worked hard, so I’m still getting something out of that. Instead of being like, well, the times weren’t there, that sucked, it was worthless.
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JESSE: [00:00:57] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a two-time all-American swimmer, she was six-time big 12 champion, two-time finalist in the US Olympic trials. Currently, she’s coaching with the Columbus Aquatic Club, and mentoring through RISE Athletes if you want to get in touch with her and you’re not in that area. This last year, she participated in the second year of the International Swim League, and as we are getting closer, headed to Olympic Trials coming up here in June. Welcome to the show, Leah Gingrich.
LEAH: [00:01:29] Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
JESSE: [00:01:33] Yeah, thanks for hanging out. I know, of all things you could be doing, you could probably be in the water right now instead of hanging out with me. Which actually leads me to one thing I want to ask you about almost immediately because I think this happens in pro triathlon, pro running, any endurance sports in particular.
But swimming kind of gets lumped into that just at all levels of the race. And there’s this kind of, pardon my French, like pissing contest, I see sometimes about like, how many yards or how many miles people are doing. And like, “Oh, I’m doing more so I’m going to do better.” And it’s like why? And so I want to ask you about that.
Because last I heard you weren’t putting in 50,000 yards a day, you know, studied your entire life underwater. Is that how you’ve always done it? Was it a shift over time? What led you to the decision that you didn’t have to participate in the nonsense anymore?
LEAH: [00:02:42] Yeah. So, growing up, I was kind of the traditional like we did a lot of yards. I only did singles though. So, I wasn’t doing doubles when I was in high school, but still getting in the yardage in the practices. So, I would say like a typical club team that you would just know growing up.
And then when I went to the University of Texas, my load doubled. So, I was doing doubles four times a week, I was lifting three times a week. I was in the distance group so I was doing like, the most amount of yards in the practice possible.
And I think at a certain point, I was probably a little overtrained because I was doing so much. And I remember getting sick a lot and just being like, “Why am I always sick?” And because I was doing too much, not getting enough sleep. You know, you have school on top of all that, too. So it’s a lot. And then I don’t know if you know this part about me, but I took six years off from the sport.
JESSE: [00:03:39] Yeah, that’s definitely something — [crosstalk]
LEAH: [00:03:43] Yeah. So, I didn’t swim. Like, I’m telling you, I didn’t touch the water for six years. And so when I came back and started training again, my body, even if I wanted to do that amount of yards, my body wouldn’t have been ready. And I think I just wanted to take a different approach.
My coach and I, we work with a physiologist and kind of just help plan out what’s best for me. I’m 31 years old, so I can’t do the same thing I did when I was 16 years old. It’s not going to benefit me. I struggle to recover as it is. So, you add on like more work to that and I’m going to be even more like broken down. So, actually, I do one practice a day. And some days if I’m just really broken down, it’ll be a 20-minute swim. Okay, get out and leave because you need this recovery day.
So, the recovery days are a little more important, I would say. But also as I’m saying, I’m doing recovery days, like every other day. I’m working hard most days. Just not doing two, two and a half, three-hour workouts all the time. And so I think it’s been a good change for me and I think that it’s just kind of what I need where I’m at. And everybody’s a little different, so being able to kind of adapt and try new things at this age has kind of worked for me. So, we’re going with it.
JESSE: [00:05:12] I kind of discussed this kind of thing with my coach, as I’m actually coming back from an injury right now and just a weird stress fracture, we’re very, very conservative with mileage and increases and stuff as my shoes are too soft. But anyway. So, what I’m getting to is I was spending more time in the pool recently, as I hadn’t planned just to go back to running.
And my speed came back really quick. I’m not a swimmer-swimmer by any stretch of the imagination, but I was hitting like lifetime best times for me, within three weeks, which seemed stupid just from having one touch.
And what I’ve noticed from conversations with him and things we’ve adjusted to and conversations with other people, it seems like, I don’t know, if you get smarter when you get older about what amount of training matters and what is just for show.
Or if it’s a matter of because you put in so much time as a young person, as a young athlete, coming back to it like that touch is still there, there’s still that muscle memory that get you align properly in the water, your technique’s going to be far better than anything I could ever have, no matter how much time I put in my — [inaudible 00:06:40]. So, I wonder how much of each factor comes into play, whether it’s just playing it smarter, or whether it’s relying on all that base you put in when you were younger.
LEAH: [00:06:53] Well, I think it’s been really interesting to see what has happened this last year with clubs all across the country. People are out of the water for anywhere between a couple of weeks to a couple months. And it just amazed me how many swimmers came back and they are going best times almost immediately.
And it’s almost as if they needed that little — you know, that was a couple months break or a couple weeks break different than my six-year break. And my six-year break took me a little bit longer. But they literally just would jump in and they started going best times.
And I thought that was pretty amazing. And we just kind of talked about maybe their body needed that break. Like, swimming is such like, as you said, it’s such an endurance sport. It’s grueling, it’s year-round, there are barely any breaks, and so I think that was really telling. Maybe we’re doing a little too much in the swimming world. And we need to back off a little bit and not be trying to do the most all the time.
JESSE: [00:07:55] Yeah. The biggest thing I seem to see as a difference, so adjustment from coming from a running background and then getting into triathlon, is that it seems like swimmers are comfortable going hard every day, I think because of the lack of the concussive nature of it.
So, when you go run, I mean, it has more impact on your joints than if you’re in the pool. But it still seems like you tear your muscles apart working hard, like they still need to recover. So, the thing that always struck me is how much is too much. And why is it so different? Is it really just the concussive nature of running versus swimming that makes that difference of being able to go harder all the time?
LEAH: [00:08:48] Yeah, you will love talking to my boyfriend. He’s actually my coach, which we can talk about that later if you want [inaudible 00:08:54] that’s an interesting combination. He’s the head coach for the Columbus Aquatic Club and he was a runner growing up. And so He always talks about like, “Man, the sports, they have similarities. Why are we training so significantly different?”
And so I think that you guys would probably really enjoy talking about that kind of stuff. I know nothing about running but a little bit, little pieces of it because he talks about it a lot and makes those connections with the sports. But yeah.
JESSE: [00:09:25] Yeah, I think I would be comfortable coaching through college kind of speeds. I don’t know if I would be comfortable coaching pros. It depends on where they are. Because I guess in some sense, speed is speed and it’s about adjusting to the athlete. So, my running knowledge is fairly deep.
The swimming stuff has just come a little bit as a byproduct of doing it, I guess 10 years now, but I would hardly know where to start in optimizing swimmers. I would be like, I guess we’re going to try this out and just hope something sticks. Like, the methodology is just not down there for me.
So, props to him for making the switch over and getting it figured out. Because, and he’s told you and I mentioned just the mentality seems so different. I know when I was speaking with my college coach, or the college swim coach, not my coach, that he always told me that the women could go harder for a longer period of time than the men could. If — You froze for a little bit.
LEAH: [00:10:44] Sorry. Yeah, you froze so I only got the last of a bit of that. I’m sorry.
JESSE: [00:10:49] Yeah. No, you’re all right. We’ll see. I’ll try to chop this in editing. We’ll try to fix that up. So, I’m not sure where I was when I froze for you and you froze for me. So, when I spoke to the swim coach I had at my college, he always told me women could train harder more often than the men could. Like, the men would break more easy. Is that your personal experience?
LEAH: [00:11:18] Yeah, I think, I don’t really know for sure. But I think it probably has to do with muscle mass. Like, men are just so much more muscular, especially whenever you get into college, they’re just so much bigger, and so they’re going to break down a lot faster.
But also, there are going to be women that are breaking down fast too. I think it kind of just depends on what you probably grew up doing. I grew up as a distance swimmer so my body’s just kind of used to going and going and going. And there’s going to be other people who are just more made out to be like those flat-out sprinters who they can sprint, but then they can’t do much more than that. And I wish I was that but I’m not. The sprinting life always seemed a little more fun than the distance.
JESSE: [00:12:05] I think in the pool, it’s still — I mean, running, you’re going out and you’re seeing things, assuming you’re not on the treadmill, which is a terrible time, unless you’re doing a speed workout, and then it’s fine. But yeah, just, there’s not a whole lot going on looking at the bottom of the pool. I often find myself and I don’t know if this is just me being a weirdo, or if actual swimmers do this.
But I often find myself almost like closing my eyes as I swim. Like, they’re kind of open but I’m not really looking at anything. Do you know what I mean? Like, there’s visual information but like, I’m inside my own head. Has that happened to you?
LEAH: [00:12:49] Oh, yeah. I don’t know that I’m necessarily closing my eyes. But I will get into like this, I call it — I think it’s the flow state. But it happens to me very frequently during swim practices, trying to figure out how to get it to transfer over in the swim meet. But I will be like, I will not know what’s going — like, I’ll be so in the zone of what’s going on within the workout and like paying attention to the clock. Like, I don’t even know if someone’s swimming beside me. I don’t know — Like, I have no idea what’s going on out here.
JESSE: [00:13:19] There’s something a little hypnotic about it. I think, for me, it’s a little bit of this technique, just trying to keep my head straight and one eyeball out of the water and one in the water when I’m breathing. I think that’s part of it. But it’s just a little different than if I’m going out for a run. I can get to that place, but there’s much more visual information going on when I’m out running.
So, thinking about that though, before we got going I said I was going to do this. And this is me doing this because I can’t recall. I was speaking to a lady who works with swimmers talking about pacing and coaching. She has researched with them and she was talking to me about kind of the advent or the beginning of the usage of pace lights in pools and the problems with them.
And she was talking about how many of the swimmers that she’s worked with and she works with, like the Australian Olympians and hopeful Olympians, she’s talking about how their sense of rate of perceived exertion is just terrible. Like they’re not really sure how fast they’re going and will often go too fast in a warm up when they should just be slowing down.
So, I am just curious about your experience. Have you been in a pool with the pace lights? Does being an endurance swimmer give you a better sense of that RPE, which I know I rely on a lot? So, just curious about your history and thoughts there.
LEAH: [00:15:02] Yeah, I’ve never used the pace lights before. I can imagine that would be kind of weird because then you’re just trying to like, stay with the light instead of like really paying attention to how fast you’re going or what it really feels like. I think, for me, I don’t know if it’s from being a distance swimmer or just being really in tune with my body and paying attention to the clock and stuff, but I’ve always been pretty good at knowing how fast I’m going and just knowing what my pace is. And that’s just something that I’ve had for as long as I can remember.
So, I don’t really know where that stemmed from. I think a part of it is just being aware. There are a lot of swimmers who they touch the wall, and they don’t even look up at the clock to see what their time is. So, of course, they’re never going to figure out that — make that connection of this is what this feels like when I’m going this speed or doing this. And I think that I was just very aware and fortunate to be able to notice those kinds of things for myself. And that never really went away for me. When I came back, I kind of was like, obviously, the paces were slower, but I figured it out pretty quickly where I was out.
JESSE: [00:16:09] Yeah. And if you’ll allow me a little hyperbole, it just seems insane to me that swimmers wouldn’t have this excellent sense of rate of perceived exertion. Because you have, like we were just talking about, there’s no reference, there’s the pool line. But for most — unless there’s drains or something like there’s very little outside reference to where you are at any given time. So, it feels, to me it seems like the perfect environment to foster this just excellent sense of this is exactly how fast I’m going. So, to hear her say that and say no, like they’re all over the map.
There’s a few that are very good, but I think it was more like 80/20, like 20% were really good. And then 80% were like, I have no idea. I just go and then that’s it. And I guess there’s a simplicity, there’s kind of a nice, I don’t know, idea about I’ll just go and do it. I know I certainly am guilty of overthinking my intervals. [crosstalk] So, maybe I’m the one that’s causing the problem when there really isn’t one. Maybe I should just be going, and to heck with it from there.
LEAH: [00:17:31] It’s a curse and a blessing. Last night, I had a workout and it was a little more distance-oriented. And at the end, my coach is like “That was a really good workout for you.” I was like, “No, it wasn’t.” And he’s like, ‘You have to stop comparing yourself to what you did when you were 16. Because the distance workouts that you’re doing now is not going to be as fast as what you were doing then. That doesn’t mean you’re not just as fast in a race setting.” And so I’m putting those things into perspective. But yeah, it can be really challenging sometimes when you almost are too aware.
JESSE: [00:18:05] Yes. Funny enough that’s exactly what my coach says to me. You’re only a year younger than me and I’m not Olympic caliber, but I’m trying to come back and run like lifetime PRs in the 10K. And he keeps — I’ll be like, oh, you know, that was — I used to be this much faster. He’s just like, you got to stop. I’m like the whole point of this comparison, like, I’m trying to be faster than I’ve ever been. What do you mean I can’t compare? But yeah, I hear that probably too frequently, stop comparing yourself to college you or high school or whatever it was. Thinking about this — Go ahead.
LEAH: [00:18:49] I was just going to say I think it’s good to remember in those moments where you’re not hitting those times where you used to, it’s just remembering that you’re still putting in the effort. So, you’re still gaining something from that workout, whether you realize it or whether you want to admit it or not, because I too easily get mad after a bad workout. And I have to remind myself like, well, I still worked hard, so I’m still getting something out of that. Instead of being like, well, the times weren’t there, that sucked, it was worthless. No. You still benefited from it.
JESSE: [00:19:22] Yeah. You know, that makes me think since we’re of a similar age, and I spoke with, several weeks ago, Olympic rower Aquil Abdullah, and he’s in his, I think, early 40s now, early mid-40s. And one of the things he said, like mindset shifts he’s had as he’s gotten older, is being less critical of himself and more curious. And I think that’s a big lesson.
What I’ve always tried to do and not always succeeded by any means, is think about what would my older self say and what would my older self think about this situation. Would I be satisfied with it? Would I even remember when I look back and say like that was good enough? And so sometimes getting that kind of insight from somebody who’s actually a decade on from us who’s been through it is, I think invaluable. And so hopefully you can be a little less hard on yourself as you’re continuing forward. I know it’s tough, right? Because your deadlines coming up and [inaudible 00:20:34]
LEAH: [00:20:35] Yeah. I was doing so good, I think it’s like December, January, February. I just felt so confident every day my workouts are going really well. Like, even if I had a bad workout, I was like, it is what it is, move on. And then this last month, it’s almost like I’ve gone into panic mode. And I’m like, I need to figure out how to chill because I can’t be like this every day for the next two months. That’s not healthy.
JESSE: [00:21:00] Yeah. Well, I mean, the only thing that helps me and it’s momentary, so I can’t promise any, like miracle cures. But I know when I raced, and whether I was in shape or not in shape, it didn’t matter whether I felt good or felt bad. There seemed to be no correlation to how things went. Like, I could be feeling terrible, and have an excellent day. I could be feeling great and be a slug. And vice versa.
I could feel great, do great, feel bad, do bad. And it’s this — the internal compass at that point seemed to just, it was what it was. So, if you can take that as any solace, you’ve probably been through that. So, that’s the only thing I could think about. But I think I heard that you’ve been working with a psychologist and trying to work on the mental aspect of competing more than when you were younger.
LEAH: [00:22:04] Absolutely. Yeah. I think that’s really important. You know, growing up, just wasn’t talked about really. Then I went to college and I was kind of struggling. As I said, I think there were some physical struggles as well as mental struggles. And I was told to go see a psychologist. And I went but I didn’t understand why I was there.
It wasn’t like communicated why, and there wasn’t very good dialogue going on. So, I just, since I didn’t understand, and I was younger, I was not getting the benefit out of it. You know what I mean? And so, recently, well, when I started swimming again in 2018, I reached out to Shannon Mulcahy, she works with me now. And she’s been awesome because we can just sit and talk and it’s never the same conversation each time that we talk.
It’s about whatever my needs are, whether there’s a swim meet coming up, or what’s happened recently, where I said, I’ve been more anxious, just like talking through those things. And I think, one, it’s just really important to be able to have someone to talk to that’s not a family, friend or your coach or like a teammate who’s always there. It’s nice to have somebody else that’s completely outside and has no idea what’s really going on, on a day-to-day basis to be able to talk to them.
And then also she just gives me really good tips to be able to focus on. And I think one of the best things that I’ve probably learned from her is just self-talk. And that’s helped a lot within workouts because I was going through workouts. I do a lot. I’m training for the 200 butterfly, so we do a lot more butterfly than I’ve ever done in my life.
And so it obviously can be really difficult. And I found myself like, honestly, just on repeat saying, I can’t do this constantly during an hour and a half practice. And I finished the practice and I do it. I complete the workout. But I’m like, why was I just saying — like, I was literally saying I can’t do this for 90 minutes on repeat. I was like, that is not good. And so she helped me kind of transition those thoughts. And I think it’s really helped me be able to get through workouts.
So, I think — I wish I would have known a little bit more about the mental side of it growing up. But I’m very fortunate to be able to get to learn about it now, and kind of get to work through it now. And it’s fun getting to go through my whole swimming career almost again. Because I get to bring the good and the bad that I’ve learned from when I was younger. So, it’s been a lot of fun.
JESSE: [00:24:45] Is there anything that really sticks out to you mentality-wise that it’s changed as you’ve gotten older or as you’ve come back to the sport?
LEAH: [00:24:55] I think the one thing is when I was younger, I could grind just every day. And I have a hard time, obviously, I had bad workouts, but I was able to just come back every day and I was generally a good practicer. Whereas now that is a little bit more of a struggle for me. Especially, I’ll have one week a month where I just suck at practice. And that can be really hard for me to understand why and stuff like that. But I think that’s probably more just with age than really the mentality side of it.
Because it’s not that I don’t want to get in there and grind. It’s just that I can’t. But yeah, I think — I don’t know. It’s a tough question. I think there are things like mentally and physically that have both changed a lot. And I just have to be okay with the fact that I’m 31 and things are going to be different.
JESSE: [00:25:56] Yeah. I think one of the challenges we face as athletes regardless of Level, if you’ve competed since you were young, is not only dealing with just your body getting older, but this idea that you’re old, right? But let me clarify because I think it’s a little insidious, and it happens to people other than athletes. But this is where I come back to that older version of me and I ask him advice.
And I say, and really I could just ask my father as he’s getting 78-79 this year, I have to think about this. But I think about 90-year-old me talking to myself, going, I’m 32. You’re 32. Like, you’re still young, like what are you talking about? So, I think some of that duality in being an athlete, but also in the entirety of your lifespan being still young, I think that’s a big challenge. Because, in some ways, this is the end of the road. It’s coming up quick and it’s not going to last forever.
You can’t be top-level swimmer when you’re 90. It’s not going to happen. You could probably still kill it at masters meets. But I think that’s something I struggle with thinking about getting older, because it’s like I said, neither of us are old by any means. But there are challenges athletically that you deal with. And so thinking about that leads me a little bit into what’s the inspiration to come back? Because you already had the opportunity to step away and say, okay, I’m going to reinvent myself. I’m going to start over from scratch. Do something new or I’m going to start where I’m maybe not as competent. How does the flame get reignited to say, let’s give this one more shot?
LEAH: [00:28:14] Yeah. So, I graduated from Texas in 2012. I finished my eligibility and then I was going to continue swimming until the trials that summer. So, I only had our NCAA is in March, so only a couple months till June until Olympic Trials. That would have been my third Olympic Trials. And I just was so unhappy with swimming. And so I was like, “No, you know what, I need to step away from the sport. Like, I can’t do this anymore.
I’m not happy. I’m crying every day. It’s not good for me, it’s not good for my teammates.” I stepped away for like, two days and I was like, “No, I have to go to the Olympic trials, I can’t stop now. My goal is always to make the Olympic team. I can’t, like not at least go give it a shot.” So, I went back. I practiced for two more days. And I was like, “No, I can’t do this. I’m not going to make the Olympic team if I’m literally this miserable every day.”
So, it was a back and forth for me on finishing my career whenever I did, and I just was miserable at that point. So, I had to step away. And I had this bitterness towards the sport for a very long time. And it took me six years really to find the love for the sport again. And I think a huge part of the bitterness was because I knew there is so much more left in me. I just couldn’t give it in that moment because I was so unhappy with where I was at. And so I started coaching almost immediately, even though I didn’t want to. I wanted to get as far away from the sport as I could.
But I moved back home to Pennsylvania and I had to get certified to be a teacher there. So, it was just a part-time job for me to have while I was finishing my teaching certification. And it still was a struggle for me to be on pool deck for a while. And then I think it was in 2016, we moved to Columbus, Georgia. And I think the move was just like a breath of fresh air, something different. When we moved down here, I started working with the eight and under members, so they have all this energy and love for the sport that kind of reminded me of why I started swimming. Like I was like, “Oh, yeah, I was that eight and under one time, and that’s why I swam for as long as I did. And so that’s kind of what got me to fall in love with the sport and coaching it.
Then two years later, we started this master’s program, and I was like, okay, I’m just going to get in and work out. You know, it’s been six years since I’ve literally done any kind of working out. Probably good for me to work out again. And I just fell in love with it right away. I was like, wow, this feels good. This is what I missed. And I got to see my boyfriend, my coach, be a coach for like, four years before I decided to start swimming again. And so I think I just had that trust that he was a good coach. I had that belief in what we could do together. And it just ended up progressing from there. And I never even — When I started swimming for our master’s program.
I was like, I’m not going to do swim meets. Well, I was like, literally a month later and I got talked into doing a swim meet. And I swam so slow, but I loved it. And then it just kind of progressed from there. And literally, I think it was maybe five months of training and I was like, okay, I’m ready to give this another shot for real. So, very unexpected.
JESSE: [00:31:57] I like that you kind of refound that joy. That’s something I try to help or hope people find in whatever their sport is. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience because swimming’s a little different. But because I loved running so much growing up [inaudible 00:32:19] family members, strangers, teachers, whatever all kinds of people say, “Oh, I wish I could run that much. I don’t like running.” It’s like, that’s fine. You don’t like it. It’s not going to bother me if you don’t like running. Like you should find something that you find joy in, not something that you think is like a death march to [inaudible 00:32:40] And maybe this is a deeper psychological issue.
But I think sometimes with all of the pressures of being an adult, paying bills, doing your job, just the day-to-day grind of existing, making food for yourself, like everything. I think it’s easy to forget just that place where you exist as a child, and you can just be joyful doing something. And I feel like if we’re able to hold on to that in some aspect, whether it’s sport or a hobby, whatever it is, like that helps, in my opinion, like us become more fulfilled people. So, it’s interesting to me that you kind of saw that and sparked that a little bit with your eight and unders, because they do it naturally. They don’t know anything different. That’s just, they just are.
LEAH: [00:33:40] Yeah. No, I think that’s super important. When I graduated from college, I was so unhappy for so long, because I was like I just gave up my sport that I did since I was four years old. What do I do now? And I was trying to chase this success and I didn’t know what success really meant at the age of, I was 22 when I graduated. I thought success meant I’d have a really good job and I get paid a lot of money. And here I am trying to be a teacher. Well, obviously, that’s not going to happen. So, what am I doing and just really unhappy.
And I think that I’ve always had this huge love for the sport of swimming like more than I’ve always like said I’m like this crazy person who loves swimming too much. And so I think whenever I finally just like allowed myself to be okay, and understand that coaching is actually a great job and that I don’t need to be finding the success in a normal nine to five job.
Because I have plenty of friends who do the nine to five job and they’re unhappy and I’m like, okay, well I’m coaching and now I’m swimming, and those are my jobs right now and I’m loving life. And I think that is so much more important than trying to do what you think that you’re expected to do. And that took me a while to kind of figure out. And once I realized I just need to do what makes me happy. And if I can do that, then I’m going to be successful in that.
And as soon as I realized that, my life, it changed and I’ve been so much happier since then. But that’s hard. It’s hard to understand that, especially when you’ve done a sport for so long because that’s all you know. And then it’s like, well, no you gotta find something else, or you gotta do something else. And you don’t have that sport anymore to like fall back on. So, it was challenging.
JESSE: [00:35:36] Yeah. Well, there’s that fear, right? It’s like if I’m not doing this, who am I? And then also, so like, there’s this fear of loss, there’s like, the sunk cost fallacy. You’re like, I’ve already put so much time into this I might as well just keep going. So, before we going, I mentioned to you that last week I spoke to Kim Vandenberg and she also loves doing the fly 200 fly.
Didn’t make the Olympics and it was on the relay in 2008. And I asked her and she herself mentioned being this way, and just seemed like a lot of Olympians are miserable because of how much just focus and time, and effort it takes to be an Olympian. And then that actually also reminds me of another conversation I had with a gentleman by the name of Fergus Connolly a few weeks ago, who wrote The Happiness Handbook for High Achievers.
And I think, now you’ve, especially probably working with a psychologist, have gone through and kind of looked at a mental framework for figuring out like, what should I be doing? Why am I doing it? All those kinds of things. But for people who haven’t examined those things about their lives, like I found it, it’s a great way to start thinking about those concepts.
Because, as he’s mentioned, and he’s worked with, like, he worked with the San Francisco 49ers and a bunch of other top-level, European soccer leagues and just a lot of high achieving people are not as happy as we think they are. Because of the grind and the pressure and all that goes on behind the scenes, despite the media portraying like, oh, Leah’s this star — [crosstalk]
LEAH: Highlight reel.
JESSE: Yeah, the highlight reel. It’s like, yeah, you saw, like how long does the 200 fly take? Like a minute and a half? How long is that race?
LEAH: [00:37:45] A little over two minutes.
JESSE: [00:37:46] Two minutes. Okay. So, it’s still, a little over two minutes. You watched two minutes of my life, you missed the hundreds and thousands of hours that got me to that point. And I don’t think it’s possible, maybe it is. I don’t think it’s possible to truly convey the depths that your mind goes through, through all that training to people who haven’t been through some kind of similar, arduous journey.
LEAH: [00:38:18] Yeah. Yeah. So, it wasn’t actually too long ago, I was talking to someone, and they were talking about all these Olympians or Olympic hopefuls in our sport, that are just in such a bad place, mentally, and physically, whether they have injuries or whatnot. And I was like, I don’t want to get to that point. And that’s because I did get to that point whenever I was younger in college, I got to that point of being in such a bad mental place.
And I’m like, I’m doing this again, I want to do it right. I want to make sure that I’m staying happy through this and not getting myself — And that’s not to say that you don’t have to get yourself to that bad mental place or physical place in order to perform well. I actually think that is probably hurting you whether you realize it or not. So, like, man, I want to make sure I’m doing this right. I want to make sure I’m staying happy.
And that is 100% not to say I don’t have bad days, and I’m an emotional person. So, I cry more than the average person as it is. But I’m actually — even after those bad days and stuff, I really am enjoying the whole process of it and I think that’s really important. But you’re right, it’s really unfortunate that all these high-level athletes do get into that bad mental place. And just there’s, I don’t know if there’s just like not enough help out there. Or it’s not talked about enough or we just want to see the highlight reel of their lives and we don’t want to see the bad stuff that comes along with it. But yeah, I mean, it’s hard, right?
Especially, when I just went to a swim meet, I was in California a week ago, and my swim meet didn’t go well. And so that’s — You know, I don’t want to talk about that as much as I want to talk about the good swim meets, right? So, it’s just — it can be really hard, especially the ones who already are at the top, because everybody expects so much fun. Like, nobody expects anything from me, because I’m this 31-year-old swimmer who’s trying to make a comeback.
So, when I do something well, it’s like, oh, wow, that happened. Instead of like, oh, she did really bad. That sucks. So, for me, it’s a little bit easier, I think, than it is for those that are already at the top, like that are in everybody’s eyes, the ones who are going to make the Olympic team.
JESSE: [00:40:40] Yeah. It makes me think about the breakthroughs I had in college where my absolute best times would be — I have a plan for my race. But I would just say, “Coach, my entire goal today is to go have fun. Like, these are what my sports are going to be, but I’m just going to enjoy it.” Because there’s a couple courses that we would race every year for cross country.
And I just love those courses. And I’m like, I’m going to go just enjoy this course. And undoubtedly, those would be the best times if I could get myself into that true place of like, I don’t care. I’m just going to have fun. And getting to that place is not easy which I think — [crosstalk]
LEAH: [00:41:29] It’s easier said than done. But man, you’re right. Like, if you — Som all the swim meets that I go to recently, it’s been let’s try a different race strategy. Let’s see if something different works. And I’m all about trying something new because you never know what’s going to click, what’s going to produce the best time or whatever. And every time, every time we try a new race strategy, it does not go well. And then there are times where we’re just like, all right, I’m just going to go race and go have fun.
And that’s when it comes together. And that’s like, something that we try to teach the kids, is like, stop worrying so much. Like, it’s just a race, get up there and have fun. You’ve already put in all the work, but like easier said than done. How are you able to really do that every single time and not let those nerves get the best of you?
JESSE: [00:42:27] Yeah, in some ways, thinking about kid mentality, it’s like, how do you teach kids to do what they already do? Like, when kids are at recess, they’re running around having fun. How do you teach them to like, just do that? But here in the pool, it’s the same thing. And how do you get that translated?
LEAH: [00:42:50] Yeah, we have our championship for the kids. And the kids did really well. Like a lot of best time, they had a great meet. But then like, a week later, we did this March Madness, where we set the kids up, and they do races and there’s like elimination rounds and stuff like that. And we just did a week of racing in practice. And they went even more best times.
And it’s like, that’s because you’re just swimming, having fun, getting out racing, you’re not nervous, you’re not thinking about it too much. You’re just enjoying it. But so easy to do it in that setting. How do you replicate that setting and just do the same thing whenever there’s more people watching? There’s more pressure, there’s things on the line, but not really, because it’s still just a swim meet, it’s still just a race. But yeah. I’m trying to teach myself that in two months, and I get to trials. So, hopefully, I can get that out by then.
JESSE: [00:43:54] Yeah. I mean what you got to do, but then that’s the trick, right? It’s like, okay, I know, I have to get myself to a place of I don’t care. But I [inaudible 00:44:02] care enough to get to a place that I don’t care because I still care. And stuck in this loop. But thinking about like fun stuff, and I was thinking about this as I was swimming on Monday and I talked with Kim about this. And so this concept comes up as I’m sure you’ve heard, and I asked her about it.
And so it seemed like she was kind of on board with this. And then I got to thinking Monday, like how do we actually make this happen? And we’re talking about like a pros and Joes swim meet. So, the idea is like, people don’t understand how fast Olympians are because they can’t see average Joe next to them. And I mentioned to her there are people at my pool that are going, Oh, you’re going to the Olympics.”
Now, keep in mind I’m at the pool when people are doing water aerobics and they’re like, [inaudible 00:44:52] well, there’s no concept of what fast in the pool is. Like, I would be lapped very, very quickly. So, I got to thinking about pros and Joes and I’m trying to think about like, how do we make this happen? First of all, how do we make it happen?
But second, how do we set up so it’s fair. And so my brain started thinking about like major league triathlon and started thinking about the like relay courses. And I’m like, you could do like, mixed like co-ed relays, like one Joe and one Pro, man and woman, and there’s like relay teams and going to be like trials, and then you set them up so that you try to even out the speeds or something. I don’t know. Is this a good idea or am I totally just out of my mind trying to figure out how to make this happen?
LEAH: [00:45:42] No, I think that would be fun. I think a lot of people who aren’t swimmers think that swimming is easier than it really is. Growing up, my high school swim team, like a football player joined the High School swim team, and he thought he’s a football player, swimming is going to be easy — [crosstalk] He was struggling. And then we’ve had the — one of our high schools around here, the baseball team will come out and swim, and they’re struggling through the swim workouts.
And I think the more people that we can just show like, yeah, swimming’s hard. And like, this is what it takes to get to be like, really good. I think that’s cool and it just gets swimming into the spotlight a little bit more. It’s just not one of those sports that people like to watch. And I think part of it is, there’s not the same appreciation for it, because people just don’t know. They don’t know what swimming really is. And so I think that would be a cool way to get it out there a little bit more.
JESSE: [00:46:44] In my head and again, this is like, this isn’t even a half-baked idea. This is like, we’re just needing Joe. We haven’t even let it rise. The oven’s not preheating. There’s nothing going on besides me just going like, how can we do this and make it like a big charity event and raise money for a good charity or something? And so I’m like, how do we do like something, you know, not just, we can say like, hey, let’s do a 100 I am Medley or mix relay or something like the normal swim meet events. But how do we do something different, like there was the tendency, a while back before rules were changed for people to do like dolphin kick as far as they could.
And sometimes, they [inaudible 00:47:34] So, it’s like, could we make a whole event just doing that? And like penalties for coming up to breathe. And obviously, the Joes are going to have a harder time. So, I’m trying to think of like, how do you do fun, weird events that are like swim skills, but are not necessarily swim races in the normal sense?
LEAH: [00:47:57] Yeah. And you couldn’t do like the pro swimmer against a relay of Joe swimmers. Like, if it’s 100, the pro swimwear could swim the straight 100. But there could be four Joe swimmers doing 25s, so that can make it a little more interesting while closer.
JESSE: [00:48:18] Yes. That’s what I was like I’m just trying to think about the possibilities. Because, again, it just, I think when you can bring the fun back to it, I think the pros, and maybe I’m speaking out of turn. I think the pros would have a lot of fun just being like, getting to the water and being able to play and do something silly instead of just like, Hey, we’re only here to go as fast as we can. It’s like, well, I want to go as fast as I can but we’re also raising money for whatever cause it is. I don’t know. Again, we’re not even half-baked at this point.
LEAH: [00:48:51] Yeah. Well, when you get fully baked, you can sign me up, I’ll do it.
JESSE: [00:48:56] Okay. I’ve got my first recruit. One of the other problems I have and we’ll move on from this here shortly, but just figuring out how do you — the pros are easy to define. But how do you define a Joe?
LEAH: [00:49:13] Yeah, I don’t — that’s a good question.
JESSE: [00:49:15] You know what I mean? Like, do I qualify as a Joe or am I too fast to be a Joe? Because I’m not fast, but like I have some swim experience. Are we talking about people that have never been in the pool before or like, do you make a time cut off and like you have to be this slow to get — So, that’s one of my problems. I don’t know exactly how to do that. We’ve lost Leah again. She’s frozen. She’ll be back here in a second. I’m sure.
LEAH: [00:49:43] — lots to think about.
JESSE: [00:49:55] Back with me — frozen yet.
LEAH: [00:50:01] I’m good. Can you hear me?
JESSE: [00:50:02] Yeah. I was like — [crosstalk]
LEAH: [00:50:05] You were good the whole time. You didn’t freeze.
JESSE: [00:50:06] Okay. I knew you were frozen. So, I was like, I’ll just wait. We’ll be all right.
LEAH: [00:50:12] Sorry, my internet kind of sucks.
JESSE: [00:50:14] No, it’s fine. I was actually — I’ll probably leave it as is. Because I try not to edit but I had a conversation with a pro cricket player from South Africa a couple weeks ago. And it was — I had to edit it because it was like, he started talking. And like, the middle of his sentence would pause, and then it’d continue. I was like, I gotta put it all together. But it was such a good conversation I was like, I don’t want to have to try to re-record. But I hate editing.
So, it’s like the only time I think we’ve ever really edited an episode. But anyway. My point being, people’s internet varies, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. See, what was the other thing? I was like, I had a thought, and then I lost it. Oh, thinking about, you mentioned earlier, your boyfriend is also your coach and the coach of the team there. How does that dynamic — I guess that dynamic plays well.
It seems like some people wouldn’t handle that well. Like I don’t think and I actually have to a very lesser extent coached my fiance in running a little bit. She has no running background, is not trying to be competitive at all, and it doesn’t work for us. So, I know, from a personal perspective that it just — our personalities don’t quite match up as coach and athlete. So, how does that dynamic play with you guys? You know, when you are not on the pool deck, is it no more shop talk? Are there any hard rules like that?
LEAH: [00:52:01] Yeah. So, I think what works for us is we’ve been — we’re coming up on seven years of dating, so I had four years of dating him where I wasn’t swimming and I only saw him as a coach. And for like, two of those years, I wasn’t even coaching so I wasn’t even really on the deck with him. I would just hear him talk about swimming when he would come home. And then after that, there were two years where I was coaching with him in Columbus. And so I really got to see him as a coach, and I got to see his coaching style, I got to see just the way that he — his thought process behind training and stuff like that.
So, I got to have four years of understanding and then having this build up of belief in him of being a really good coach. And I think that had I not seen that it would maybe be a little bit different, but I trust him so much as a coach, and I believe in him so much, that it’s easy for me to walk on the pool deck and just do what he’s asking me to do. And I think that’s something that I’ve always been really good at is just showing up and doing what I’m told, and then leaving. And so it works for us in that sense.
There are parents who coach their kids just in different sports than the swimming world. And I don’t think that that would have been a good situation for me, because my parents, I didn’t see that same belief. You know, they didn’t coach swimming, they didn’t grow up swimming, they don’t have that swimming background. So, I think that is the biggest thing that makes it work between us. And the other thing is, this was — me swimming was 110% my decision. He never forced me to swim, he never tried to get me to swim. And every day if I’m having a bad day, and I don’t really want to be at the pool or swimming, he’s like, you can leave. Like, I’m not keeping you here.
And so we have that really good relationship where he knows it has to be on me. And I think that’s the benefit of being older and doing this for myself. It’s like, every decision that I make, whether it’s working hard, or if I don’t give an effort that I’m supposed to, that’s on me. You know, it’s not on him. I can’t blame him for that. It’s 100% me. And we do do a really good job of when we leave the pool, we’ll still talk about swimming because we’re both swim nerds and we love it and that’s our life.
We coach and I swim and so you can’t get away from it. But if there’s ever too much of it, like if I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I’m like, we need to talk about something else. I want to talk about something else. Honestly, I’m probably the one who brings up swimming the most just because I got two months till trials. Like, it’s just what’s on my mind, of course.
But then we also work really well together because we both coach at the same time. And I think that our dynamic works well because he doesn’t have the same swimming background as me being a swimmer growing up. And he’s really good at the physiological side of it. And what you’re supposed to be doing, planning the whole season kind of thing and writing workouts.
That’s not my strength. My strength is knowing what it feels like in the water. So, there will be times that he’s explaining something, and he’s like, getting like, into the science of it. And I’m like, or you could just say it’s going to feel like this, because that makes more sense to me. And so we balance each other out in that kind of way. And so it just works for us.
I was really worried at first about, like of course, what everybody was going to think because like, boyfriend coaching girlfriend, that’s not going to go well. People are going to have not great things to say. But I think, for the most part, I obviously don’t know what people are saying behind our backs or anything like that. But I think everybody that’s close to us has seen it be a really positive thing and be really good for us.
And we’ve had fun doing it. I think it’s really cool to travel the world with him. Like, that’s awesome. Unfortunately, when we go to California, it’s not really a vacation, we’re there to work. But it’s still fun to get to do that with him. And so I think it’s been really special, and it just works.
JESSE: [00:56:22] The thing that I think is tough for a lot of people, and obviously, I’m making a generalization here is that I think people will project their own beliefs and social circle on to other people. Whereas I try, not that I’m always successful, because I’m again, a human. I try to remember that people’s capacity to do things is great. Meaning that even though I may not have the personal, emotional, mental or psychological capacity to do something, or the kind of relationship that allows for something to thrive, doesn’t mean that somebody else doesn’t.
Because I haven’t lived their life. I don’t have their temperament. I don’t have their relationships, like the variety of life. I think what’s difficult is that things are often familiar, and also unfamiliar at the same time because there’s a dynamic at play that you don’t have, so it’s hard for you to understand.
The one thing that clicked that you said, and I went — I already knew it. But it came to the surface, as you said, it was his ability to just say, if you want to leave, like you can leave. And not being like, get back in the water, you need to get this done. Because that’s what I think of as a coach-athlete peer relationship. As in we’re on the same level, this isn’t a, you know, you mentioned like a parent coaching a child. You are, by definition, on two different levels.
You’re like coaching downward instead of coaching sideways. And that’s just by the nature of they’re a child, they’re growing, they’re learning, all these things. But that says a lot about him and your relationship, just that one situation because I’m sure you respect him enough to get in and do the work. And then he respects you enough to trust your judgment to say, hey, if you’re not feeling it, you’re the one that is doing the swimming, you make that judgment call, and I’ll stand by it.
LEAH: [00:58:47] Yeah, I think that that has been something that has really worked for my overall swimming performance as well is because he is so willing to listen to how I’m feeling. Like, if I’m just so broken down and he sees me struggling through practice, he’ll ask how are you feeling right now? And as long as I’m being a 100% honest with him then the decision that he makes on top of that, as a coach of whether it’s like, well, we’re just going to power through it.
Because you have to have those days where you’re powering through a difficult workout. Or if it’s just like looking really bad, and he’s like, okay just take it easy the rest of the day, then we’ll reassess later. And so I think that has been not something that you can do for everybody because it’s hard to do that in a program, right?
You know, a college program or a club program, you can’t cater to — You should try your best to cater to kind of every person but it’s really hard. And I think just being older and kind of swimming more on my own as a professional, it’s easier to have that, you know, how are you feeling today? Tell me what’s going on. Like, you’re having a good day or a bad day, figuring out why and what’s going well. And it’s so much easier for me to communicate those things to him because I’m his girlfriend.
Well, sometimes that makes it difficult, honestly. But it’s easier to talk that through probably than one of our 15-year-olds that’s on the team trying to communicate. Also, I just know my body really well at this point so it’s a lot easier for me to be like, I’m hurting or like, I just, I’m not mentally in it to that or something like that.
JESSE: [01:00:36] Yeah, yeah. Leah, as we’re winding down on time, you probably saw this, we didn’t get talked about Travis, who was bad Episode 46, who’s your strength coach, which I didn’t know before you came on. So, that’s kind of a fun way to go about [inaudible 01:00:50]. So, if you want to listen to Travis’s conversation, Episode 46, you got to go back a ways in the catalog. But because you listen to episodes you know each season, I have a question I asked everybody. Now, the question I’ll ask you is different from Travis because he was in a previous season. But my question this year is: How do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?
LEAH: [01:01:13] I think that can be really hard. But I think anytime that you fail, it’s just a way that you can reassess what you’ve been doing or what happened. And failure is not a bad thing. It’s just a lesson learned. And it’s so easy to fail or to not do as well, then to just get mad and kind of push yourself away from those future goals.
But I think failure can be really powerful and motivating in the way of I don’t want this to happen again. So, what can I do differently to make sure that I don’t feel this way again? Or what can I do differently to make sure that I do reach this goal next time? And so failure is really hard. It’s just taking that and learning from it, and making sure that you’re doing something different or better, or just reassessing what you did and learning from it.
So, I think failure obviously has that super negative connotation to it. And so it’s easy to just get yourself worked up over it. But if you look at it, and everything you do, no matter what your race is, there’s always something positive that you can take away from it.
Always something positive. So, I think even in that failure, if you don’t reach your goal, there’s still something that you did well in that and looking at that as well. So, not just looking, you know, you got to find the positives, and you have to look at it realistically and be understanding of why you’re in that position and how you can move on and grow from it.
JESSE: [01:02:51] Leah, I know if people want you to be their mentor, they can get in touch with you through RISE Athletes. But is there anywhere else that people can kind of follow you, see what’s going on, keep in touch as they’re coming up on the trials here?
LEAH: [01:03:05] Yeah, my Instagram, I try to post on my Instagram. You know, I have some days that I don’t really post as much. Especially two months out, I try to really just listen to myself. And if I’m not in a place mentally to post things, I don’t post things. And if I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. But yeah, my Instagram handle is just my name. So, it’s just Leah Gingrich. I’d love for some more followers. Trying to get it up there a little bit, trying to post more stuff, but it’s hard. I do the same thing every day. Like my life is kind of — I think it’s fun, but it’s kind of boring to watch. Like, I wake up, have coffee, I go swim, I coach. Like, it’s my day.
JESSE: [01:03:46] Just like you should just do — Have you seen Zoolander?
LEAH: [01:03:52] Yes.
JESSE: [01:03:53] Okay. You should just do the same pose every single day in a different swimsuit for like an entire year, just this 365 exact same shot, just over and over and over. Because at the beginning, it’ll be like, “What is she doing?” And then as the absurdity builds, it will be kind of entertaining. Like, what is she going to do? Is she going to do the same, like I feel like just — And the enormity of having to do that for an entire year, that’s — Anyway, that’s just like my stupid sense of fun because it’s just a joke like nobody probably cares, but maybe somebody would. So, if you have fun with it, then that’s all that really matters, right?
LEAH: [01:04:35] Hey, and you’re getting content out there. That’s all that matters, right?
JESSE: [01:04:39] Absolutely. Leah, thanks for hanging out with me today.
LEAH: [01:04:43] Yeah, thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.
JESSE: [01:04:45] Absolutely.