Maggie Werba: I’m Not Where I Thought I’d Be at 23

Maggie Werba shared her mental health journey with us in January, 2021. Now, she reflects on her career while watching the Olympics. Maggie has found joy in food blogging for her Instagram and website.

Sitting on the couch, eating homemade gluten-free granola, curled up with my new puppy, fiance, and a good book –oh, and watching the Olympics.

Sounds pretty ideal, right?

Well, it is pretty fantastic, but it isn’t where I thought I’d be. 

When I was a young swimmer, I wanted to be an Olympian.

When I was seven, eight, nine years old, it’s all I wanted. It was a pipe dream, but I also had a whole crew of people behind me. When I turned 12, I decided to really take the sport seriously and dedicate every day of my life to being the best I possibly could be.

First step: make Olympic Trials.

No one on my team back home had ever done it, and it was definitely considered shooting for the stars for a little Oshkosh, Wisconsin kid whose parents couldn’t swim. But my parents believed in me, my coach believed in me, and I believed in me.

Six years later, after sacrificing oh so much for the sport, I finally qualified for Olympic Trials. It absolutely is one of the proudest moments of my life. I made Trials a week after graduating high school and planned to continue the momentum into my swim career at the University of Minnesota.

When you’re 18, make Olympic Trials, have a host of events you could improve on, and are headed into college (where you’re supposed to get better), the idea of potentially one day being an Olympian or at least making the finals at Trials seems very possible. 

When I entered college, my main identity was swimming. I had never had a boyfriend, let alone a first kiss. I had a 4.0 GPA, never missed a practice, and never tried a single sip of alcohol. Swimming was my life. So, when my swimming started to suffer in college after overtraining, undereating, and over-stressing, I didn’t really know who I was or what to do.

How could I have gone from making the Trials to being a beat down, anxious, lonely swimmer who didn’t even know if she loved swimming anymore? 

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my swimming career, from when I was young through college. I am definitely satisfied with my youth career. But, I am not satisfied with my college career, nor with how it ended (overtraining injury and illness).

I stopped swimming competitively in 2018 and graduated college with a Double Major and Summa Cum Laude in the Honors program, achieving a Big Ten scholar award for maintaining a 4.0 while also competing at Big Tens. That’s a heck of a lot to be proud about. But, I didn’t reach my potential. I know I didn’t.

I’ve had three years now to reflect, cope, and learn, and I truly felt like I had moved on and found my new purposes in life. Dog mom, fiance, sister, daughter, working professional, food blogger, and so much more. But as I sit here watching the Olympics, the feelings of dissatisfaction with my swim career continue to grow. When I was 18, I expected that I had a chance to compete in the same Olympics that I am now watching from my couch.

I am writing this because I don’t exactly know how to cope. Do I start training again for 2024, in hopes of having closure with the sport that was once upon a time my whole identity? Do I cry every night at my disappointment in myself and in the circumstances that crushed my college career? I’m sure there’s a happy medium in there, where I acknowledge my disappointment, but remember my new awesome identities. But, it’s easier said than done.

So, I think that’s why I’m writing this today. Because I know that, for myself and for anyone else watching the Olympics on the couch instead of from the Games like they maybe once dreamed, it is easier said than done to move on from your sport. It is okay to miss it, miss the fitness level you had, miss the way setting a goal and then reaching it felt. It is okay to miss being able to do things others couldn’t do. I don’t need to fight those feelings. I need to embrace them, and then move on. Move forward, instead of looking backward. I may not be where I thought I would be when I was 23 or 24. I probably won’t be where I thought I would be when I’m 30, 40, or 50 either. But I am where I’m meant to be. I’m in love, I’m happy, I’m learning and growing in new ways.

Someone recently told me: “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”

So that is what I’ll leave you with today. My swimming chapter has ended, and it is time to start writing something new. I can let that first chapter shape me and build me, but I cannot it hold me back from moving forward.

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