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Episode #09

Achieving Confidence

with Abbey Weitzeil

06 Aug, 2020 · Swimming

Abbey Weitzel, Professional Swimmer and Olympian, describes her journey in sport as unsteady, happy, and inspiring. Abbey shares the ups and downs of her journey and provides a powerful perspective on body image, confidence, happiness, and balance.

Transcript

(background music starts)

Stef

Welcome to the Voice In Sport Podcast. I'm your host, Stef Strack, the founder of Voice In Sport. As an athlete, professional, and mom, I have spent the last 20 years advocating for women and innovating across the sports industry. Now, I want to bring more visibility to female athletes and elevate their voice. At Voice In Sport, we share untold stories from female athletes to inspire us all to keep playing and change more than just the game. 

Today our guest is Abbey Weitzeil, a professional swimmer, two time Olympic medalist, and former Division 1 swimmer at UC Berkeley. In 2016, Abbey swam her way to a gold medal in the 4 by 100-meter medley relay and a silver medal in the 4 by 100-meter freestyle relay. She also holds the American record in the 50-yard freestyle, as the first woman ever to dip below 21 seconds. Today, Abbey shares with us her ups and downs through her journey in sport, and she provides a powerful perspective on the ever important topics of body image, confidence, happiness, and balance in life. Abbey welcome to the Voice In Sport podcast. We are super proud to have you with us here today. 

(background music stops)

Abbey

Thank you for having me.  

Stef

Let's start first with your journey. Talk to us from about when you started swimming and the other sports that you played all the way up until now. 

Abbey

So I started swimming a little bit later than most people do.  I started swimming competitively when I was about 12, and, when I was younger, I did dance, I did volleyball for a little bit, I did a little bit of basketball- not my thing.

(laughs)

Eventually I started swimming because my older sister swam in high school. So, I started swimming when I was about 12, like I said, and excelled really fast compared to most people. I got my first few cuts when I was younger and went to 2012 Olympic trials. Broke my first American record in 2014. Made my first Olympic team in 2016 and it was a crazy journey. I never really dreamed of going to the Olympics just because I started swimming so late and so, I only started really thinking that I could go to the Olympics and really wanting to when I was about 16 or 17 years old. And, I went when I was 19 and it was a dream that was a short dream, but I was able to reach it really fast. And I'm really lucky to have been able to do that. 

Stef

What do you think attributed to your success when you look back at your training and how you approach the sport? 

Abbey

I think there's a lot of factors. My confidence was a huge thing for me. Especially in swimming or honestly any sport, where you're individualized and you're racing by yourself, you're not scoring team points, it’s a lot about confidence and a lot about when you step up behind the blocks for swimming, it's being able to tell yourself, okay, I'm going to do this, and I can do this. It’s about not second guessing yourself.

Just know that you're gonna be able to kill it, or you're going to be able to reach your goal or win or whatever it is. I had nothing that I was questioning myself for. I was able to start hitting times that I wanted. I was able to start swimming and winning events that I wanted.

My confidence just kept going higher and higher and getting to Olympic trials- it's honestly one of the most stressful meets in swimming because it's such a high stake. The U.S. is such an incredible swimming team.

And so, making the team is really hard.  Just being able to walk out behind the blocks and know that I had trained so well for so long and just let my training show and speak for itself. That’s a huge thing. 

Stef

I'm assuming that throughout your journey, you had some moments where your confidence dips. Can you tell us a little bit about one of those moments and how did you pull yourself through it? 

Abbey

Everyone goes through ups and downs in their career and mine actually came right after the Olympics. So, I was obviously really young when I went, and in the sport. I'd only been swimming for seven years at the time, which is not long for swimming. And everything was going right and my confidence had not dipped yet. After the Olympics, I went off to college and it was just a new environment, new training, new coach, new living situation, new friends, new everything. It was a huge adjustment for me and everyone goes through it. But I wasn't used to it. And I had been with the same coach and same training program for a long time and just knew that it worked. And so going into something else, I was questioning, will this work? Is this set I'm doing today working? Is this practice I'm doing today working? It was a big downward spiral for me and my confidence.

And so anytime I stepped up behind the blocks, I wasn't like, alright, I know I can do this. It was more of like a, Oh, I wonder how this is going to go.

I was questioning everything and obviously, it took some time. Freshman, sophomore year, I struggled a lot and coming out of it in junior year and this last year, senior year,  I had trust-  I had trust for the training and trust for the coaches and trust for my teammates. I think that just learning that and accepting that, and then putting all my trust into that and fully engaging in my training and that just rose my confidence back up. And obviously there's a lot more to it than just confidence.

You start having better training. You start liking it more. The more you like it, the more you want to do it, the better you want to be, the more time you put into it, which gives you more confidence. And so, I think it just all connects together, which is something that I learned, and I learned to appreciate the journey a lot more. I get to do this for a living.

I get to do things that people wish they could do. I think that's really awesome if you look at it like that, and it allows you to enjoy things a lot more and just appreciate what you get to do every day.

Stef

If you were to look back then and give yourself some advice, what would you say?

Abbey

I would tell myself a lot. One thing that I let drag me down a lot was things not going like I expected. I expected everything to go a certain way. When I got to college, I expected to do a lot of things that didn't happen. I let myself get in my head about it. I honestly struggled. I struggled emotionally. I struggled physically. I struggled a lot just in my journey and in my life. There was a lot going on for me outside of the pool at the time, but I think that I would tell myself to honestly just take one day at a time and to take everything into perspective that I did have a big change and that things weren't going the way I was wanting them to go, but how can I get out of it quicker? And how can I learn from this and just enjoy my life even more and not just dwell on the fact that my swimming was not going the way that I wanted it to.

And I would tell myself to just enjoy the little things in life. It’s something that I try to live by today.  I think I'm a lot happier and I just know myself better as a person, just because I appreciate okay, it's really beautiful out today. It's sunny. And maybe a lot of things aren't going right and I'm stressed and I have a lot going on in school or in life or anything, but you know what, I'm going to take some time to just enjoy the fact that the sun's out today. It sounds really weird and cheesy, but honestly I think that it's made me a lot happier and just enjoying my life a lot more. And I would tell myself, looking back, if things don't go the way you plan, which they probably won't because a lot of things in life don't go the way you plan or you want them to, that's okay. Just figure out how can you learn from the situation and how can you get to a place where you will be happier and enjoy the journey on the way there. No matter how stressed you are, there's things every day that you can enjoy. So I think I got stuck in the fact that my swimming wasn’t going very well, and that just made everything else seem a lot worse than it was.

Stef

So did you ever through those moments think about quitting? 

Abbey

So I was born in Southern California, moved to Sacramento when I was about six,  joined the parks and rec team when I was nine and didn't like it, moved back to Southern California just because of my dad's work. And that's when the only option was to join a club team. And I hated it. I didn't like going to Friday practices, Saturday practices. It was too much time for me. I didn't enjoy it. And I was like, you know what? This is not for me.  Then when I moved back to Southern California, I was like, I want to swim and the only option is club swimming. And my mom's like, well, I mean, if you want to, we'll do it, but you didn't like it last time.

And I joined and there was something pulling me back to swimming. I don't know what it was. I didn't like it until I started swimming year-round and committed to it.  Then I started to enjoy it.  Honestly, maybe I just needed that realization that I wanted to put in the work for it. And then I never thought about quitting college.

There was just something about it that I was like, you know what? I want to keep pushing. I want to keep trying, and I'm going to get out of this and I'm going to figure it out. And I think that some people's plateaus are longer than others and no matter who you are, you have one, but it could be a year, it could be two, could be five. But I think figuring out why you are struggling. Is it mental? Is it emotional? Is it physical? What's going on? And I think that learning to take a step back and finding, why do I love this?

What other things in life do I enjoy as well? What can I get out of it? And how do I find ways to get back to where I was before, where I was happy and enjoying swimming, like get back to where I was thriving? 

Stef

Thank you for sharing that. Let's talk about body, because we know that, as a female athlete, you can have a lot of pressure from society on what your body should look like. And as female athletes, we have different bodies because of how we train them, what we do to get them strong. So can you just share with us your journey through sport when it comes to your own body, did you ever have body image issues, and how did you work through those? 

Abbey

Definitely.  I think most females go through body image, especially nowadays, because you can scroll through Instagram or whatever platform you're on, and see beautiful girls who are advertised or popular on social media because of the way they look.

And not that that's a bad thing at all. I love social media. I think it's great to share your life with people. But it's hard not to compare yourself just because of the way that the world is right now and the way that it's progressed. And I think that I find myself still- and everyone I think goes through this- where you are scrolling or you see someone on the street even, and you're like, dang, they have the type of body that most people like. That is the type of body that gets you up on the social scale in life. And it's hard not to think that that's the proper way to look.

Athletic body types, I don't think are shamed. I don't think people look at an athletic body and go, Oh, that's a terrible body. An athletic body type is amazing and people get compliments for them. And it's like, you're definitely in shape. You're fit. I get told that all the time, Oh, you're a swimmer, right? And I'm like, yeah, how'd you know, and they're like the shoulders or you’re buff. And I'm like, "thanks I guess," instead of "thank you!" because  women aren't used to being told you look buff, or you look fit.

It’s not a normal compliment. It's not a normal body type to have. It's not something that the world is completely used to. And I think that's why some females start to be like, Oh, I don't want big arms or shoulders or big legs- which is okay if you don't want that but I think changing your body type, if you're an athlete especially, and not eating properly, because you don't want to gain muscle, or not doing enough weight because you don't want to gain muscle, I think that's not the mentality that you want because some females are afraid to look like they're athletic and some females are afraid to have the body type.

And so I have to tell myself, I'm an athlete. And it’s not the normal body type. Because not everyone can do what you do as an athlete. Not everyone can look the way you do, because they don't have the energy, the time or the motivation to do what you do as an athlete to look the way you do.

Just acknowledging the fact that you worked so hard to look the way you do. Your body is made to do amazing things that not everyone can do. And the fact that you look the way you do, no matter what it is, is because you can do so many things that normal people can't do. 

Stef

I love what you're saying, because it's really hard for anybody, whether you're an athlete or not, to not compare yourself with other people. Recognizing to step away from some of those things, or like you said, catch yourself when you are in those moments and try to shift your mentality. And that's where positive affirmations and just writing a few things down, is so critical. 

Abbey

I learned a lot of this from Teri, my coach, Teri McKeever on Cal women's swimming. We would say we have boxes. Your social life box, your swimming box and you have your school box, and how much energy can you put in each box?

No matter who you are, you have a certain amount of energy to spend socially, athletically,  nutritionally, anything, school, whatever it is.

And so, I think a lot of people spend too much energy in the emotional box. And it takes away from a lot of things throughout their day that they could be doing. And I think female athletes stressing about the way they look, stressing about what they're eating, if they're eating too much, if they're not eating enough- I think that kind of stress overflows that emotional box and all the energy goes into it and not a lot comes out of it. So, they have less energy to spend on their school and their social lives, and in their athletics.

And I think that there's so much more you could put into practice, put into your recovery, put into your nutrition, then just worrying about the way you look. I think that causes so much stress emotionally because you're just always worried about it. You're constantly scrolling through Instagram and being like, I don't look like that, or I'm so hungry and I didn't eat enough carbs today to perform, but I don't want to eat the carbs because I'm not going to look like this.

Just accepting the way you look personally and knowing that it’s because of the way that you perform as an athlete, allows you to do amazing things and just things that other people wish they could do. And I feel like people should want to look like us. Obviously, all body types are beautiful. And so being really thin and model-esque is beautiful and being athletic is beautiful, being curvy is beautiful, being anything is beautiful, but  people should have a respect, more of a respect for the way the athletes look because it just takes not only time and energy, but dedication and motivation and a lifestyle. It's a lifestyle. And being an athlete is a lifestyle.  It may not be the most common lifestyle at all, but it's a hard one. And I think that people should definitely learn to respect that a lot more. So, people accepting themselves is the beginning to that. That's how it's going to start. We can't expect people to love the way we look if we don't love the way we look. So, I think just putting out confidence for the way that we look is just the start of that. 

Stef

You said so many amazing things, but one thing that really stuck out to me was the boxes. I learned this actually later in my life,  when I was in a career at Nike, and instead of boxes, there were buckets, but the bucket was if you put a bunch of stuff in that bucket, and then is one of them leaking? You have to make sure that you have identified the right buckets for your life too. 

Abbey

Surrounding yourself with people that you want to be around or surrounding your social media with things that you want to see is really important. 

Stef

I think that's really great advice. Since this podcast is about untold stories, is there an untold story that you can share about your journey? 

Abbey

Females in sports, any female in general, can get caught in the emotional side of life and the emotional side of things that can affect their athletics all around. And like I said, freshman year of college, I was going through a lot emotionally. Even before I went to college, I spent a lot of energy on just other things that I was worried about outside of the pool. And I really honestly regret it. The way I looked, relationships was another huge one. I was in a relationship and it was just really stressful. A lot of things like that. Things that you look back and you're like, Oh, you're young, it's normal, but I think that's really important because spending emotional energy on things like a relationship, like the way you look every day, waking up and staring at yourself in the mirror every day and being like, Oh, this doesn't look right. Ugh, I'm bloated today. I need to not eat today then. It's okay to spend like emotional energy on things, but things like that when it's not doing you any good, I think really impacts your performance because you're constantly thinking about things during practice. You're constantly thinking about things when you wake up, when you go to bed at night, there's just always something that you're thinking about, and it's not helping your swimming because my emotional box is just overflowing the whole time. And I think I was very good at hiding the fact that I was really, really emotionally stressed all the time.

Before the Olympics, during the Olympics, after the Olympics, and I think I was pretty good at hiding it to the public. I hope.

(laughs)

But that is something that I really regret honestly, is putting so much energy into certain things that did not help me. And it's something that I learned from, and I think that my untold story would be that I was emotionally stressed all the time and I cried a lot. It just took a lot out of me and I didn't have full energy to do what I needed to do as an athlete. And that is part of the reason why I got the tattoo on my foot "always find your smile" because I just wanted out of the emotional stress and I just wanted something to always find happiness every day, no matter what it was, I'd find something that I enjoyed that day or was happy or thankful for that day.

And so I think that my tattoo. I guess you could say that is my untold story, because that is where it comes from. It’s on my foot, it says that, and I wouldn't obviously just sit there and tell the story to everyone who's like, what is your tattoo mean? And you're like, Oh, it just means like, enjoying the small things in life and like, yeah, okay, that's the truth, but the whole story behind it,because I spent years of my life emotionally stressed and worried and just everything that did not help me as a person, as an athlete, as a female, just anything. And so, I think that that would be my untold story and to learn from that. 

And I hope that any female going through anything that's emotionally stressing them out: The thing that helped me get out of that was just realizing that being your own person is really, really important and learning that who you are and what you decide to do in life is perfectly normal, and okay, as long as you are happy.  I think happiness is the most important thing in life, no matter what you're doing, you know, if doing something that not a lot of people approve of or understand is going to make you happy, go for it.

I think that's great.  If one of my friends starts doing something that I'm like, are you sure you want to do that? Something like that, I'm like, okay, as long as they seem genuinely happy if I know them well, I'm like, okay, good for you. You are happy. I support you 100% because I think that is beyond, beyond important, more important than swimming, more important than school, more important than anything is being happy. And I think that anyone should support anyone who's genuinely happy in their life. No matter what they're doing.

Stef

Thank you for sharing that because I think we can put a lot of stress on things when we're doing things maybe for other people or we're not checking in with, Hey, is this making me happy? And then that's when your emotional side can really get to a bad spot. It’s a great grounding that you've found and it's super inspiring.

We've covered a lot of amazing topics from body image to confidence, to the different boxes that you can create to better manage and balance your life. All really inspiring and great things to pass on to other female athletes. Let's end on the three questions I ask everybody. What superpower do you think you gained from sport? 

Abbey

I think that one of the superpowers that I gained from sport is confidence.  I think that I struggled to find it. I had it, I lost it. I struggled to find it. I gained it. I'm still gaining it, still learning from it.  I think that is  the superpower that I gained and how I will use it in life is just accepting myself every day for who I am and being confident in who I am, which will translate to whatever job I do, whoever I'm with, whoever I am around. And I think that that's really important.

Stef

That's what sport does! You are a young female who has this amazing perspective on life because you have been an athlete, so that's really inspiring to hear. 

Okay, what are three words you would use to describe your journey in sport as a female athlete? They do not all have to be positive. They just have to be real and honest. 

Abbey

I would describe it as unsteady, happy, and inspiring.

(background music starts)

Stef

When you think about your younger self, or the other girls out there playing sports, what would be one piece of advice you would pass on?  

Abbey

No matter who you are, what you're doing, be proud of who you are and don't be afraid to show it. Stand tall for who you are and for other females in sports, because no matter who you are, you have someone watching you and you have someone observing you and they're gonna look up to you, no matter what your age. I have people I look up to that are younger than me because of the confidence that they have. No matter who you are, someone could look up to you. And so, to stand tall and be proud of the way you look, who you are, what you're doing and to enjoy the journey all the way.

Stef

Thank you Abbey for your powerful words. We appreciate you for sharing your journey in sport, and for encouraging us all to embrace our bodies, find confidence within ourselves, and happiness in our sports. You can follow Abbey on instagram @abbeyweitzel. Please also subscribe to the Voice In Sport Podcast, and give us a rating. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok at @voiceinsport. And if you are interested in advocating for female athletes, check out how to join our community on voiceinsport.com and voiceinsportfoundation.org

Host: Stef Strack 

Producer: VIS Creators™ Liz Boyer & Anya Miller

Abbey Weitzel, Professional Swimmer and Olympian, describes her journey in sport as unsteady, happy, and inspiring. Abbey shares the ups and downs of her journey and provides a powerful perspective on body image, confidence, happiness, and balance.