When swimming becomes too much

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Burnout affecting Oldham swim teams

By Jason Stamm

Every weekday during the school year, North Oldham High School senior Canyon Tullis wakes up at 5 a.m. After breakfast, he drives to the Club at Paramont Estates for swim practice.

“Swimming takes up a lot of time and it’s not easy,” Tullis said. “You really have to be dedicated to do it.”

This season, Tullis is an anomaly. He’s the only senior boy swimming on any of the three Oldham high school teams.

After spending hours each week in the chlorine for years, North Oldham had a few would-be senior swimmers that chose not to come back. The same happened at South Oldham and Oldham County high schools.

Burnout, or being overwhelmed, from swimming is forcing more swimmers out of the water each year.

South Oldham junior Jared Ashcraft experienced burnout this summer. Ashcraft swims the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle year-round for the Dragons and for the Cardinal Aquatics club team. He swam for the Shelby Sharks club team until switching teams in July.

Ashcraft said he grew tired of swimming 20 hours per week and not having a social life. Many swimmers also work as lifeguards or teach swim lessons during the summer.

Ashcraft said he felt burned out for a month and a half during the summer, but kept swimming. He said he got to where he hated to go to swim practice.

“For something that you do at least 20 hours out of the week, it’s gotta be something you enjoy,” he said.

Ashcraft said he talked about his burnout with his parents and decided he wasn’t ready to quit swimming. He said the Shelby Sharks also discussed it as a team, to help others who might have been feeling the same as Ashcraft.

“It was really a mental thing that if you let it get to you, it will and it’ll destroy the sport for you,” Ashcraft said.

Swimming isn’t the only sport prone to athlete burnout, but to North Oldham coach Kris Krohn, it’s the most prevalent. He attributes burnout to swimming’s year-round competition, creating a constant, physical toll with little or no recovery time.

“After many years of getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to swim practice, kids get burned out and tired of it,” he said. “Over the course of several years, the grind just wears on these kids.”

South Oldham coach Christine O’Rourke said the individualization of swimming is also a factor in burnout.

“It’s much easier if you’re 16 to lose your event, but (see) your friend have his personal best that day,” she said.

Nate Knopf, assistant coach for Lakeside Seahawks swim club in Louisville, said swimmers can overwork themselves, but that many who quit are tired of being passed up.

“Burnout isn’t a function of, ‘I swim too much,’” Knopf said. “It’s a function of, ‘I’m not as good as I once was.’”

North Oldham freshman Lauren Miller and eighth grader Asia Seidt and South Oldham sophomore Chris Fitch swim for the Seahawks.

Knopf said the Seahawks don’t have a large problem with burnout. He said he increases the swimmers’ workload as they continue through his program each year.

To some swimmers, the Oldham County Piranhas, a recreational summer team, is an alternative. Piranhas president Mary Esterle said her team gives kids a place to swim in a social environment.

“A lot of times, the younger kids, they’re spending so much time in the water that they don’t have time for anything else,” Esterle said. “They get tired of it by the time they get older.”

Former North Oldham swimmer Kaitlin Howard, who graduated in May and now attends WKU, said she came close to burnout from swimming year-round for Triton Swimming of Louisville and the Lady Mustangs.

Howard swam competitively in butterfly and distance freestyle events from fourth grade to her freshman year at North Oldham.

As a freshman, she developed tendinitis in her left shoulder from overuse. Howard stopped swimming for Triton, but swam with pain through her senior year and now only swims on occasion.

“You don’t really have a life outside of swimming and school,” she said. “I know a lot of people stop because of that. You just lose heart.”

Oldham County coach Michael Williams is actively recruiting for his swim teams. He’s focused on Oldham County’s cross country teams because runners usually have the endurance needed for swimming.

Williams, who said he experienced burnout as a high school athlete, gives his swimmers flexibility for their practice schedule.

Oldham County has eight swim practices and two weight training sessions at the Oldham County YMCA weekly.
Each swimmer must attend at least one weight training session and four swim practices weekly.

South Oldham, which shares the YMCA pool in Buckner with Oldham County, has team activities, such as bonfires and team meals to help swimmers balance their focus on swimming and resting.

Krohn said he’s seen swimmers burn out in each of his three years as North Oldham coach. He encourages his swimmers to play other sports in addition to swimming, but sometimes that doesn’t help.

“It’s nothing that you can put your finger on,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just, ‘I’ve been swimming since I was 6 and I’m done swimming. My shoulders can’t do it anymore.’ It’s no one thing, not a new trend.”

Tullis, one of the Mustangs’ two captains, said he organizes captain’s practices when possible on Saturdays. The team will practice relays, listen to music and hang out at Paramont’s pool.

Before the season, Tullis said he felt close to burnout. He weighed the pros and cons of why he should swim and decided to stick with it since he doesn’t plan to swim in college.

“It’s really up to you, whatever you feel like you should do best in a year,” Tullis said. “For me, I’m not gonna swim in college and so this is my last year to swim for a team, so I wanna take advantage of that.”

Email us about this story at: sports@oldhamera.com.