Catching Up with Margaret Hoelzer
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When it comes to how far Margaret Hoelzer has come since she retired from competitive swimming three years ago, she describes herself as a patchwork quilt.
Many different pieces stitched together with little rhyme or reason but always with the best of intentions.
“The variety after so many years of such a rigid schedule is refreshing!” Hoelzer said. “I'm still doing swim clinics and motivational speaking as well as public speaking on sexual abuse. In Seattle, I have a retail job, and I also do private swim lessons.
“For the first two years, I was only doing clinics and public speaking so I was traveling quite a bit with just that. I did a really good job of extending trips and appearances to visit family and friends as well as just to see and visit some places. I've also made a concerted effort since retiring to try new things that I never had time for when I was swimming. My current favorite hobby is ballroom dancing.”
At the time of her retirement, Hoelzer was just a few years removed from the most successful stretch of her swimming career.
In 2007, she was crowned the FINA World Champion in the 200 backstroke, setting an American record in the process, and a year later at the 2008 Olympic Trials, she not only qualified for Beijing in both backstroke events but she won the 200 back and set a world record.
Heading to the Olympics, she was a strong favorite for gold, but to Hoelzer, a multiple All-American at Auburn University, she knew it was going to be a tough fight, particularly with former teammate and friend Kirsty Coventry.
Hoelzer said she went to Beijing not knowing what to expect, but the experience was better than anything she ever expected. Representing the United States proved to be among her greatest honors, and standing on the podium (she won two silver medals, one in the 200 back and one in the 400 medley relay, and a bronze in the 100 back) was the icing on the cake.
”Kirsty and I had been racing since we were freshmen in college back in 2001, so 2008, to be honest, was old hat for us,” Hoelzer said. “We swim very similar races both of us being back-half swimmers.
“I always love racing Kirsty because I know she's always going to go hard, and she's always fast and as a result she brings out the best in me. It's often a toss-up with the two of us as to who wins, and she happened to win at the Olympics. It was an amazing race and a lot of fun to be a part of!”
After her final race, Hoelzer took some time to herself but wasn’t sure what she wanted to do – retire or keep swimming --- so she did what came most naturally and instinctively and returned to the water while she figured things out.
What she discovered over time was that she was really content and at peace with her career and that she was excited for the future.
“I wanted to begin that versus waiting another two years till 2012,” Hoelzer said. “I certainly put a lot of thought into the decision – I never make decisions lightly. However, it wasn't hard. In general, whenever I have a tough decision to make, the right answer always has a way of appearing, and I truly believe that when the time is right, you know.”
While she gives private swim lessons in addition to her other activities these days, Hoelzer said she doesn’t foresee a future in coaching – at least not exclusively.
She said she enjoys staying connected to the sport, but her current passion is public speaking, especially when it comes to advocating for the rights and safety of children.
As someone who was sexually abused as a child, Hoelzer is always eager to speak about her own experience and warn others about the opportunity and signs for abuse.
“I hope to continue that (public speaking) in the future,” Hoelzer said. “I also hope to carry my public speaking on sexual abuse into a foundation to support the same cause. I'm currently the national spokesperson for the National Children's Advocacy Center. I hope to someday have a foundation that would be the fundraising arm for them and other advocacy centers across the nation.”
She also stays active in the sport by serving as the alternate AAC representative as well as a member of the USA Swimming Safe Sport committee.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, Hoelzer said she’s happy continuing to be an active member of the swimming community.
“I was involved with Safe Sport from the very beginning, which actually began to form in 2010 when I was still swimming,” she said. “If it weren't for the overlap with the fact that I was still a current swimmer, I'm not sure if I would have ever been involved or not. Not from a lack of desire – just more that I'm not sure I would have been in touch enough to know what was going on. Regardless I'm happy with how things have worked out.”