By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, June 15, 2017
The reports (and videos) of Connor Jaeger’s struggle to find work last fall post-swimming were greatly exaggerated.
In fact, they were simply skits – advertisements – produced by Arena last fall to promote his transition from professional swimmer to professional post-swimmer.
“They were pretty funny, but I did get asked by several people who saw them if I was having a hard time finding a job,” he said with a laugh. “It did take me a couple of months to find one, but it wasn’t close to being like the ads.”
After finishing the Rio Games with a silver medal in the 1,500 freestyle – his first Olympic medal – Jaeger quickly returned to his New Jersey roots to live with his longtime girlfriend and former Michigan swimmer, Courtney Beidler, who had moved across the harbor to accept a position with a company in New York City.
By November, he had secured a job with Toll Brothers, a builder of single-family homes, as well as high-rise condos in Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey.
His position as a utility-type employee – a jack-of-all-trades – “shuffles around” filling in where needed, allowing him to use his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and master’s in management to assist with decision-making, big jobs out to subcontractors, put together budgets and ultimately get contracts signed.
“While I’m not involved with the designing of buildings, my education in engineering definitely helps with understanding how and why things work the way they do,” he said. “Having that background helps, and I can answer the question ‘Why does it happen this way?’”
After devoting the better part of the last decade to swimming – chasing after and realizing his Olympic dream last summer as well as four years earlier in London – Jaeger said he went through a brief transitional period last fall before landing his job.
During his job search after moving to New Jersey in September, he beat the pavement and worked his connections and name recognition to get the job with Toll Brothers.
While he had an idea of what he wanted, it didn’t take long for him to start to feel guilty for being home and occasionally catching up on Netflix while his girlfriend went to work.
“I felt an internal pressure to find something fast because I didn’t like not having something constructive to do every day, and we had an expensive lease in New Jersey to pay for,” said Jaeger, who won six medals at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Games during his career.
“In all honesty, I always put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be competitive, so I was prepared when it was time to get a job away from swimming. I did research for professors, did local internships (in Ann Arbor) and other things to be ready. I didn’t want to end my swimming career and suddenly not be ready for what was coming next.”
Now, many months removed from his last 15,000-yard practice – he still does clinics for the Fitter, Faster Tour when he can and swims regularly to stay in shape – Jaeger said if he struggles with anything it’s the idea that he’s missing something.
A practice. A meet. A lifting session. A media event. Whatever.
“When your days are as structured as mine were for as many years as they were, there is a definite sense or fear that I’m late for something or should be somewhere or doing something,” he said. “I still occasionally feel a sense of panic from time to time but then realize I can just relax.”
And while he made the decision to retire even before he took to the water for his final events in Rio – the 400 and 1,500 freestyles – Jaeger said it wasn’t an easy one.
Despite a long-distance relationship for more than a year while he lived and trained in Michigan and she lived and worked in Massachusetts, after Courtney moved to New York last year, Jaeger said he knew it was time to start the next phase of their lives together in the same city.
Being closer to his family – the first time on a permanent basis since he left to go to school and swim at Michigan – is also something he said he’s really enjoying.
With his pregnant sister just a couple hours away by train, he said he knows he will be able to be part of this baby’s life, and he’s excited about that as well.
“I considered continuing swimming for another year (through 2017), but I knew that would result in wanting to go for two more years or three more, and that kept us apart, and neither of us wanted that,” said Jaeger, who won silver in the 1,500 free at 2015 World Championships but went to Rio thinking his best medal opportunity was in the 400 free.
“Now, we’re together in the same city and enjoying our life together. I still struggle with missing swimming and especially racing – I loved racing – but it’s getting better every day. Knowing I get to see Courtney every day definitely lets me know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Will he miss being in the middle of all the action in two weeks at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – the first big meet he’ll miss since retiring?
Yes, but he’s not worried about the state of distance swimming among the U.S. men, as he’s expecting great swims from Conor Dwyer, Jordan Wilimovsky, Townley Haas, Clark Smith and Zane Grothe, among others.
And that’s not even counting the young swimmers who undoubtedly make a name for themselves at big meets like Nationals.
“I absolutely will miss being there, but not just because of the competition,” he said. “I will miss hanging out and laughing with my teammates, friends and competitors. I know I’ll miss the thrill of it all, but I’ll be following the action via live streaming on USA Swimming’s website.
“With the U.S. Open in Long Island later this summer, I’m excited to be so close, and I’m looking forward to going to a couple of days of events. I will always be connected to swimming, and I don’t want it any other way. It will always be part of who I am.”