By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, September 28, 2017
It’s been a life-changing – and defining – year since the swimming world last saw and heard from Jimmy Feigen.
You know the story. He and three other U.S. Olympic teammates were involved in an incident at a gas station in Rio during the Olympics. He was detained at the airport before he was eventually allowed to return to the United States after making a contribution to a Rio nonprofit
Now, more than 12 months since that event, Feigen has put everything behind him and is focused on something unrelated to swimming but important to his future career path.
“It was a scary time for me, absolutely,” he said. “It taught me the meaning of family. They were there for me through thick and thin. I also learned that the media rarely gives the full story. It prefers the sensationalized view of things. People still get surprised when they hear that guns were drawn or that Jack (Conger), Gunnar (Bentz) and I committed no acts of vandalism or that not one of us even entered a bathroom.
“The biggest lesson I learned though was to know your rights in a situation; don’t sit back and rely on others to serve your interests. Find your rights, find your interests and conduct yourself accordingly. Sometimes silence is the best answer, and sometimes it is not. I still may grapple with deciphering which situation calls for which approach, but I definitely have a better idea after Rio.”
While understandably traumatic for Feigen, his legal experience in Rio prompted him to take a career step he had considered in the past but took the leap toward shortly after returning to the states.
He returned to his hometown of San Antonio and enrolled in the law school at St. Mary’s University – and he’s excited to be “drinking from the hose,” so to speak.
“I’ve always been interested in the law but found a real strong tie to it from everything that happened in Rio,” he said. “I learned there are always two sides to the story, and it’s a fundamental part of the American judicial system to hear those sides.
“I want to advocate for those sides by giving them a voice and avenue to be heard. Criminal defense is the law I’m leaning toward now but law school is a long process.”
Another step he took upon returning from Rio was taking a break from swimming.
Even with a four-month suspension keeping him from competing, Feigen said he entertained the idea of stepping away from the pool but was “wishy washy” about retiring after the Olympics.
He was scheduled to compete in the 50 and 100 freestyle events earlier this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships but pulled out of the competition a couple weeks before the meet.
He decided to retire shortly after that.
“I was entertaining swimming there (Nationals) but decided against it due to lack of preparation and injury,” Feigen said. “It was getting harder and harder to stay not only motivated but also competitive in the sport. These new kids are fast and I look forward to watching them carry on the legacy of USA Swimming dominance.”
Feigen said despite not having competed at Nationals, he did follow Team USA’s performance at FINA World Championships and was “ecstatic” to see USA Swimming excel in Budapest.
It brought back great memories of his own swimming success and experiences – highlighted by two Olympics and two World Championship (long and short course) teams as well as an array of gold, silver and bronze medals.
This led him to reflect fondly on his own long, successful career, which ultimately ended with a 400 freestyle relay gold medal in Rio.
“I went further than I had ever dreamed in the sport,” said Feigen, an All-American swimmer at the University of Texas. “The great memories are not ones you would expect.
“The travel, the medals, the prestige that came with being a part of the USA team was awe inspiring, but the best memories were sitting with my friends in the hotel room in Croatia, Australia or China and bonding with my teammates. The USA team is a family, and I feel the connection with those teammates will survive when all the material items that come with it fade.”
As for his swims at Olympic Trials and the Olympics last summer, Feigen, the 2013 silver medalist in the 100 freestyle at Worlds in Barcelona, said he was happy with his performance considering the adversity he went through between 2013 and 2016.
In 2014, his father was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (a disorder in the brain causing fluid to build up that required surgery), and Feigen took it pretty hard and lost focus for a large part of the year.
He also had injuries in 2015 that hurt his performance – tearing his Sartorius (the long, thin, superficial muscle that runs down the length of the thigh) and rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles) while jumping down some stairs a month away from Nationals.
“Overcoming that adversity to be able to participate in an Olympics with some of the most outstanding athletes on Earth was humbling and rewarding,” he said. “I would have loved to have served a more prominent role but am satisfied just being a part of it all.
“It was a little different (at 2016 Olympics) because I felt like a veteran but still knew there was a lot to learn. Both Games were no more or less magical; they each come as a unique, fulfilling experiences. I will look back on both Games fondly, not just for the value, but for the experience as a whole.”
And despite being just 28, Feigen said he knows he’s done with competitive swimming, although he still enjoys the occasional clinic where he can help influence the future Olympians, “unknowingly breaking down the barriers to become something special in the sport.”
He insists there’s no chance of a comeback for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I will absolutely not be making any sort of comeback,” he said. “I’m trying to move on from swimming and seeing what other talents I might have. Swimming has been my life for so long and I’ve loved it. The swimming community as a whole has been like a family to me. No words can describe my gratitude for all the experiences, memories, and friendships this family has given me.
“But it’s time for me to discover new things and use the numerous goals and attributes swimming has taught me to develop my life in other areas I have not had the opportunity to explore. The guys and girls in the pool today working toward that far-off goal of being an Olympian are better than I could ever hope to be. I’m positive swimming is in good hands.”