By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, January 11, 2018
After spending the better part of her young life in the pool and focused on swimming, Felicia Lee believed she would have some time to herself after retiring in 2016.
But it’s been quite the contrary for the Stanford graduate and long-time U.S. National Team member.
If anything, her post-swimming life has been as much if not more of an active adventure than when she was traveling the world for competitions.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Shortly after retiring, I moved up from Palo Alto to San Francisco and started my current job as a healthcare consultant,” she said. “It’s been a fun year of working as a consultant, but I actually just accepted a job offer at a healthcare startup in more of a business and clinical development role, so I’ll be transitioning to that in the next few weeks.
“Other than that, my personal life has been crazy. There is just so much to do in and around the city, so if I’m in town for the weekend, I’m usually out and about exploring and trying new things that I didn’t get a chance to do while swimming.”
Without swimming taking up the majority of her time – not that she didn’t love every minute of it – Lee said she also has made time to pick up a number of hobbies and activities like photography, playing the ukulele, surfing, hiking, wake surfing and skiing. She’s also interested in finding some volunteering opportunities to give back to the community.
Known to her friends in and out of the swimming world as Flee, she said she has taken some time since 2016 Olympic Trials – her final meet – to reflect on her swimming career and how it unfolded, both the good and the not-so-good.
And while she admits she was disappointed with the way her career ended, the more she thinks about it all, the more she realizes that the moments that made swimming special to her had nothing do to with individual results at all.
“Sure those (results), of course, were nice, but I left the sport with a lot more than I realized: a strong sense of self, work ethic and go-get it attitude, priceless memories in a countless number of states and countries around the world, and above all, friendships that are unlike anything else,” she said.
“In the last month, I’ve seen and dropped in on some amazing people I’ve met through the sport of swimming. From skiing in Breckenridge with a crew comprised of former Stanford and Bluefish swimmers, to welcoming Emma Reaney home from being abroad for a year, with Laura Sogar in Brooklyn, and just this past weekend I was in Chicago for work so I got to catch up with Dan Madwed and Frank Dyer. No matter where I go, I’m almost certain I have someone to catch up with over a cup of coffee or explore their new town with. It’s an amazing thing.”
Leading up to her final Trials, Lee said she arrived in Omaha with a much different perspective than she had at past Trials.
With it being her final meet, she was able to relax and enjoy the experience, interact and laugh with friends and family and make a ton of memories that she’ll carry with her wherever life takes her.
She said she wanted to compete in this last Trials, even though she knew it would be difficult to make the Olympic team, because she didn't want to leave the sport with any regrets.
“I felt like I’ve learned and accomplished a lot within the sport, but obviously wanted to give it one more shot for the Olympic team,” said Lee, who competed in four events at Trials, finishing 15th in the 100 fly for her best performance. “By setting a timeline for my retirement, I could focus all of my effort and attention toward 2016, knowing that there would be a hard stopping point.
“Everything I’ve done, good or bad, resulted in a teaching moment and has altered the way I approach my life. There are no failures to be had if there’s something you can take from each moment.”
A member of several U.S. international teams – the 2011 and 2015 World University Games, 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and 2014 Short Course World Championships – Lee said she was always honored to “step up” and represent Team USA on the world stage.
And even though she wishes she would have had the opportunity to compete for her country at the Olympics, Lee said there is something else that she wishes she would have had more time to do while she was competing – and now knows she can.
“I wish I had the opportunity to give more back to the swimming community,” said Lee, a 19-time All-American at Stanford, winning the NCAA title in the 100 fly, 200 and 400 medley relays, and 200 and 400 freestyle relays her senior year to be honored with the Honda Sports Award, presented to the “best of the best in college athletics.”
“When I turned pro, I was still finishing up school and then it was an Olympic year - so there was never that right time to focus on how I can help the sport continue to grow and progress with the next generation. I got an opportunity while I was mentoring the National Junior Team at the World Cups, but I still wish I had more time to make a bigger impact of giving back to the community that I grew up within.”
Regardless, after weathering early expectations after winning her first National title at 13, Lee said she looks back on her swimming life with no regrets and nothing but fond memories and great friendships she knows will stay with her indefinitely.
“I’ve been so thankful and grateful to have a sport like swimming in my life,” she said. “Through the sport, I’ve learned so much about myself – how I operate, what it means to work hard and set goals, how to be not only a good leader, but a great teammate and how to be confident in any situation.
“Swimming’s given me opportunities to travel around the world to see and experience different cultures with my best friends; taught me the importance of being healthy and staying fit throughout life; shown me the kindness of our close-knit swim community; given me an outlet to let my competitiveness go; and given me the chance to teach and inspire the next generation. It was truly a journey of a lifetime and everything I could have ever hoped for. I wish everyone could have this experience. It’s a journey that will be with me forever.”