Nick Egan knew he wouldn’t be an Olympic swimmer, but was still serious in his training and competed at the Division III level at Amherst College. Though he knew he would transition to the real world after graduating, he still struggled with the loss of social circle that were his teammates, a lack of daily structure, and most of all finding inspiration for consistent exercise when he wasn’t training for something specific. Done with swimming, he is still searching for an activity that sparks the same fire.
How did you get into swimming?
I got into swimming at four or five, and it started when I walked into a pool at three and freaked my mom out. She decided it would be a good idea if I learned how to swim. I have always been competitive, so I wanted to join a summer team. I started year-around club swimming at 10, and at that point I was one of the top swimmers in the nation. I continued club through high school until college.
Did you swim for your high school team as well?
I went to De La Salle High School in Concord, CA, which has gained national attention for its record-breaking 150+ game winning streak in football. I competed in high school, and supplemented training with my club team, the Terrapins. I trained with the national club team, but was really on the cusp of competing at a national level. I was a top club and high school swimmer, but not top in the nation at that point. In high school I realized the Olympics were not a reasonable expectation, but I remained dedicated and trained twice a day all year round.
Were you recruited by Amherst College?
I was recruited by a lot of lower tier Division I schools. Many of the top schools in California have exceptional swimming programs, and as a junior in high school I wasn’t heavily recruited by the Berkeleys or Stanfords. I reached out to a number of Division III schools that had good swim teams and also balanced with premier academics. I didn’t see a long-term career in competing at a high level after college, and knew I would transition on to the real world. I wanted to keep that in the back of my mind. I couldn’t see life without swimming, but I wanted the balance. Eventually I took a bunch of trips and met with many coaches and teams. Amherst is in Massachusetts, and I hadn’t spent a lot of time on the East Coast. I figured it was a good time to explore a new part of the country. The coach, Nick Nichols, seemed like a good fit for me, and it all fell into place.
What was your college experience like?
What first came to mind my first year on the East Coast was adjusting to the seasons, especially the cold. The good thing is you are swimming indoors. Even if you are up at 5:00 am in the pool, you aren’t actually swimming in 20-degree weather. Overall it was an interesting challenge to walk to the pool with snow on the ground. The four years at Amherst stand out as a memorable time. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of incredible people, and I felt supported to excel in classwork along with improving swim performance. I came away with a great feeling about the school itself – coaches, professors, administrators, and classmates. I became close with professors that I still communicate regularly to this day as mentors.
I continued to get faster each year. I was as serious as you can be while balancing a rigorous course load, and was elected Captain my senior year.
There are some differences between Division I and Division III. One is that the DIII season isn’t as long. I appreciate that it lends to athletes that are there to swim, not because they were paid, but because they wanted to compete for the love of the sport. I also felt like I was able to compete and contribute. If I had tried to walk on at a top tier school, I would have had an uphill battle. I was a part of the team from the start and had the opportunity to get better under a fantastic coach while balancing other pursuits.
Why do you feel like you didn’t reach your full potential as a swimmer?
I think if I weighed more time on the sport, I could have achieved faster times – but the cost would have been a sacrifice of other parts of my life, namely my academic and social life. Like any athlete I definitely still made sacrifices on those two fronts, but I think they were the right decisions to make in terms of my desired personal balance. It all worked out, so I don’t regret how I chose to allocate my focus during those four years.
Was your retirement after your senior year?
I knew that the conclusion of my college career would be an endpoint to competitive swimming. Because I was not facing a professional route going forward, I had the opportunity to think about what was next.
How did you feel when it came to an end?
During the senior, ceremonial ending to my career, some teammates were exceedingly emotional, although I didn’t feel as strong of a mixture of emotions. I was ready to have a little more freedom. Everything ended pretty well in terms of results, and I was happy with the trajectory of the team, culminating with a strong finish in the NCAA DIII Championships. When the season ended, it was pretty much the end of the school year, so it was a hustle to graduate and move on at that point. I had a job lined up in banking, so I flew to San Francisco. Because I blended the team and school together — I lived with swimmers, ate with swimmers, they were my social circle — the endpoint was more when we all spread out around the country. That felt like the end of an era.
Was the most difficult part of the transition for you losing the social connection to your teammates?
100 percent. As much as you stay in contact, you aren’t around each other day-to-day. That was harder for me than transitioning out of high school or anything else. I had a full social life in college, so it was harder to leave that behind. The other big change was going from competing and training every day with direction and formal guidance, to the real world where my time wasn’t really managed by anyone other than myself. My college coach was not just my coach but my mentor and leader. In San Francisco, it was my first time living alone without parents or someone I looked up to checking in. Without that, what is directing you? How do you get feedback? You have a boss, but they have their own job to do. In my case, I was the youngest in the group I was working with. My boss wasn’t going to give me daily or weekly feedback. You were just expected to do your job, and you don’t really know if you are doing it well. You may be in a team, but suddenly your work isn’t that valued. Plus you are at the bottom of the ladder and have to put in the time again. It’s a reset.
Also, my work hours were 8:00 am to 6:00 pm or thereabouts, but I still had a ton of energy and no one telling me to go to the pool or gym. I had nothing to train for and no competition or end point. A lot of negatives come with that. At first I was excited to go out and be social, travel and maintain a job that wasn’t as rigorous as being a student athlete. But eventually that led to sub-performance. Even in school I would do better in classes mentally when I was in-season versus out because of having that schedule and mandatory exercise. It’s so hard not having something to train for. I didn’t want to go to the gym with guys who weren’t former athletes, so I just rebelled in a way and didn’t go at all. Luckily after training twice per day for many years, I could afford it and didn’t suffer in an outwardly visible way.
Were you able to figure out how to incorporate activity back into your lifestyle?
In San Francisco, I made an effort to join The Olympic Club there and then found something called The Dolphin Club, which is open water swimming and rowing club at Fisherman’s Warf. There I found a group of people who were active and doing things that were amazing, pushing themselves even when they weren’t always nationally recognized (though some are). Then my job took me down to Los Angeles. LA was like going to the East Coast in some ways — I didn’t have many connections. I haven’t been able to find anything comparable to those groups, so I think that I am definitely still struggling with finding reasons to be active. It’s really easy to go to happy hour instead of working out because it falls under the excuse of networking. I tried to go to a gym for a year and do the Equinox thing, but maybe it’s just LA — I feel like people are going there to dress up and look at each other. It’s not my scene. I haven’t been able to find a community or something consistent. So I’ll go for a run four to five days a week and do some push ups. I would guess that in 10 to 15 years it won’t be sustainable.
Do you swim any more?
I have no interest in swimming laps in a pool any more. I’m over that, so I’m looking for that next thing, like surfing or mountain biking. Finding that has not been easy, especially when you have other things to prioritize. I think there is a level of guilt that adds to my stress level, like I’m wasting my physical prime. Starting and maintaining something is probably the hardest part. Maybe it’s because I haven’t found the right group of people. The lack of exercise effects how I feel, and I can tell I don’t have the endorphins or that mental stimulation from steady exercise. I’m not over the hump yet, it’s not even about being at the top of something, but finding that community feel again.
Do you find it hard to try new activities?
I feel like there is such a gap in how to translate from a swimmer to other things. For example, there really isn’t a connection between swimming and baseball, whereas maybe a land sport would be an easier transition. I would like to get back on the soccer field, but there is definitely a difference in coordination and trying to get back into it at that level that feels daunting. The hard part is I’m not that interested in something that is so relatable to swimming, but I also don’t want to join a team where athletes aren’t serious about competing. I wish there were leagues or groups where you were a former elite athlete in something but want to try something different.
Do you feel like your athletic experience prepared you for a career in banking?
A lot of my peers got into finance and consulting after college. It was always a competition to see who could get the most prestigious jobs. But in college you don’t know the real world, you just know you need to survive. Then you realize you don’t even know what possibilities are out there. My dad was in banking, so I went with it, and started out as an analyst. Suddenly I was in a job I thought I wanted to do, but I’m sitting in front of excel spreadsheets on a computer and writing up reports all day. I’ve never been that good at just being alone. Although swimming is sort of a solitary sport in your own space, you still have teammates who are constantly there for motivation.
How did that lead to you becoming a Relationship Manager?
Starting out as an analyst allowed me to learn the basics. I stuck with it and tried to connect with the guys ahead of me or above me on the business development side.
Now I work in private banking and my clients are smaller business owners and professionals. My relationships and connections are the actual owners and CEOs. I knew I wanted to do something that was more personal or ground roots. I didn’t want to become a cog in the machine, like doing a $500 million deal for a large corporation. For me, when you are working with smaller companies, it’s a balance of finance with empowering individuals and people that maybe aren’t flashy and working on Wall Street, but they are still incredibly successful. It fits with why I was drawn to Amherst’s small school and team. I find value in smaller organizations. What I’m still figuring out after being in the post-college world for five years is what I want my overall career to look like. I’ve been following the road of being more connected to people.
Do you feel you would have done anything differently?
In retrospect it’s possible for me to point to things I would do a lot differently, but as it relates to my swim career, part of me wants to say I should have focused on finding something stimulating to replace the loss of an organized team post-career. I feel so much better, mentally and everything, even running 15 minutes in the morning. Now I’m out of breath after a mile or two, when before I could swim three to four miles in a workout. I would have put more effort into finding something physical to balance out and stabilize the day-to-day.
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