In this guest blog post, MySwimPro Ambassador Carly Folger-Bumgarner shares her lifelong connection to swimming, and how she has evolved and found happiness through open water swimming.

In August of 2020, I was welcomed into the MySwimPro Ambassador squad. I kind of had to pinch myself; it was a “why me?” scenario. The team has people going to the Olympics, people breaking records in swimming, people who have lost tons of weight swimming, people who have faced tremendous adversity, and then there’s me, Carly. 

I’m just a girl, in the southern part of the USA, who swims. I’m a mom, I enjoy my career and I run a lot. I also like pizza. That’s about it. Joining a group of swimmers like this was inspiring, but it has put me through tons of soul searching.

My biggest hero in the group is Sarah Bofinger. She’s such a light and is on the US Paralympic National Team. She is constantly helping others manifest greatness and has brought me to tears finding greatness in myself, through all the dark and scary and even the light and beautiful.

My other hero in the group embraces who she is with such power that I just find her magnifying. I have to watch her stories on Instagram several times in a row, and seem more like her stalker than her friend – but it’ll be okay. 

My Early Swimming Years

I started swimming at age 5. My mother got me involved with the local aquatic center after I went to the bottom of the pool at a party and didn’t come back up. Swim lessons led to swim team, which led to age group wins, medals, Junior Olympic qualifying times, 2-a-day workouts, elite team practice, diving teams, technique camps, the whole gamut. Swimming was my life. 

I was my team’s breaststroker. I owned that stroke — each graceful pull was powered by a strong whip kick. I slept, ate and lived breaststroke. 

I enjoyed my early years on swim team, but ultimately stayed on the team to make my parents happy. I wanted to be the best, hold myself to the highest level and just see them smile when I finished first in my heat and made it to the podium. And although I should have fond memories of swimming as a child, I honestly remember the times I tried to please others more than trying to find my own happiness.

High School Swimming

As I aged up, swimming became harder. I was still a good swimmer, but I was not training like I had in the past, lost my desire to chase qualifying times and just wanted to swim at the high school level. 

The high school swim team was so different. Some of the team could not even swim, some could not dive and many had never put on a competition suit. My coach had confidence I could lead the team in the 500 freestyle.  And although I had spent the last 10 years of my young life training, swimming and living at the pool, the thought of swimming 50 free terrified me, much less 500 yards. I showed up though, and swam 500 free. I wanted to make my coach happy. I was mortified to come in at the back of the heat and I really had a bad year on the team after that.

Branching Out

At age 16, I decided to scale back and try other things. I figured my swimming would never bring anyone happiness, since I was a has-been. I remember feeling deeply saddened that I was not who I once was, and struggled after I had stopped swimming. 

My family had moved overseas anyhow and I needed to just be a teenager. Over the next few years, I made friends, had fun, partied, tried different sports and just lived a lot. My dad and I rode our bikes around our city and nearby towns. I also got interested in running during that time and wanted to see the world on foot. 

Back in the Pool

Running brought me tremendous joy, tons of friendship and allowed me to see some beautiful places. I came back to swimming several times over my years of running to help with injury rehabilitation, and eventually decided it had to be a consistent part of my training plan. During this time in my life I was married, working and starting to have kids, so some days it just felt good to be in a pool.

Being back at the pool meant I met a whole host of new people: swim coaches, triathletes, Crossfitters and some guys training to be Navy SEALs. It gave me the opportunity to swim with others again. I showed up consistently and my swimming improved! 

I did a few sprint triathlons, and was a swimmer on a few triathlon teams. And yet, I wasn’t happy. I was just kind of doing what I thought was necessary to stay in shape. 

Finding Open Water Swimming

During this time, I found an adult swim team that was essentially just about five of us who swam together. They eventually joined a Masters Team, and that’s when I moved in another direction. But that’s a whole other beautiful story. After that, the leader of the adult swim team, Ed, and I swam together a lot. Ed seemed more like a father to me at times — my wonderful pool dad! Ed helped me realize that I could progress in swimming even as I got older, and introduced me to open water swimming one summer. And the rest is history!

The first time I swam in a lake, it brought back the terror of that 500 free from my teen years. We swam 500-800 yards between several docks until we hit a mile. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. 

The water was cool and dark. I couldn’t see or spot, and no one was above me critiquing each kick, each pull and each breath. I thought about that swim the rest of the summer. 

The next year, Ed and I went back, but to another lake. We met about once a week and did 1-2 miles each time. But it wasn’t enough. I had done my research and was interested in swimming 2.4 miles, so I knew I’d need more practice.

I enlisted my husband and father to be my pilots in the kayak. Over the next couple of years, I perfected the art of open water swimming. I trained like an athlete again, I swam with passion, I felt beautiful and strong and I was finally happy. Endurance swimming became my thing, and I ended up preferring swimming 10ks in our lake to very short distances. I was no longer in a position to make others happy. I found my own happiness and discovered that I was designed to be an open water swimmer. 

Made for Open Water

You see, I’ve never been a small girl. I’m tall, I am big-boned, I have strong legs and arms. As a child, I had coaches knocking food out of my hands before meets. I had people joking me about my big shoulders. I was made fun of for not being able to wear a certain size swimsuit. Swimming is not always the kindest sport. 

But when I found open water swimming, the lake washed away all that pain, all those feelings, and I was fierce. 

My Swimming Goals

With swimming distance comes a need to train, work on technique at the pool, and get stronger, faster, and more efficient. I started using the MySwimPro app to help me stay injury free. Right now I am training to swim something I’ve never swum before; I have a vision.

I’m hoping to swim across my hometown lake this year. It’ll be roughly a 15 mile swim. Only one person has done it, a young guy. So it’s my gift to myself for my 40th birthday!

In all my years of swimming, I have learned that happiness is a journey, not a destination. As my swim journey continues, I vow to always find happiness for myself, while sharing true joy with others. My swim story is a true reflection of who I am. Strong, fierce, sexy, and full of life.

Follow Carly’s swimming journey on Instagram at @carlyb_a_swimmer. Get 20% off MySwimPro ELITE COACH with code CARLY20 >

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