In this guest blog post, MySwimPro Ambassador and elite masters swimmer Ildiko Szekely shares her swimming story, and how moving from her home country of Hungary to the United States helped her gain a new outlook on the sport.
Growing Up in Hungary
I was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, while the country was still under the Communist Regime. I began swimming when I was three years old. At age five, I was competing.
At age 14, my coach told me I would never amount to anything in swimming, so I might as well quit. That was the mentality of athletics in Hungary: weaning out the weak by pushing them beyond their physical limits, amid emotional and physical abuse.
Moving to the United States
I was incredibly fortunate to be sponsored to come to the US at age 17. I went from living in Budapest with limited knowledge of English, to attending one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the US. I arrived with one suitcase and absolutely minimal English.
I kept swimming, and was recruited to swim at Michigan State University, where I double majored in International Relations and Psychology. After graduating, I moved to California and pursued a Master’s Degree in Education from UC Berkeley. I thought the best way to give back to the country that gave me so much was to become a teacher. I went on to teach at a public high school in California and then at a boarding school in Massachusetts.
Now, I work with students with learning disabilities and ADHD at Boston College. In my spare time, I continue to swim competitively with New England Masters and write. I wrote a book called ‘Unattached’, in which I reflect on growing up and swimming in Hungary and the split worlds of the US and Hungary.
A Love for Swimming
My coach ended up being correct: I was not an Olympic swimmer, but I learned that success is not just an Olympic medal. My love of the sport is rooted deeper: I am 40 now, and still fervently love swimming. I was one of the lucky athletes who was able to come to the US and learn to approach swimming with a different mentality.
Swimming keeps me healthy and fit, allows me to travel and has helped me forge incredible friendships with other swimmers who are always pushing me beyond my limits.
These days, I have been focused on promoting swimming, especially butterfly, to masters swimmers on my Instagram. And, I’ve been chasing an ever elusive age group world record these past 5 years.
While my Hungarian coach would deem that insignificant, the chase, work, failures, successes, tears and laughter of this long journey is worth everything to me. So, bring it. One day, I’ll reach my goal… or die trying. 🙂
My Tips for Swimmers
- Focus on the Details: As Mary T. Meagher, the legendary butterfly-er, said, “success is ordinary.” It is all in the details: the daily hard work you put in that allows you to reach your goals. So always work on one thing every day!
- Yardage is not Everything: Focus on quality over quantity in your workouts.
- Switch it Up: Most swimmers are stuck in freestyle. Swimming other strokes will help your freestyle!
- Challenge Yourself: Don’t be afraid to move up a lane and go on a faster interval. Getting out of your comfort zone is crucial!
- Don’t Neglect Your Drills: Going back to basics will help your technique. Even as basic as floating! 🙂
- Don’t be Afraid to Fail: Always try the impossible. Be it a 200 fly or a 3-mile race. Failure is the best teacher.