I met Stephanie at the start of another very busy day in her role as a Speedo Ambassador for a masterclass at Talise Fitness, Mina A’Salam in Dubai, followed by the most amazing healthy breakfast I’ve ever had at Talise Café, coordinated by Chef Gabi.
The former Olympic swimmer was here for the final leg of the 2015 Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup 2015 last weekend where Speedo sponsored Olympic gold medalist swimmers such as Missy Franklin and Nathan Adrian who were not only competing for an attractive prize purse, but also gunning to make qualifying times for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
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Stephanie began swimming at a local club in Durham at the age of 5. Her father had been a competitive swimmer in his youth. Her first major competition was for the Great Britain junior team when she was 12 and she went on to win 9 medals at the European Junior championships. As a senior, Stephanie was a finalist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a semi-finalist at the 2011 World Championships. Stephanie also competed in the 2009 World University Games in Belgrade where she won the gold medal. At 18, Stephanie moved to the United States where she trained at the University of Florida for the 2012 London Olympics at which she proudly achieved 9th place (by a fraction of a second) in front of a home crowd.
Stephanie continued her life in Florida and obtained her master’s degree from the University of Florida. While studying she coached at Gator Swim Club working primarily with junior competitive swimmers between the ages of 14-18. Stephanie was also the assistant team manager for the Florida Gators swimming and diving teams.
Stephanie began working at Speedo International in January 2015. An athlete’s career at the top is a short one, particularly so for swimmers – Stephanie retired from competitive swimming at the age of 24 – so I was interested to hear about her new role with Speedo.
Q. As a competitive swimmer your day would have been dominated by some 5 hours in the pool. Did you do any other complementary fitness training?
Swimming is a very demanding sport training-wise. It takes a lot out of you physically, emotionally and mentally. You have to commit 100% to what you are doing which means making sacrifices in your social life. I also did 3 hours per week of strength work and 3 hours per week general fitness work which could consist of abs and running.
Q. How did you make the transition into retirement?
I knew London would be my last race, I had decided that months beforehand and felt “at peace” with it. I completely stopped swimming for a long period of time before deciding to go back to swimming 3 times a week. That was something I needed to do because I wanted to not because I had to. What I do now is light fitness and nowhere near the intensity of training.
Q. An athlete’s career at the top is short. What made you decide that this was the job for you and how were you chosen?
In order to have a NCAA* scholarship you have to be considered an amateur swimmer so cannot be supported by a sponsor. Having said this my university was a Speedo sponsored team. I became interested in the business side of sport in the lead up to the London Olympic Games. After the Olympics I decided to pursue a Masters in Business Management and I did some volunteering in the athletic marketing department at my university. Sports marketing ended up being such a great fit for me as the “on deck” aspect allowed me to use the experience and knowledge I had gained as a swimmer.
Q. What sort of things are you involved in throughout the year in your role as a Speedo ambassador?
I like to see myself as a link between the athletes and the brand, I support from an “on deck” point which means being physically present at many major meets. When I travel I try and see at least one cool thing in each city: that way you remember more than just the swimming. I’m lucky enough to have met people from all over the world during my travels to I enjoy catching up with friends all over the world. Other roles include speaking: for example, the Masters Conference is at the end of this month and I’m going to talk about my experience as a swimmer and hopefully how to stay in the sport once you have transitioned to professional life.
Q. What would a typical day as an ambassador be like?
Every day is different. When I’m in the office we are planning ahead for the upcoming meets and making sure our sponsored teams and swimmers are getting what they need. There’s lots of travel involved also. During the busy racing season it’s like a new country every week, networking with potential markets and swimmers and seeding products and receiving feedback. As I mentioned before I have lots of friends all over the world so I try as best as I can to catch up with them in my free time.
Q. What do you do to relax?
I like to be outdoors. I like hiking and walks more than being in a gym. To make up from all the travelling I sleep A LOT when I’m home.
Q. Do you have any advice for parents of talented swimmers? Is there a route they should be following to get the best chance for their child?
Let the kids be kids, they’re supposed to really enjoy what they’re doing. Supporting unconditionally is the best thing they can do, just saying “I love to watch you swim” can go such a long way. Finding a great coach is paramount: I’m so lucky to have worked with a string of excellent coaches that I am still close to.
* The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a non-profit association which regulates athletes of 1,281 institutions; conferences; organizations; and individuals. It also organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and helps more than 450,000 college student-athletes who compete annually in college sports.