An Olympic Swimmer Afraid of Swimming

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Summer of 2017. Vacationing with the whole extended fam. Two days in, I realized I was days away from swimming in my first open water event. As the guest Olympian.

Two decades of competitive swimming. Not once with goggles in open water. ‍


This realization hit me when I was 30 yards off shore and fell threw the mesh netting in the middle of the float I was sitting on with my girls. 

Holding it together on the outside so they wouldn’t get freaked out; on the inside: I. Was. FREAKING. Out.

An Olympic gold medalist swimmer afraid of swimming.

Cue, all things Imposter. 


At dinner that night, I mentioned the open water swim to my big brother. The one who got me into this whole swimming scene in the first place. Tomorrow morning, he said. Let’s do it.

Truth? I didn’t sleep that night. My mind was racing with a million reasons why I wouldn’t be able to do it. He’d have none of it.

Did I mention he’s an AMAZING teacher?

While I fidgeted with my goggles and my whole body CoNVuLseD, he started singing songs and cracking jokes.

Reassuring me that I could do this. That he’d be right there. That we didn’t have to go far. Just try it, he said.

So, I did.

Those two littles watching the entire ordeal go down from the dock. Their big sister too.

They started to chime in:


J shouting, ‘I know it’s hard. You can do hard things mom, remember?’ M adding, ‘you’re capable.’

My body convulsing so hard, I heard them but couldn’t respond.


Of the unknown.

Of not knowing what was below me.

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As soon as the water got dark, I felt my body panicking. Full blown flight mode; I wanted OUT.

And, I kept going. Stroke for stroke. With my big brother. At times, flipping to my back to B R E A T H E.

Doing the hardest shit: Riding the waves of a full blown trigger.

Because, I was tired of being afraid of the water. 

Because, I want to swim in open water with my girls. 

Because, I was tired of fear and anxiety standing my way.

The first day we made it 100 yards out and back. The next day, longer. And by our final swim, my body was able to relax.  I was feeling pretty proud at the end of our last swim, UnTiL he asked me to drop down and touch the bottom. 

Me: 🤮‍♀️

And, I did it anyway.

Partly because I love a challenge. Partly because I had just proved to myself that this moving toward thing works. And partly because, big brother. 

The first time I touched I flew back up to the surface freaking out.

The bottom felt SLIMY. 

He encouraged me to go back down again and look around with WONDER.

And on the third trip down, something shifted in me. While my feet were touching the slimy-darkness that is the lake bottom stuff,

I let myself feel the sensation without judging it. 

HOLY. Sh!t. It felt…


Turning toward fear takes an enormous amount of courage - so does asking for and receiving help.

Turning toward fear takes an enormous amount of courage - so does asking for and receiving help.



I still get jittery in open water, even two years later. The darkness. The unknown.

The fear still comes roaring in. Nauseous stomach. Jittery hands. Dry mouth. Racing mind.

The difference now is that the fear doesn’t get to drive - which means the inner critic and Imposter lose their grip too.

That’s freedom to me. 


A coach + courage + new tools, skills and supports willingness to try = powerful, life changing transformation. 

My hand is out. Doors to Rise Free Academy are open. Private spots too. 

You ready?? 

I’ve got you.


My 1:1 High-Performance Coaching + 1:1 Wholehearted Coaching offerings can be found over here. To learn more about the Rise Free Academy, head over here. Right now, I’m offering 20% savings on enrollment in the Academy - use promo code RISEFREE at checkout!! If you aren’t sure which would be a better fit and/or you want to connect to see if we’d be a good fit, head over here to set up a free, 30 minute strategy call.



Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, high-performance coach and consultant, transformational speaker, educator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC. and the Rise Free Academy - inspiring, empowering and equipping athletes, coaches and women who lead with the skills they need to cultivate high-performance - to achieve AND feel fulfilled along the way. 

In addition to private and group coaching, Samantha consults with teams and organizations on athlete wellness, Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE), leadership, courage building, rising skills and creating high-performance environments. 

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. To learn more about her offerings, go over to