Q&A with Olympic Swimmer Brendan Hansen

By Kim Eagle – October 1, 2015
Photography by Brian FItzsimmons

I had the honor of interviewing Olympic swimmer Brendan Hansen this summer, and I wanted the focus to be about his life now. We already knew he was a rock star breaststroker with six Olympic medals to prove it, but what we didn’t know is how he is using his incredible mental drive to take his new career and passion to the next level.

Tell us about your wife and daughters:

I met my wife, Martha, freshman year at the University of Texas. We got married in 2010, and at that time I was not swimming competitively. A year into the marriage, we were watching NBC coverage and heard the Olympic theme song. My wife asked, “How does that make you feel?” My response was, “Well, it kind of makes me want to come back.”  And she said, “Then do it.”  It was very much her immediate support that helped me make the decision to compete in the 2012 Olympics. My wife was six months pregnant with my first daughter while we were in London. I now have two daughters (2 ½ years old and 11 months old). They keep me pretty busy!  

Do your girls swim?

They started swimming at 3-months-old for water safety. I really don’t care if they swim competitively. I preached water safety all the time before I had kids and wanted to show everyone that it was no different for my own children.

Who was your role model as an athlete?

Lance Armstrong. I read all of his books, and what fascinated me about him the most was his consistency. He didn’t just win one Tour de France! He went on to win seven! I knew I didn’t want to be No. 1 in the world for only one year. I wanted to be No. 1 in the world for a long time, and I ended up holding that rank for 12 years. I was always intrigued by athletes who were consistently good at their sport while being able to handle the ups, downs and emotional roller coasters that go along with it. 

Who is your role model in life?  

Hands down, it’s my parents. I pride myself on being the person I try to convince others to be. I try to preach to people, “You can do this” and “You have to believe it before anyone else can.” I came home every day to parents who taught me just that. I had a dad who busted his butt working for a company for 37 years. He supported my brother, sister and me by sacrificing everything to make sure our dreams came true. My mom was the same way. It’s hard to grow up in that atmosphere and not take on that same role. We forget how impressionable parents are to their kids, and my parents were the perfect combination of stern while teaching and also great supporters. 

Did you know what you wanted to do with your career after the Olympics?

No. It’s one of the hardest transitions I have ever made. I spent so much of my life working toward one thing, and then, when it was done, I basically had to start all over. As I begin a new career, I do have some important skills from the sport like work ethic, accountability, organization and time management, which all applies well to the workforce. But at the same time, while I was competing, my colleagues where getting more educated, earning master’s degrees and networking. In some ways I feel like I’m behind the eight ball, and yet I can open any door because of who I am, which is a huge benefit. So there are pluses and minuses to my situation.

How did you find your new career?

I floated around for eight months, not getting paid, and just easing my way through jobs I did not like very much. I kept getting drawn back to coaching kids for swimming. If you asked any of the National Team coaches six years ago, they would have said, “There is no way this guy is not going to be a coach.” I never perceived it this way, but they said at every training camp I was ever at, I was just as much a coach as an athlete on the deck. Three years ago I started coaching about 15 kids here in Austin, and it didn’t feel like work. I absolutely loved it and every kid got better. Fifteen kids became 100. One hundred turned into 300. And then I got the head position here at Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy (AASA).

Tell us about your new role at AASA.

I’m the general manager and the head swim coach of the club program. I manage the directors of all our groups and manage the entire swimming program. Anything that is done in the pool runs through me. It is very challenging with a lot of growth. But I have never met anyone who can out-work me. I pride myself that on those moments or days when everyone else would stop working, I make the choice to keep going. I feel like that’s what separated me from everyone else when I got on the blocks and raced against the world. And that is what’s going to separate this program from every other program out there; it’s being run by a person that can’t be out-worked.

Why is AASA such a good fit for you and what you believe in?

Patty and Kevin Thompson (the owners of AASA) wanted to build a sport facility to improve people’s lives. They want you to come here and leave here believing you are capable of doing anything. I did that my whole life even though I had more people tell me I wasn’t going to be an Olympian than people saying I could.  So when people come into AASA and say, “I can’t finish an Ironman” or “I can’t swim the length of the pool,” I see that as a challenge!  It’s my goal to make sure they leave here feeling they are one step closer to realizing they can in fact do it. Additionally, the people you train with support you just as much as the coaches. You can build an amazing facility, but if you don’t have the culture to back it up, it means nothing.  

When a child comes to you and says, “I want to be an Olympic swimmer,” what do you say?

I say, “Pace yourself.”  This is a marathon, not a sprint. The biggest mistake I see in the sport of swimming is a kid showing a ton of potential at the age of 10 to 12 years old, and then Mom, Dad, kid and coach all believing this kid is going to be the next Michael Phelps. Unfortunately, I have to tell the parents: 

“Your child is going to be the next Steve because your kid is named Steve. I didn’t break a world record until I was 24. I didn’t make my first Olympics until I was 22. I swam until I was 31. Your child is 11 years away from that time. For now, just support them 100 percent.”

Do you think you can watch a child swim and know if they have what it takes for the Olympics?

No. There are kids who are very good technically, but don’t have the mental strength to make it to that level. There are kids who are extremely mentally strong, but don’t have the talent. At a young age, you are only going to see one side of the coin. I was not as talented in the water, but I was extremely hard headed and worked harder than anyone else when I was young. By the time I was in my late teenage years, I realized technique was just as important. So I spent the next three years working on it, which matched my work ethic. That’s when I made it on the National Team and became No. 1 in the world. That’s all in the maturation of a child.  

Do you think anyone is capable of learning a new sport at any age?

Yes. I have swum with people in the Olympics who didn’t start swimming until 16 years old. There are kids that walk into AASA who are 12 years old, just starting out, and they think they are behind the curve. It’s just not true. It tells me they don’t have six years of bad habits we have to fix had they started at 6 years old. 

It’s really not how old you are when deciding to do a sport. I think the mind has a lot more to do with it than the body because the mind will quit well before the body. If you can tell yourself you can do something, you can do it. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to be better at his or her sport, what would it be?

Stay out of your comfort zone. If you approach a workout the same way you did the day before (or a season the same way you did before), expect the same results. 

What is your sport of choice other than swimming?

Hunting and fishing. I love being out in nature.

Favorite sport to watch on TV:

Hockey

What is your favorite movie of all time? 

Favorite inspirational movie: “Rudy.” Favorite comedy: “Tommy Boy.”

What is your favorite food?

Steak and potatoes

Favorite way to spend a day off? 

Family day. Doesn’t matter what we do as long as I’m with my family.

 

 
 

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