Siobhan-Marie O’Connor’s Life Skill: Swimming Through Life Challenges with Positivity
Olympic swimmer Siobhan-Marie O’Connor may have retired, but the mentality she developed from a lifetime of swimming remains engrained within her DNA. Learning to swim was a life skill that not only produced one of GB’s most successful swimmers but also developed an inner belief that despite the challenges in life, with a vision and a positive mindset, any obstacle can be overcome.
A common concern for any parent is to ensure their child is safe in water and hence encourage them to undertake swimming lessons. However, little did Siobhan’s parents know that these early lessons would lay the foundations for a trailblazing career as one of Britain’s best female swimmers.
As Siobhan herself admits: “when I think back, it genuinely feels like a dream comes true. I started swimming when I was a little kid, I loved being in the water and before I knew it, it was my job. I was very lucky that I found the talent for it”.
Hobby to a Profession: The Turning Point at 14 Years Old
Siobhan was only 14 when she was promoted to the Senior Programme at Bath, one of the country’s top swimming institutions and dedicated to supporting professional swimmers. “The coach took a chance on me. From there I definitely made the most of it, having access to great coaching, gym work, and all the facilities, it was basically the turning point on how it has all started”, she remembers.
At 16 years old, when most of her classmates were studying for their GCSEs, Siobhan had qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games – an incredible achievement to say the least. As the youngest swimmer on the GB Team, it would have been easy for her to feel sadness at missing out on these formative years of education with her school friends, however, Siobhan has no regret over her decision to continue swimming: “I never really saw it as missing out as I was able to experience so many things that I would have never come across otherwise – it was such an amazing experience to go to London 2012 that it never actually crossed my mind. It was definitely a choice and was never hard to do.”
Positive Outlook on Her Decision to Retire
Siobhan’s strong sense of self-awareness and positivity played a crucial role in her decision to retire and focus on her health. Just after London 2012 and aged 16, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This invisible illness weakened Siobhan’s immune system with the symptoms getting worse as the years passed. However, it was during the pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo Games that led Siobhan to self-reflect and recognise that perhaps the time had come to move on from swimming. “As an athlete, you know that at some point you will retire, but I thought it would be a lot further in the future. I thought I’d have another couple of more years, my goal was to compete in Tokyo and then finish with the Commonwealth Games as I just imagined it’d be an amazing way of ending the journey. I definitely retired earlier than I wanted to, because of my health”, she admits. Nevertheless, Siobhan has no regret as she knows that she maximised every opportunity that she was given, enabling her to move on from competitive swimming with pride and a track record of being an Olympic medalist, a World, European, and Commonwealth Champion, as well as a former world record holder.
Reflecting on her achievements, she recognises that the considerable skills gained through competition are now part of her identity. Moreover, she now aims to use these same skills as she refocuses and set her new career target. “When you retire, it is a tough time, you go through a lot of different emotions and mixed feelings, but you have to keep looking at what you achieved, and you have to be proud of it. I remember sitting down with my coach when I retired, and we were looking back and thinking how did we do that!? That was the first time when I really paused and looked I what I achieved because before it was constantly about looking at what was next”, she recognises.
Adaptability, Resilience & Teamwork: A Trio Engrained Forever
The ability to adapt and be resilient is the number one skill Siobhan has developed through her time swimming at a high level. Her health condition forced her to constantly push herself by adapting and doing things differently from her teammates and more importantly learning to take the positive out of any situation; “just because I had to do it differently, it did not mean that I cannot reach my objectives, it just meant that I had to adapt, work it away or around it to push forward toward my goals. I overcame so many hurdles because I was able to stay positive and learn from every sort of setback”, she recalls.
Swimming is often viewed as an individual sport, but at the elite level, this is a huge misconception as there is always a team behind each swimmer. You train as a squad experiencing the ups and downs of elite sport, and then go into battle competing under the same flag. “The strong bond you develop with your team is a real force. You train at a very intense level 6 to 8 hours a day, you travel around the world, meaning that you see people at their best but also at their worst, learning to understand your team in such a deep way that you can get the best out of each other”, explains Siobhan.
Opportunity for Every Athlete - Building A Bright & Exciting Future
Siobhan’s personality is naturally inclined to openness and kindness. Her family and friends would describe her as an enthusiastic person, always keen and positive, as well as energetic and friendly. Those personality traits are not surprising and probably act as the cornerstone and the basis of what it entails to perform at a high level.
Her life mantra is “Be Kind. Be kind to people and see the good in everything”, while her work mantra comes from her Dad telling her “the more you put in the more you get out of it”, which has always proved to be true through her years of swimming.
Being aware of your transferable skillset is the very first step toward a successful career transition. When combining this knowledge with a positive mindset, one will embrace the journey and trust what the future holds. Siobhan perfectly concludes; “I’m the most proud of what I’ve accomplished, which is ingrained in me and will always be. I’ve got all those transferable skills that I know would fit really well in the corporate world. I now want to find a career path I enjoy and challenges me in a different way, where I would feel confident that I can still achieve something new”.