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Returning Member Profile - John Sullivan

After a 6-year hiatus, John Sullivan has returned to our team. What’s the story, you may ask? Well, it’s one worth telling.

John originally joined the Manatees 15 years ago to “learn how to swim,” so that he could do triathlons. John says that before joining the team, he could “tread water” and “make it to the other end of pool.” On his first day, Coach Brian was watching him swim (to see what lane he belonged in), but so too was the lifeguard who walked alone side him on deck “just in case they had to rescue me!”

Years before taking up swimming, John was a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers and the San Diego Chargers. Of playing in the NFL, John said, “It was an experience that I’m glad I had, but it wasn’t as much fun as playing in high school and college.” He knew it would be short term—“you know you have to come back to ordinary life”—and so he resisted any temptation of getting stuck in the bubble of the false life of being a professional athlete with the lifestyle, money, and access to so many things not available to most people.

After leaving the NFL, John briefly taught high school before returning to his alma mater at Cal to co-direct the Athletic Study Center for 17 years, which provided academic counseling and tutoring for all student athletes. He then became a health and fitness coach, and though semi-retired, he still has a handful of clients he works with each week.

John started swimming, in part, because, with the accumulation of wear and tear on his body—souvenirs of a football career that started at the age of 10—he knew his running days would not last forever. Swimming is about health,  fitness, and longevity: “It feels good on my body—you don’t get sore—my muscles and joints love it!” Now that John is a swimmer, he also wind-surfs and surfs regularly.

John likes the challenge of learning a new sport and being pushed out of his comfort zone, and between football and swimming, there’s no transferable skillset—no muscle memory whatsoever. Swimming was a whole new dynamic challenge to his nervous system. Whereas in football his assets were speed and power—“explosion on the field,” swimming is a sport that requires a learned skill, natural talent, and endurance.

One of John’s favorite swimming experiences was the Alcatraz swim, which he described as “pure enjoyment”: jumping into the middle of the ocean. Halfway through the swim, he stopped to tread water for a few minutes and just look around—a tad different than being on a football field with 50,000 screaming fans!

John likes the positive and supportive energy of the Manatees, the variation of swimmers, and he especially likes the coachs’ workouts, as well as their coaching styles and feedback, which John finds to be very valuable. He swims MWF.

Welcome back, John!