We dive into #powerwomenwednesday 2018 strong with World Champion swimmer Jennie Johansson. From small town roots to catapulting to success seemingly overnight, Jennie talks behind-the-scenes of living and breathing the life of a professional athlete, and shares golden advice on success versus failure that we can all learn from.
Tell us a little bit about your story and what you are doing now?
I’m 29 years old, born and raised in Hedemora, Dalarna and moved to Stockholm in 2013. I get to work with something that I love every day, and that is swimming. I’m a swimmer who likes to swim fast, short, and preferably breaststroke. I started swimming when I was 10 years old and made my debut on the national team at the age of 21. People probably recognise me from my surprise win at the World Championships in 2015. It has been a hectic few years since then, with Olympics 2016 and another World Champs this previous summer. After worlds this year I decided to put some focus on my career outside the pool while still training every day, just trying to figure out if, and how I want to proceed with my swimming career.
You started taking swimming competitively seriously at age seventeen. Did you always want to be a professional athlete or did you have completely different aspirations when you were growing up?
Growing up in a small country town, swimming was just something I did as a hobby after school for a long time. School was always my first priority. When I was 17, I won my first junior national title while only training 4 times/week. That’s when I realised I had talent for swimming, so I made the decision to really give it a go. I moved out of home at the age of 18 to pursue my dreams of being a professional athlete!
What is the toughest aspect of being an elite athlete that people don’t know about?
People only see us on TV when it’s time for the bigger championships. They don’t get to follow us on the daily struggle towards these championships. Being a professional athlete is not like working 8-5 office hours, we work 24 hours a day. The “grind” and aspects of our regiments that we must do every day is not glamorous. But people only see results and then judge us based upon those; not based on our character, or what we had to do just to get into those championships to begin with. I also believe that there is a misconception that the life of an elite athlete is glamorous as we are able to make huge amounts of money. The truth is, not many athletes can live off their sport and for me, knowing this, makes it even more impressive.
In professional sports, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. In times of failure, how do you find the motivation to keep going?
It depends on what we define as “winning”. To me winning has many factors, winning means moving forward and is part of the process of working towards your bigger goals. Failure is only failure if you learned nothing. It helps us to adjust and readjust and make things better.
Of course it can be frustrating to not reach your potential or to not reach your goals, but that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t always strive to achieve their best.
What do you consider to be your biggest personal achievement to date, in or out of the pool?
I wouldn’t have won a World Championship title if I didn’t keep working hard and believing in what I was doing was right. I’m proud that I’ve always stayed honest with myself and stood up for my rights. This has guided me to personal success both in and out of the pool.
In professional sports, do you think it is an equal playing field for female and male athletes?
In general I think no, but in swimming I think yes. Swimming is great when it comes to equality and including everyone, newborn or old, beginner or professional, male or female. In swimming we train together, both men and women, and I think that we have an equal amount of attention both in and out of the pool. The bigger problem in swimming is that we don’t get as much attention from the public eye even if swimming is one of the biggest sports in the Olympics.
You are now pursuing a career in marketing communications. What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited that I get to combine my expertise, my contacts and what I’ve learned in sport together with my education. Perhaps the most important aspect is that I’m getting to work with something that I am passionate about. Striving towards new goals outside of the pool is also pretty exciting.
As a public figure with many young fans, what is the most valuable piece of advice you would give them?
Being elite is not a title, but a behaviour. Ask yourself “Could I have done this any better?” and more often than not, the answer is “no” and the more honest you can be when answering that question, the greater success you will have. Swimming has brought me a wealth of experience, and it is not the medals that have meant the most to me, it’s everything outside the pool. Being able to participate in sport will bring and teach you things in life that you will be grateful for forever!
Do you have a role model, a source of inspiration?
I try to find motivation from many people and I find that I have a lot of people surrounding me that inspire me every day. It can be from my partner, my friends, my training partners and my work colleagues. Most of all, I would say I get my motivation from my parents. They have shaped me to the person that I am today and I’m very proud of that!
What goals have you set for yourself ten years down the road?
I hope that I have a happy and healthy family, I’m working with something that I feel passionate about, and that I’ve swapped my city-apartment to a house in the country.