By Michael Sun
Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson knew it was time to let her career go.
The 24 year-old Ottawa swimmer had been through many ups and downs. Seltenreich-Hodgson represented Canada at the 2016 Olympic Games and won medals at the international and was dominant in five years with the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds.
She had also battled a bout of depression as well as a chronic shoulder injury that she couldn’t shake. Before this summer’s Pan American Games, she decided it would be her last competition and followed through, retiring.
“I was ready,” Seltenreich-Hodgson said. “I think I had spent so much of my life working towards one specific goal – swimming – that I never allowed myself to consider the things outside of it.”
Saying her injury was “a huge part” of her retirement, she also realized she had other goals in life that could only be achieved out of the pool.
Seltenreich-Hodgson built an identity as a swimmer starting as a 10-year old, when she dreamed of going to the Olympics.
“My mom taught me a lot about teaching myself goals,” she said.
What transpired for the Nepean native was the development of her drive and hard-working spirit that was propelled by her competitive nature. She said her competitive nature stemmed from losing a race where she considered herself the favourite at 13 years old.
Later, at UBC, she achieved accolades including U Sports (then CIS) Rookie of the Year and Swimmer of the Year. She also won a collection of more than 30 medals at the university level.
It was in her second year with the Thunderbirds when she hit a wall in the form of depression.
“That was the first time I had such a difficult and negative spin on swimming,” Seltenreich-Hodgson noted. “I stopped loving racing, I didn’t like going to practice. I lost a lot of love for most aspects of my life.”
What remained was her drive to follow through with her routines, keeping her on a pace to achieve the goal she set for herself at 10.
“I never missed a workout. I did everything I needed to do,” she said. “I didn’t like it though, so I think I almost actually quit swimming.”
At the time, she said her work ethic was both a positive and a negative.
“In some ways, that was good because I still maintained my training through that time but it was also not good because it really created this unhealthy environment for me and even more dislike for the pool,” she said.
Seltenreich-Hodgson remembers having panic attacks during workouts in part because she was pushing her body to its limits. She unknowingly contributed to her negative feelings with deprecating self-talks.
“I think I internalized a lot of the symptoms I was having as a failure to myself,” she said.
It wasn’t until she spoke with a therapist that Seltenreich-Hodgson could put a name to what she had been feeling. From then, she developed coping strategies.
“In order to deal with that, I had to catch it right at the beginning, recognize the thoughts that I was having were a little bit too negative and also not fair to myself,” she noted.
She did a listing game in her head – listing five of something – to take her mind off of negative beliefs. Recovery for her meant doing a lot of self-reflection.
“In my path to recovery, I rediscovered a lot of things about myself but I also learned more and I’ve become a person I am really proud of and happy to be right now,” Seltenreich-Hodgson added. She said she learned how resilient she was, which is part of what she’s passed along to others going through the same thing since, in an attempt to help.
The resiliency she developed was tested when a nagging injury began bothering her after the 2016 Olympics. She referred to her shoulder problem as an “overuse injury.” It continued to bother her and more-so than ever in the last year had to continually modify her training.
“That was a very very difficult thing, to not be able to move cohesively with the group,” she said. “I always prided myself on getting through everything.”
Seltenreich-Hodgson continued to endure the pain of rehab and treatment. She hadn’t questioned whether her next major goal – making the 2020 Olympics – was worth it until this year. Her injury continued to get worse with no sign of fully healing, she said.
“I probably waited a little bit longer than I should have to retire, if we’re being completely honest just based on the injury alone,” she said. “But it was worth it.”
What she realized during an outdoor meet this summer was that some of the love she had for swimming had also been zapped.
“There was no drive and I realized it in that moment that I was feeling that way and then while, I was realizing that, I realized that I had also felt like that for several months,” Seltenreich-Hodgson said.
Once Seltenreich-Hodgson made her decision in June that the Pan Am games would be her last event, she started to reflect on her career. She said she was happy about everything she had accomplished and was also content with retiring.
In her last race at the Pan Am Games Seltenreich-Hodgson placed 6th in the women’s 200m individual medley. The moment after – one she shared with her mother – may last as more memorable. They embraced in the stands, where the hugged and cried.
“I had so much fun at the Pan Am Games this summer,” she said. “It was the perfect end meet for me. Everything was fantastic.”