Hansen is back in love with swimming

Dear swimming,

I am just not that into you anymore. As I stood on the block, looking down the lane for the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I found myself thinking: “Am I really still doing this? Am I really still swimming? Is this really all I have to show for myself?” So I do not want to see you anymore. No more days spent staring at the black line. I want my life back. Here are your goggles and your Speedos. And in this division of property, I’ll take my mornings and free time.

We’ll always have the good times,

Brendan Hansen

Of all of the relationships in Hansen’s life — his longtime girlfriend turned wife, his parents, his friends, his family — swimming may be his biggest. It certainly is the thing he has spent the most time with over the years. The monotony of swim training, miles and miles of back and forth, alone with your thoughts, staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool, requires a certain kind of monogamy. There is no casual relationship on the Olympic level.

“I was done with it,” Hansen said. “I wasn’t on the Internet looking to see what people are doing or how competitive I could be if I were still swimming. I was literally done with it.”

How does a relationship go this sour? How do any of them? It is with little disappointments and failed expectations and a big blow-up like Hansen had in Omaha in 2008.

When Hansen failed to qualify in the 200-meter breaststroke, his signature event, at the Olympic trials, it broke something in him. He was tired and fried and sad. And even though he qualified in the 100, he was not himself in Beijing. He was done.

He did all of the things people do when the love of your life goes away. He saw other people, the cousin whose birthday party he normally would have had to say no to, the second glass of wine he usually had to skip because he was training, the wedding he had never had time to plan, the thousand little moments he missed because he was in love with swimming.

And he enjoyed them all.

His involvement with swimming was in only the tiniest sliver of a way, teaching little kids to love that thing he no longer could. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with competitive swimming.

“And I think the fact I stepped away from the sport with the mindset of never coming back is why I came back,” Hansen said.

Dear swimming,

I got back in the pool today. It was for a triathlon, but I had fun.

Hope you are doing well,

BH

Three weeks after Beijing, Hansen arrived home without his car, which led to this conversation with his then-girlfriend.

“What is in the garage?”

“A road bike.”

“Why did you buy it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, where is your car?”

“I think I left it at the bike shop. I wanted to ride home.”

“You did what?”

“I rode the 35 miles.”

Martha Hansen was annoyed in the way only a spouse can get, a mix of “what the hell?” and knowing the answer because you know your spouse. Brendan Hansen might be able to walk away from swimming, but not challenge. He is not a potato-chips-on-the-couch kind of guy while watching “Man vs. Wild.” The bike eventually became triathlons.

Austin, Texas, is an anomaly unless you have been there. It is a liberal, hippy-ish, active community deep in the heart of this red state. And it has this thriving triathlon community that, of course, Hansen, promptly joined.

What he discovered was this wide range of people, from crazy competitive to just happy to finish, and all of them having fun.

“Nobody touches the wall, like they do here, and is frustrated because they didn’t do their best time,” Hansen said. “Everybody who crosses that finish line feels [they] accomplished something.”

The triathlon community is a soft landing spot for a lot of world championship-caliber swimmers, bikers and runners. It is another challenge for the challenge junkies. It is how Hansen and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong began hanging out. Hansen helps Lance with his starts from time to time.

“It was just so funny to me watching this guy trying to be perfect in the water,” Hansen said. “I told him, ‘Dude, it took me 30 years to be perfect in the water.’ ”

That struck him. Thirty years is a long time. You do not just walk away after 30 years.

Dear swimming,

I miss you. Is that weird to say?

Would you want to get together some time for a swim?

Miss you,

Brendan

Missing something and falling back in love with it are two very different things. They call it a breakup because it is broken, after all.

So it was not just diving in and picking back up where he left off in 2008.

“I don’t think I was all of a sudden giddy over it again,” Hansen said. “There was a process for me there.”

The first part of the process was getting suits and goggles and caps. Then he started swimming, tentatively at first. He was not swimming with a comeback in mind. Most days, he felt like he was getting to know the sport all over again. Everything felt different — the blocks, the turn, the start.

“Everything felt weird,” he said. “I had to reteach myself my mindset going to the blocks. I used to just be so automatic, and now things weren’t automatic anymore. That has been the part I had to respect with the comeback.”

He was just swimming until one day he wasn’t. He was training for an Olympics. It was not “I’ll try” or “50 percent.” He did not juggle training around the rest of his new life. It was not like before, yet it was love nonetheless.

“I think the fact I really wholeheartedly committed myself to giving this a shot and making a comeback was the reason that I fell in love with it again,” Hansen said.

Dear swimming,

Want to go to London with me?

Love,

Brendan

There are no guarantees for Hansen, even though he has been swimming fast. Eric Shanteau has been swimming fast, too, and trials typically deliver a kid nobody was expecting swimming his way into a spot many thought guaranteed for somebody else.

There is excitement among USA Swimming for Hansen, how he is looking and what he adds to the individual medley relay. There is also excitement from Hansen.

When he steps onto those blocks in Omaha, it will be with none of the questions that plagued him in Beijing. This is not all he has to show for himself. This is just the love of his life, and he feels he has been given a second chance.

“I think I am supposed to be here right now,” Hansen said. “I don’t want to get all crazy on you, but I just think this is the road I was supposed to take. I don’t know why, and I’m not really trying to figure it out. I just know right now this is where I want to be.”

Dear swimming,

Thanks for never giving up on us.

Love,

BH