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Swimming Against the Tide

28 May 2021
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As a competitive high-school swimmer, Hannah Morgan found herself choosing between her sport and her wellbeing. A couple of years later, the lessons she learned then helped her swim 130km across Foveaux Strait.

When I was a competitive swimmer at high school, I struggled quite a bit. I felt lonely a lot of the time, because I was the oldest female swimmer at 14. I was uncomfortable being the role model for the younger kids. Things compounded when I injured my shoulder.

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Hannah Morgan

I was constantly feeling pressure to do these amazing things that my shoulder wouldn’t let me do. My friends were doing teenage things and I just didn’t know how to balance everything; I didn’t know how to say no to some things and yes to others. I would often come home quite upset after swimming.

I know now I needed a different type of support system. For me, I really connect with my emotions. There was support there – it’s just what worked for me wasn’t necessarily what worked for others. Sometimes, individuality gets lost in sport.

So, I quit competitive swimming. Looking back now, I think I recognised the important thing was my mind and wellbeing rather than achieving the Olympics.

I remember feeling that it was a relief because I wasn’t going to have to deal with really heavy emotions anymore. Though mum helped me with some of the decisions, all the deeper things she let me work out myself. That was really important because if I found myself in that situation again, I wouldn’t know what to do had I not connected the dots myself.

I will always admire my mum. She is the most incredible person I have ever met.

When I was 20 (2017), I decided to swim Foveaux Strait. We had lost one of our good friends to a suspected suicide that year. I was sick of watching my friends struggling and not knowing where to go or what to do. I had just rediscovered swimming and how much it meant to my wellbeing. So, I thought I would combine it with raising awareness of mental health by swimming across Foveaux Strait. I don’t think my mum was very happy when I told her!

About two hours into my 10-hour swim I got really badly seasick. I wasn’t holding any fuel or food and it was freezing cold and the waves were terrible. I felt really alone, even though I had support swimmers. I struggled, knowing that I had to keep on going. I am so very lucky and grateful my support crew were able to turn that around and change my fuel method to stop me from vomiting.

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I ended up raising $30,000 in total, and half went to the Mental Health Foundation and the rest to the Otago University Students’ Association.

It was very humbling when I was asked to speak to high schools afterwards about mental health. Mental health felt like a taboo subject when I was in school, so it seemed like a huge step forward. I told students they are the most important thing in their lives. If something doesn’t feel right, re-evaluate what is happening.

I am about to graduate from studying law and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and politics. Already people are saying, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’ I think everyone is feeling pressure to answer that question. People are going into jobs because they think they have to save for their future and the reality is that they do, but then there is even more pressure. You’ve just got to move with yourself and realise everyone is different. So, I’m going to Mexico City to finish my degree and we’ll see what happens from there.

Happiness for me now is waking up in the morning and just having clarity. To enjoy walking on the beach and be surrounded by people who truly add value to me. I’m a simple life type of girl. I like the small things rather than competition and achievement. I like this inner-being kind of stuff. And it’s not necessarily profound stuff either. It is just being aware and enjoying it, instead of forcing myself to be other places which don’t fit me.

As told to Shelley Robinson

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