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How to Be an Elite Athlete

Practice didn’t change much even during the racing season, except there would be more time to work on technical aspects, such as flip turns or starts, to get as much of an edge as possible before a meet.

But if that wasn’t enough, Bailar’s biggest source of stress during the school year came from his focus outside of school and swimming: his advocacy. He said he gave more than 100 speeches between coming out in 2014 and his graduation in 2019, most requiring travel during the offseason. This meant he had to balance staying in shape on the road, keeping on top of his school work, eating healthy, and fighting for his rights.

Anchoring this whole routine, activism included, was sleeping well.

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“I think the biggest thing that all people in college, no matter who you are, need to take care of is sleep, I don’t think you need to be an athlete for that to be important,” Bailar said. “But if you’re an athlete, it’s that much more important. I don’t say that from a place of actually having the greatest sleep schedule, but I did my best, you know.”

Also, an athlete needs to take care of what goes into their body by eating well. That doesn’t mean that you have to control everything you eat obsessively, he said, especially because of the “toxic diet culture” out there. Eating what you feel is best for you is one of the best things an athlete can do.

“I think for an endurance athlete, like myself, it was about making sure I was getting enough, so not missing my meals,” Bailar said. “It was really important, listening to my hunger cues and making sure that I was eating when I was hungry, and just being mindful of what I ate.”

Now, Bailar said he works out to stay in shape, but also to do activities he thinks are fun and enjoyable. That includes biking and other activities such as calisthenics.

“I spent 18 years competing and being an elite level athlete, and I think it’s really nice to chill,” he said. “To be able to just kind of do athletics as a practice of self, if you will, and a connection with the body, as opposed to trying to push the body to the extremes. But, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t push things as I still try to push things. Because it’s fun to do that too.”

Looking back on those elite years, Bailar notes how unique his experience was — but wishes it weren’t that way.

“I am very lucky and very privileged and unique … to be able to even have that opportunity as a transgender athlete,” he said. “And I shouldn’t be lucky, I should not be unique. It shouldn’t be a privilege to be able to compete in a sport that you can compete in if you’re trans.”

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