TP TALKS TO... Hali Flickinger

by Travelling Peach

Becoming a swimmer wasn’t a conscious decision. I played a bunch of sports when I was younger, I loved the social aspect and got to experience a lot, but swimming was definitely the one I leaned towards the most. I didn’t choose butterfly or freestyle, they chose me. I have hyperextension in the back of my knees so I can flex my legs more than most other people. My body is naturally built for those strokes so I was always better at them.

Swimming is such a great community. We travel all around the world and get to meet so many cool people. We might not always see each other very often or train together every day but we have friendships all over the world. It’s really cool. That’s definitely what keeps me going in the sport. Two of my favourite people are Elizabeth Baisel and Katie Meili. They’re both long-term veterans on Team USA and super funny.

‘Travelling, training camps in Croatia, exploring, snorkeling and learning about different cultures… swimming has given me so many cool adventures.
‘Not being able to say ‘No, I don’t have bombs in my carry-on’ nearly stopped me competing.’


One really embarrassing memory happened at Frankfurt Airport. I was travelling with a big group to Russia. Seemingly simple, but problem: I’m not very good with deciphering accents in other languages – I’m really bad. As we were boarding the plane, one of the hostesses was asking every passenger a question. She asked me the same question, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I didn’t want to reply to something if I didn’t know what I was committing myself to. It turns out she was asking me if I had any bombs in my carry-on. I wouldn’t answer the question so they weren’t going to let me onto the plane. Luckily, finally someone strategically bumped me and whispered what they were saying. They were saying it in English but it didn’t sound like English. I couldn’t understand at all.

I had such a sore throat one session. I was so sick that they quarantined me. I had to swim by myself in the diving well. Naturally, I wasn’t in a very good mood… I was sick, I was swimming, I was tired… As I came up to the wall, I saw this big black thing sitting on my bag. Taking a double take, I stared at it for a split-second and it was this huge tarantula. Like huge. I started yelling (and I mean full-on yelling), pushing back, pushing back, trying to get away. Then I noticed that the coaches were laughing at me, but I was terrified. It turns out they’d put a fake tarantula on my swim bag, just to make me smile because I was so sad and miserable, I wasn’t feeing good at all. I was really embarrassed. I’ve never… my heart rate was so high and everybody was laughing at my reaction. To me it was real. But, actually, it was so nice of them, to care enough to try to get a smile out of me.


  • SHOULDER STRENGTH is vital; you can’t swim a fast and powerful butterfly without it. To build strong shoulders, you need to perform regular weight training exercises. Rowing is brilliant too. If you can achieve that along with endurance, you’ll be a good butterfly swimmer.
  • ENDURANCE. When training for the 200m fly endurance the biggest factor. You have to be able to hold a heart rate for a long time, so you need to adapt your training to help. Lots of endurance work and a lot less sprinting. Drills are good too. I do a lot of sets where I’m constantly swimming long distances on short rests. Just going and going… that definitely helps.
  • YOGA. Most swimmers do yoga to improve their flexibility, but it has so many more benefits in terms of breathing, mindset, strength, body awareness and control.
  • CROSS TRAINING. When it’s warm outside, I love playing tennis and rowing, both are really good for developing core and shoulder strength. They really help to improve your whole performance and re-establish body balance by working different muscles that swimming doesn’t use. ??You can tell because you get sore in places that you never feel after swim training. When you’re swimming constantly, the same movements over and over again, you’re using the same muscles every time. It’s good to mix it up.

I’ve had tonsillitis almost constantly for 4 years now. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have any throat infection whilst swimming so basically my body was always shut down; I just had to fight through it. It is difficult to train like that though. Last year, I had my tonsils removed, hopefully that will help and I won’t get ill anymore, and it should make my swimming even stronger too.

‘How do you breathe? At university, I was doing exams and living with my friends. I thought I had a cold and was being a hypochondriac so I just pushed through. After about 3 weeks, I went to the doctors and they looked down my throat and said it was one of the worst cases they’d seen, but that was when I was recovering!! It was even worse before that. I couldn’t even swallow water. I can’t imagine how bad it must be having it all the time.’ I took a lot of anti-inflammatory medication and usually turned to warm liquid to soothe it; I was constantly drinking hot soups. Honestly, I just pushed through it. It’s so sad, but it was the only option.

It’s really weird but the tonsillitis only ever affected me on land. When I was swimming, it never hurt as much. I was constantly breathing cold air through my throat so it would almost become numb. Great for training, but afterwards, I really paid for it. It hurt so badly. It’s like when you play a long tennis session. You become really resilient, never realising how much your wrist hurts while you’re having fun, then afterwards you’re like ‘Omg! I think I just broke my wrist.’

How important the mind is in winning. It effects your performance in so many ways, whether you're winning or not honing in those skills can only be beneficial, not just in your race game but in how much you enjoy it.

  • YOU HAVE TO HAVE FUN IN ORDER TO SUCCEED IN THIS SPORT. I’m still learning this but I wish I’d mastered it when I was younger. When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to get caught up and put pressure on yourself to push harder. But that doesn’t work. If you make swimming fun and you have fun, everything will fall into place and good things will come.
  • MENTAL GAIN IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS PHYSICAL. One of the biggest things anybody can learn is that mental gain is just as strong as physical. You could have the best strength, the best stroke, but if you’re missing that little piece of mental strength, nothing else matters. It’s such a big part of this sport, and in life generally. As long as I keep having fun, eventually I think I’ll be able to overcome it but it’s a work in progress. I’m working with a sport psychologist again now but I should never have stopped in the first place. I’d really recommend it to any young swimmer.
  • I STILL STRUGGLE TO PSYCH MYSELF UP PRE-RACE. I’m still learning to do this. It’s quite upsetting because I know how much better I’d be if I could master it, but I try to think positively. It’s cool to think that once I do, the things I’m able to do well now are going to become incredible. Right now, I get kind of nervous, not a lot, but more stressed out than anything. I think too much about the outcome instead of just giving it my all and being satisfied with that. I’m almost never satisfied after racing, but I’m working on it. 



HIDE YOUR LINGERIE. When you’re changing at a swim meet, always put your underwear somewhere that it can’t fall out when you’re walking across the poolside. Somewhere secure like inside your pocket or the zipper part of your bag. The number of times someone has dropped their underwear on the poolside… haha.

KEEP YOUR EYEBROWS. USE VASELINE. Applying Vaseline on your eyebrows will protect them from the chlorine killing them. It sounds strange but it works.

... AND DON’T ALWAYS LISTEN TO EVERYTHING THE ‘DIET EXPERTS’ SAY. There are so many rules. People say ‘you have to eat this, you have to eat that… dessert is bad…’ In my (and my nutritionist’s) opinion, it’s not. Everybody is different. As a swimmer, dessert and treats are not bad for you, even if you’re at a swim meet. You burn so many calories that you’ll be just fine, so long as you’re eating a balanced diet. We have a local ice cream place called Handel’s in Pennsylvania and they have the best cotton candy ice cream that I’ve ever had. It’s a rainbow colour and you can’t find it anywhere else. It’s sooo good.

I have fun swimming against anybody, especially my teammates, but Elizabeth Baisel is my absolute all-time favourite. Outside of swimming, I’d love to play tennis with Serena Williams. I know she’d probably kill me with a tennis ball when she serves, but it would be really cool. 

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