Why 2 Former Swimmers Are Bringing ‘Swimming World’ Back to Print

Swimming is having a moment. Last year there was “Nyad,” the true-story drama that earned Oscar nominations for Jodie Foster and Annette Bening. This month there’s “Young Woman and the Sea,” an inspirational Disney drama about the first woman to swim the English Channel. And of course this summer, there’s the Olympics.

Every four years, millions of eyes are locked on the Summer Olympics and, in particular, swimming, one of the Games’ most popular events. It’s a fact that hasn’t been lost on the new owners of Swimming World, the legacy print magazine-turned-website-turned-print magazine (again).

Jack Hallahan and Steve Hasty aren’t the unlikeliest duo to take over a magazine about swimming and transform it into something that is simultaneously a throwback and brand new. Both former professional swimmers, the two connected through the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, the organization that controlled Swimming World and that hoped to revive it in some capacity.

Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame didn’t have the resources to bring a physical magazine back, but Hallahan and Hasty did. The pair joined forces under the banner H2 Media and sent the Hall of Fame an offer that was readily accepted. The acquisition of the magazine became official in January, and then the two truly set about their mission: to transform a decades-old swimming magazine into something that could extend beyond the borders of a pool for decades to come.

Swimming World was what Hallahan described as “only an online experience” when he and Hasty acquired the magazine at the beginning of the year. This was due in large part to the hit media outlets suffered during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; we were all at home, but we weren’t exactly buying magazines and newspapers.

On top of that, swimming itself completely shut down. Unlike some professional sports that found ways to keep the game going, competitive swimming can’t happen if swimmers need to be socially distant from one another. After all, a pool only has so much space.

“What we saw was an ability to again reimagine Swimming World and bring the print experience back, but make it more meaningful,” Hallahan said. The last time a physical copy of Swimming World was available it was published “monthly or maybe bi-monthly” he added, and “what we recognized is that it’s better to do special editions.”

The result was a 76-page glossy magazine that was “immediately accepted and received in the swimming community — almost lauded. People were like, ‘Oh, thank God, Swimming World is back’ and it looks better than ever.”

The pair want to do more than bring back a beloved magazine that appeals to people who are already in the pool. “What we’re doing, and what we’re reimagining, is how do you allow swimming to engage a broader audience?” Hallahan explained.

It’s become clear to Hallahan and Hasty that swimming is about more than what goes on in a 164-foot-long pool. “What we’re recognizing is that swimming helps people,” Hallahan said. “I’ve asked people who swim to give me one word that explains why [they do it], and they’ll say things like ‘serenity.’ They’ll say things like, ‘this is my time’ – I hear beautiful words.”

“It’s always this really interesting word, but people will say it’s where I get kind of zen — they get their mind reorganized,” he continued. “And I started thinking about that.”

The conclusion the pair came to is that swimming is holistic; far from just being about exercise or winning, putting our human bodies in bodies of water can be transformative. The question for John Lohn, the outlet’s editor-in-chief became clear: does the work inside the magazine elevate the mind, body, or spirit? Could it hit all three?

With these guiding principles, the team began to reassess that all important word in 2024 publishing: content. It became clear that while it was good, it wasn’t organized as Hallahan put it. “So we reorganized the content under mind, body, and spirit,” he said.

This applied to the magazine’s social media, too, and each week the site’s Instagram account follows the same format: Mindset Monday, Tech Tuesday, and so on. Wednesday focuses on elements outside the pool, like sleep and nutrition. Thursdays are throwbacks, when the account will share old photos and stories from swimming events of the past.

Early results already speak for themselves. In addition to enthusiastic support from swimmers at the collegiate and Olympic levels, old heads are excited about the new Swimming World, too. At this year’s NCAA swim meets commentator and gold medal swimmer Rowdy Gaines held up the magazine on ESPN and told viewers to get a copy, a “fundamental shift of where Swimming World has been the last couple of years,” explained Hallahan.

Gaines, he continued, said he would “run outside on the day of the month Swimming World was showing up” when he was in high school and college—“and that’s what Swimming World has in its DNA,” Hallahan said.

Part of what’s making the print magazine work is that the team at Swimming World has tapped into their audience from top to bottom, whether that means the 7th and 8th grader swimmers who are checking it out or professionals who have been in the pool for years. To make a magazine work these days, Hallahan said, “You need to think about how to address those audiences distinctly.”

“So that’s something that we’re working on actively here at Swimming World,” he added. The magazine has historically published deep reads about a specific swimmer or team, but “younger audiences are more flippant, if you will, and they move with the mind of a goldfish, right? If you can’t get them everything they need to think about in the first 9 seconds, they move on. So, we’re pushing that envelope as well.”

With the Olympic Games kicking off in two months, Swimming World’s immediate focus is clear. As one of the most-watched Olympic sports, swimming has already proven its enduring appeal — and now it’s up to Swimming World to do the same.

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