Joe Molinari model and swimmer cover for FLG
Joe Molinari model and swimmer cover for FLG | Foto: Joe Molinari model and swimmer cover for FLG

Joe Molinari Swimming through Change

Por: Susana Beltrán

14, February, 2022 en FLG

Joe Molinari Swimming through Change

To triumph, to fail, to change– these are all invaluable parts of being alive. If we always stayed the same, we’d never grow.

I had the opportunity to interview an up-and-coming model and former professional swimmer. Someone who passionately shaped his life around achieving his dreams, and when the time finally came, braved the uncertainty of change. A naturally positive person enjoying life.

Joe Molinari may be a classic California hunk, but he’s no average joe.

Joe grew up admiring the renowned swimmer and Olympian, Michael Phelps. As a blond haired, blue eyed little boy, Joe watched Phelps break international records and win gold medals. He couldn’t explain it, but there was something about swimming that just called to him.

At only 9 years old Joe had discovered something major about himself: his dream was to be a swimmer and Olympian.

From then on Joe’s entire life was dedicated to fulfilling his dreams. “I focused on swimming for 13 years,” he told me in our interview. “And I was homeschooled to focus on swimming.” Extracurriculars and after school hangouts didn’t have room in Joe’s life– not when he had such big dreams to achieve. He still found time to cultivate meaningful friendships, but swimming was of the utmost importance, which makes sense given the focus required for the sport.

“You’re staring at a black line in a pool for hours, just swimming up and down, up and down. And you’re trying to stay actively thinking throughout that entire process so that way you don’t get sloppy with your strokes or your underwaters. You’re always trying to be engaged.” Joe recalled.

I can only imagine how mentally wearying that would be, so I asked what kept him so naturally positive and happy.

“I usually picked a good Katy Perry song to sing in my head,” he said with a laugh. “That really got me through those hard practices.”

And some of those practices were more than just hard, especially if you’re striving to become an Olympian.

“There’s this month in the winter called Winter Training. For other sports it’s called Hell Week, but for us it’s Winter Training. Everyone’s focused on doing these incredibly hard practices… 2 practices, one in the morning and one at night. For 3 hours each practice… It’s just the worst sets you can imagine… Relentless. People throwing up on the side of the pool… that’s what training for swimming was like.”

Joe Molinari model and swimmer photo for FLG
Joe Molinari model and swimmer photo for FLG

Joe’s positive mindset is probably what got him through most of those grueling training practices, but he’s also motivated by self-improvement. At the end of most days he was exhausted beyond measure, as well as naturally rewarded. “It was really rewarding and you felt really good at the end of the day after pushing yourself that hard, knowing that you broke through walls.” he said with a smile. “You feel like you’re getting better, as a person and as an athlete.”

And Joe did get better. The results of his hard work, dedication, and growth all started to come into fruition toward the end of high school.

“I started to break records and go to these bigger swim meets. My dream of becoming an Olympian was getting pretty real!”

Joe’s first major triumph is also one of his favorite memories.

It was the summer of 2015 and he was 17. It was the Junior Nationals competition and his absolute last chance to make an Olympic trial time. If he didn’t make it, he’d never become an Olympian. The doom of not achieving his dreams was starting to sink in. And to add to the pressure, Joe had to swim an event he didn’t normally do (the dreaded 200-meter butterfly) and he was competing in the slowest group of the event. Joe was well beyond the familiarity of his comfort zone. His only option was to succeed.

Watching him recall this memory, I could see just how much pressure Joe had experienced that day. Relief washed over me when he mentioned falling into a flow state so deep he hardly remembers competing.

“All I remember is just the feeling of smoothness and effervescence, just floating,” he recalled nostalgically. “At the end of the race I looked up and I got the Olympic trial time! When I got out I couldn’t believe it, I was smiling uncontrollably. My friends were like ‘yeah Joe!’ and my coach hugged me… That was a highlight, it was a huge experience for me.”

Joe did more than make an Olympic trial time that day. He also became part of the top 1% of swimmers to qualify for his age group. Opportunities started rolling in and esteemed colleges wanted to recruit him. The fervor of it all could have led anyone astray, but Joe kept his ambitions at the forefront of his mind.

That 9 year old boy who dreamed of being an Olympian like Michael Phelps was still part of him.

And as life would have it, Michael Phelps was an assistant swimming coach at Arizona State University (ASU). His trainer, Bob Bowman, was also coaching there. The decision to study at ASU was easy for Joe and it led him to the opportunity of a lifetime.

Joe Molinari model and swimmer photo for FLG
Joe Molinari model and swimmer photo for FLG

“I trained with Olympians at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.” Joe remarked humbly. “Training with them is next level. You think you’re already doing everything you can, all hours of the day, to get yourself to a level these people are at, but once you train with them you really see what it’s like to push yourself to the limit every time… I had goosebumps during practice sometimes.”

I imagine the energy in the training center must’ve been charged with the zeal of hundreds of past and present Olympians. Mesmerized, I wondered about the most impactful thing he learned training with them.

“There’s a certain leadership,” he told me. “They’re very vocal, like saying ‘come on, let’s do it, let’s go!’ and it helps you get better and get more energy as well. It lifts everyone up, so now it’s something I like to do at photoshoots.”

By now Joe was in his early 20s, modeling part time, and deliriously close to making that 9 year old boy’s dreams come true. Everything was so in reach that all he had to do was float to it.

But then something started to change.

“I was losing the focus on swimming and wanting to do more real world things, like with school and life in general. I felt like swimming was starting to take away from my actual life.”

13 years had passed with Joe’s focus entirely on swimming and becoming an Olympian. From homeschooling to grueling practices, his entire life had been structured around achieving his dreams. And now in college he was missing out on all kinds of stuff. Parties, study groups, impromptu lunch with a friend– you name it. He wasn’t having the kind of college experience his peers were; he wasn’t having the kind of life experience most people have naturally.

He had achieved so much, but it had come at the expense of experiencing some of life’s valuable moments.

And it’s not like this was easy for Joe to admit to himself. Letting go of swimming meant he’d have to let go of his dream of being an Olympian and letting go of that would be like letting go of a part of himself. Not everyone can face this kind of change and make a decision in their best interest, but Joe couldn’t keep living like he was– not at the expense of truly experiencing life.

Joe dove into the uncertainty of change and swam the unclear waters. He reconsidered what he wanted his life to look like and who he wanted to be. He questioned his life, his dreams, and even his identity. He had to let go of his past to make room for his future.

“I stopped seeing myself as an athlete,” he told me earnestly. “I always thought of athletes as some sort of hero… It took processing for me to just be Joe Molinari, I’m just human now.”

Just human, but no average joe.

Joe had braved the uncertainty of change and reemerged transformed. He released his identity as an athlete and realized the next part of his journey included seriously pursuing his career as a model, as well intentionally making time for the little joys in life. Like practicing big wave surfing or spending time with his dogs.

Even though he no longer identified as a swimmer or athlete, Joe still cultivated happiness in his newfound life. “I really like thinking of myself as a model now.” He said with sincerity. “It’s another form of identity.”

Joe didn’t know it during the uncertainty, but he’d cleared space for all kinds of new opportunities. An exciting new way of life was on the horizon for him.

He signed with LOOK Model Agency in San Francisco mere months after his swimming career ended and has been working with talented professionals ever since.

“[Joe’s] a very personable person and he likes getting to know about you.” said professional photographer and videographer Red Chua, who’s worked with Joe on multiple lifestyle photoshoots and a behind-the-scenes video. “Joe is very good to work with. When we’re working with him he really cooperates and works with the craft.”

Joe’s a natural when it comes to the modeling craft. He challenges himself with the same ferocity he did for swimming and is improving with lightning speed. “The nerves before a photoshoot remind me of the nerves before a big swim meet,” which keep him in the zone and inspired to give it his all. He may not be an athlete anymore, but he still loves pushing himself to the limit and is determined to take it to the next level as a model.

Along with modeling, Joe enjoys playing with his dogs, studying multiculturalism, and practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He hopes to tour Asia with a modeling campaign and eventually be the face of a high-end, luxury brand for men. He also aspires to attend graduate school for therapy so he can help people as a psychiatrist. Mostly though, Joe’s making time to “enjoy the journey” rather than focus on an end goal.

And isn’t that how life’s best lived anyway?

To enjoy the journey is to enjoy life itself and all the triumphs, failures, and changes that come with it. No one gets to decide what awaits us on our life path, but we do get to decide how to navigate it.

Joe didn’t become an Olympian, but he did fulfill his dream of being a swimmer. And he’s still challenging himself as a model, growing as a person, and enjoying the little pleasures in life.

Something tells me the little 9 year old boy he used to be would be proud.

JOE MOLINARI @joemolinari_ for FLG Magazine
Courtesy of LOOK MODEL AGENCY @lookmodelagency

Writer: BAILEY LATRONICA @baayfree
Art Director: NIGEL JOHN DEL MUNDO @nigeldelmundo
Location Photographer: RED CHUA @redchuaaa
Studio Photographer: VINCENT GOTTI @vinniegotti

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Published by @plpg.globalmedia 2022© PLPG GLOBAL MEDIA S.A.S | Global CEO, Chairman, Founder & Editor in Chief Edward R Rueda @ceo.plpg