Stephanie Izard is executive chef at Girl & the Goat.

I’ve always set pretty high demands for myself—my sister and I both. We’re very driven and try to push ourselves to our limits. And it all comes from competitive swimming.

My swim coach was crazy and would throw chairs at people in the pool if they weren’t going fast enough. It was pretty hardcore. I basically had swim practice every morning at 5. Then I would go to school, would run and lift weights, and would have swim practice again. That’s how it was up until my sophomore year.

My sister had recently quit swimming—because I beat her in the mile. Then I was at a swim meet and told myself that if I didn’t get a 105-point-whatever in this 100-meter race I’m quitting. I missed it by a tenth of a second, and I quit swimming that day.

That’s when I turned into a party animal.

Had I made my time that day, I probably would have ended up going to college to swim. I might have ended up in business school rather than culinary school. At the time, I thought I was supposed to go work in an office somewhere in a Victoria’s Secret suit. (It turns out that all that clothing is total crap.) I thought I was supposed to be a businesswoman.

When I quit swimming, my body went into shock. I grew two inches, my feet got bigger, my boobs grew. I turned into a totally different person. And I was finally able to go out and have some fun. I no longer had to be the girl who had hairy legs up until the big swim meet. I started partying all the time and acting like a delinquent.

We had all these police officers surrounding the campus. It was hard to skip school, but I really wanted to go get my first tattoo. So I snuck out the back door and ended up having to hop over fences and run through the woods and all this crazy crap. My friend wouldn’t stick with me, so I went by myself. I was 16 years old, lying in this tattoo parlor with a bunch of biker dudes.

I wanted the tattoo on my hip. I don’t really know why I got it—probably because this boy I thought was cute was really into tattoos. My sister drew it. It was a dolphin, for swimming.

Quitting swimming definitely changed my life. It could have ended really badly—but everything happens for a reason. And I think it all happens for the better.

Next: Tim Kinsella, author of the forthcoming novel The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense