By Bob Schaller//Correspondent | Tuesday, February 16, 2016
So tired. So ready. So restless. So mentally focused.
In other words, so tapered.Natalie Hinds is gearing up for her final SEC Championship meet.
The University of Florida sprinter, who finished on the podium at NCAAs with Simone Manuel and Lia Neal for a 2-3 historic finish, is ready for her final college season meets, with SECs this week and NCAAs after that.
But she’s also a bit melancholic. That is, the fullness she has gotten in rounding out her development as scholar and thinker, and athlete, is balanced out by the pride she feels in the close friendships she has developed in Gainesville.“I have made friends for life here, and I am so thankful,” Hinds, from Midland, Texas, said. “It’s such a great opportunity to be here. And I am starting to realize that more than ever toward the end of my career. It’s not fun to get up early in the morning to work out at first, and then you find a way to enjoy it, and the people are what has made that so fun.”
She also enjoys this time of year because the college season is so prideful from a team and school perspective.
“It will all be over before you know it so you want to make the most of it,” Hinds said. “So I want to make this another ‘blast off’ to my career, and be able to put my mind at ease knowing I put all I can into it.”
Hinds will switch to full-time long course soon after NCAAs in preparation for Olympic Trials, so her last SEC meet and NCAAs will be another special set of meets marking the end of her short-course experience.
“My training has changed this year because I have picked up a lot more long-course meters in training,” Hinds. “And we’ll do more of that after this (college season) ends.”
Specifically, Hinds has been working on more than just her signature event, the 100 free.
“I have been working more on my 200 free because it helps my 100 free -- especially the last bit of my 100,” Hinds said. “But I’m also focused on having fun, because as Coach (Gregg) Troy always tells us, you see better times -- you do better -- when you are having fun with what you are doing.”
She is also working on her 100 fly, which she won at SEC Championships last year. She then took 3rd at the 2015 NCAA Championships in the 100 free and 5th in the 100 fly.
Last year’s NCAA Championships put Hinds in the center of the national map -- and earned the attention of the world -- with three African-American swimmers sweeping the 100 free. On a more personal level, it also propelled her forward.
“It gave me a lot of confidence in the sense that the meet had a lot more pressure -- it was a lot more pressure-filled than it had been the two years previous to that,” Hinds said. “Lia’s an Olympian, and Simone is unbelievable with how she delivers in every race no matter what the situation is.”
And while the focus has been on the top three finishers in that 100 free, Hinds said the race itself was incredible.
“There were a lot of other great athletes in that heat,” Hinds said. “You have to really hunker down to believe in yourself and get on the podium. That was the start of realizing that I can have that mental toughness, because I had struggled with that since I first came to college.”
That growth, Hinds says, will help her in life.
“I went from being a big fish from where I grew up in a small pond to being dropped in this ocean of great swimmers with so many fast women,” Hinds said. “So NCAAs (in 2015) really gave me some momentum, and that made me better in dual meets this year. So physically, I am there. It’s now just about letting it shine at the right time.”