By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, May 25, 2018
It’s no secret that Nathan Adrian is a nice guy.
Having a conversation with him,or seeing him conduct an interview or interact with younger swimmers is proof that despite his swimming success and celebrity, he has never allowed the notoriety to cloud his true reason for doing what he does.
He simply loves swimming.
Always has and always will.
“I don't put too much of an emphasis on (being an ambassador for swimming),” he said. “I just know that when I am involved in something like a USA Swimming National Team trip, working hard and trying to be helpful and not hurtful is a pretty good ground rule to follow. You can figure out the rest as you go.”
One thing Adrian hasn’t had difficulty with over the course of his 10-plus-year swimming career is how to win and be a champion.
Ever since he began working with Gary Hall Jr. and Mike Bottom at The Race Club in the Florida Keys prior to the 2008 Trials, Adrian has carved out a very successful niche in the sprint freestyle events.
Included among his numerous National Championships, he’s won a total of 32 medals in major international competitions – 20 gold, 7 silver and five bronze spanning three Olympics, five World Championships, and two Pan Pacific Championships, along with numerous National titles.
In his Olympic debut at the 2008 Olympics as a 19-year-old newbie, he swam in the morning prelim heats of the 400 freestyle relay and helped his U.S. teammates to a gold medal.
Ever since, Adrian has enjoyed and endured his fair share of highs and lows with the highs more than outweighing the lows.
In his view, it’s all part of the ebb and flow of being a top-level athlete in the sport.
“This entire thing has been a dream come true,” he said. “I remember taking the opportunity to train with Mike Bottom at The Race Club in the Keys in 2007-2008 and saying to myself, ‘you have to give this a shot; it may be your only opportunity to live the life of a professional athlete.’
“I loved each and every day of that year and continue to enjoy my time spent swimming professionally now.”
Two weeks ago at the Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis, Adrian showed the same speed and grit he’s known for the past decade with victories in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.
And while he said he’s happy with where he is now with his training and swimming, he knows in order to contend with reigning National and World Champion Caeleb Dressell as well as other veterans (Anthony Ervin) and up-and-comers, he’s going to need to keep working.
“Caeleb is certainly a special breed – there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But I have never judged my performances based off of the guys I compete against. I have always been motivated by doing things I have never done before whether it be in practice, the weight room or in a competition.”
That’s part of the challenge for a swimmer in his prime but also one who will hit the 30-year-old mark later this year – finding new ways every day to challenge himself in practice so it’s there when he needs it during competition.
At this point in his life and career, he said he has to come to the table with a plan because there is a limited amount of training from which he can recover.
The old mentality of trying to work his hardest on every single set the coach gives him every day simply doesn’t work anymore.
He knows that would be a one-way ticket into a deep hole of overtraining. That being said, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “I have a great base I don't need this aerobic training."
So as with everything in life, he’s discovered it ends up being a balance.
If it were easy, everyone would be an Olympic champion, right?
“We have put a lot of good work in over the past season and now comes the exciting part of the season where we get to continue to train,” he said. “However, training becomes a bit more race specific. Now we get to start hammering out 50s are true race speed and that is one of the most fun things about training in my opinion.
“It’s about figuring out ways to be faster. The fun part about swimming is that nobody has figured it out 100 percent quite yet. What makes it even more fun is that every individual athlete responds slightly different to that training/technique. It all ends up being one big optimization problem so maybe one day we will use artificial intelligence (AI) to figure it all out, but for now we have some pretty good coaches taking care of us.”
And while he said he views this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships in Irvine, Calif., as “just another selection meet in the process of getting ready for Tokyo 2020,” he does see the value in making the Pan Pacific Championship team (and next year’s World team) and getting to compete this summer in Tokyo two years prior to the next Games.
However, at its basic foundation, he sees this summer’s meet is no more than a stepping stone along the way to the Olympics – which would be his fourth Games and another piece of his dream come true already in progress.
And as the times, titles and other accolades have come his way, Adrian said he knows that despite the many sacrifices required to compete at his level, it’s been worth it because it’s something he’s always loved and wanted.
Time and maturity have altered his perspective, but at the core, it’s always been about swimming – and swimming fast – which is what he’s done and plans to continue to do as long as he can.
“I still love what I am doing and look forward to practice every day, so until that isn't true, I will probably still compete,” said Adrian, who asked longtime girlfriend and now-fiancée Hallie to marry him in May 2017.
“The thought of leaving the sport completely would make me terribly sad. I don't know if I necessarily want to coach or be involved in governance when my competitive career is done although all options are open at the moment.”