Coughlin is one of the most decorated Olympians in the history of sports. A former University of California, Berkeley swimmer, Natalie’s resume includes three gold, four silver, and five bronze medals. She also the first woman to break the world record in the 100-meter backstroke at the age of 19. We talked to her about her recruiting experience, her Olympic experience, and got her opinion on Locker Room Talk.
Recently Natalie has been in the news where she talks about her former coach body shaming her, Ray Mitchell at the Terrapin Swim Team in Concord, California. Link Below
LRT: At what age did you start swimming?
Natalie: “I began lessons at ten months old because we had a pool in our backyard and my parents were responsible parents. When I moved to a new town at age six, I joined the local swim team to meet kids in my area. I’ve been competing ever since.”
LRT: Why did you choose swimming for your sport?
Natalie: “I did gymnastics for several years and played volleyball for a couple. I was a born competitor, and I was much more suited to swimming than the other sports. It was more that swimming chose me than I chose swimming.”
LRT: What do you enjoy most about swimming?
Natalie: “I love the weightless feeling of being in the pool.”
LRT: What time do you have your alarm set every morning?
Natalie: “I get up for morning practice at 4:15 AM. I like to make coffee and breakfast in the morning before I head to the pool. I spend about 45 minutes doing prep work (shoulder/back exercises, abs, stretching) before starting my swim at 6:00 AM. I’ve always had the mindset that I’d rather get up a little earlier and take my time than rush. 4:15 AM is early, but I’m a good sleeper.”
LRT: Why did you choose UC Berkeley?
Natalie: “I never wanted to leave California. Academics were just as important to me as athletics, so I visited Cal, Stanford, and UCLA. After visiting each school, I felt most at home at Cal. It was a gut feeling that I couldn’t put to words, but I knew it was the right choice.”
LRT: What two things did you not love about the recruiting process? Why? What advice would you give high school athletes on recruiting?
Natalie: “I hated sifting through all the BS. Everyone gives you a polished/sanitized version of the school and it’s your job as a prospective student-athlete to read between the lines. I also really disliked turning down schools that I liked, but didn’t want to attend for four years. I would tell high school athletes going through this process to be as honest with themselves and as honest with the coaches as possible. Don’t string anyone along. Don’t visit schools you have no intention of attending just to take a trip. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and disrespectful. If you have injuries or issues, be upfront with the coach. They’ll always find out and will respect you more for your honesty.”
LRT: Since you are a role model for so many young swimmers, how do you handle that kind of pressure?
Natalie: “I’ve always taken that role seriously and tried to live up to the “role model” status. I think the most important thing that I’ve done throughout my career is to be honest with who I am. So many athletes put up a façade, which is impossible to maintain over time. I’ve never tried to portray myself as someone different that who I am.”
LRT: What is a funny or awkward moment that happened to you in the Olympics?
Natalie: “Crying like a baby during the victory ceremony for my Beijing 100 back and then crying because I was crying. It was so embarrassing and out of character. The Olympics are incredibly overwhelming!”
LRT: What pump-up song do you listen to in the locker room before a race? Do you have a pre-race ritual that you do before every race?
Natalie: “I do not listen to music. I’m always cold so I wear my parka and Uggs and have my hot coffee in hand. I’ve done the same pre-race warm-up stretching routine for years (which is very similar to my pre-practice routine). It gets me in the proper mindset to race.”
LRT: If you could add a new event to the swim meet schedule, what would it be and why?
Natalie: “50-meter underwater dolphin kick. Underwater kicking is considered the “5th stroke”, and it would be really cool to see the best compete against each other in a formal event.”
LRT: How do you think Locker Room Talk could have helped you in your recruiting process?
Natalie: “It would have opened up my eyes to new possibilities beyond Cal, Stanford and UCLA. I think something like Locker Room Talk helps kids get a better, unbiased 3rd party assessment of schools rather than only hear the positives.”
Fun Fact: Natalie raises chickens in her backyard for her to have fresh eggs.
If you want to read about Natalie’s body shaming coach read here:
Image courtesy of AsianInNY