Interview with Olympic Medalist Natalie Coughlin
Coughlin is one of the most decorated female athletes in the world, seeing that she has won a medal in every single Olympic event that she has ever entered, for a total of 12 Olympic medals. She’s currently training for the 2016 Olympics, but she graciously took some time to speak with FG. We talked about everything, from her training for the upcoming Olympics, her hobbies outside of the pool to her favorite healthy snacks, how she maintains her incredible momentum, her incredible legacy and so much more. Meet Natalie Coughlin our fit, fierce and fabulous woman of the week! FG: How and when did you get your start with swimming?
NC: It’s pretty simple. I think it was very similar to most swimmers in California. It started off with water safety. The house that I grew up in had a pool.. so my parents, being responsible parents put me in swim lessons at 8 months old then I continued to do it every summer until I was about 5 years old and then joined the local swim team. It was a pretty easy progression from there.
FG: When did what you liked doing become something you loved doing? When did swimming become your passion?
NC: More than anything, I did other sports, my parents were adamant that I needed to be involved with something physical other than just school. So I tried gymnastics and I tried a little tap dance and ballet and honestly I was a little uncoordinated on anything on land. I was much better in the water.
FG: When did you realize you were exceptional at swimming?
NC: I was pretty competitive early on, but I wasn’t necessarily good. The talent didn’t really catch up to my ego until I was about 13. Yeah, but I worked pretty hard and I was super competitive, with everything. I just happened to be better with swimming than anything else.
FG: I noticed you have a birthday coming up, August 23rd, ironically it’s close to my birthday. They say Virgos are highly competitive, athletic and have a “go getter” mentality…which seems very aligned with everything you mentioned.
NC: Absolutely! I’m almost obsessively driven. FG: I can definitely appreciate and relate to your drive. Your tenacity and drive are evident in your slew of wonderful accomplishments. I can relate to everything you said…very driven, definite perfectionist traits, with the exception of not being an Olympiad…Where did I go wrong…(laughter)
NC: (laughter)….. There’s still time…
FG: Laughter..You’re so right (laughter) no I think my day has come and gone. I’ll just live vicariously through my lil’ ones and the accomplished athletes, like yourself that I have the pleasure of meeting. By the way, happy early b-day.
NC: Thanks! FG: What type of training do you typically do when preparing for the Olympics?
NC: Well, each Olympics has been different, for multiple reasons…age, experience and everything but I’ve always done a ton of cross training, in the midst of being in the water six days a week. In the past, I’ve done Pilates, I’ve ran, I’ve done Yoga. I lift weights. And currently, I lift weights – four times a week about an 1 1/2 to 2 hours and then I swim eight times a week in the water six days.
FG: Wow! Your dedication and discipline is amazing. So, obviously you don’t have much time to do any additional cardio, but when you do what does it primarily consist of?
NC: I do Yoga and Pilates on my own. I used to formally see a private instructor for that, but my schedule is so hectic, it’s too hard to make the commute out to see him. But, I’ve worked with a private instructor for eight years so I learned enough to incorporate in to my daily routine.
FG: With the rigor of being busy and a very physical schedule, do you ever experience burn out and if so, how do you manage it? NC: Yes, I think every athlete feels at some point, especially with swimming. It’s a tough sport. It’s not a seasonal sport. It’s twelve months out of the year. You have to do it constantly. It’s not unusual to swim six days a week. Being in northern California it rains, it gets really cold out here and it’s hard getting in the water.
FG: I can only imagine!
NC: When I was younger I really didn’t like it too much. When I was 16, I had a pretty big injury before the 2000 Olympic trials and I’ve had like setbacks and when you’re teenager growing up, it’s already kind of crazy (chuckle) so when you add in the pressure of trying to make an Olympic team, pressure of school and the pressure of trying to be the best and you throw in an injury on top of that it can kind of send you on a tailspin, but fortunately I came out of it on the other end and it made me stronger, more resilient and more determined…so that injury when I was sixteen ended up being one of the best things for me, but it was difficult to go through at the time. Now I’m thirty-one and I know how fortunate I am to be a professional athlete… I still get tired at times.
FG: What do you do to when you get tired to keep yourself motivated? What types of recommendations do you have for FG readers who are striving to stay motivated and physically inspired?
NC: Keeping goals are the number one thing and knowing there are going to be setbacks and just accepting that. You just have to get out of the bed and get to the gym or your exercise destination and then motivation will find itself, you’ll find that motivation. For me, I have a set schedule, there really are no options for not showing up for practice, I have a coach and teammates-waiting for me. So even when it is cold and it is raining and I might be exhausted, I still have to show up, so once I’m there, I’m motivated. So for the average person, I recommend setting and sticking with a schedule.
FG: You mentioned something interesting that I’d like to hone in on…You know your coach and teammates are there…Would you say accountability can play a role in staying motivated and consistent?
NC: Yes, 100%! That applies to the business world as well. I think it’s just a good habit to get into…holding yourself accountable and reciprocally holding the people around you accountable. I think when you have people there to support you and you support them, it can makes the experience better. I know from a team standpoint, when everyone has goals and everyone is working towards their goals, collaboratively, it makes the process that much easier and the goal attainable. I’m all about maintaining a positive outlook and sharing it with others, especially in regards to accomplishing goals and staying motivated.
FG: I love that concept…I agree that positivity breeds most often positive results.
FG: I want to ask you a quick question about your strength training. What does your weightlifting regimen consist of?
NC: I do a little bit of everything. I don’t really use machines. I do a lot of heavy Olympic lifting, TRX, battle ropes etc. – we really mix it up. I lift very heavy and I lift with really strong guys.
FG: What does the lifting primarily help you with in relation to competing?
NC: I definitely feel stronger in the water. It helps with power in the water and power off the blocks, power off the walls. I’m focusing on the 103 and 53 and those are speed and power driven events and so if I can get as strong as possible while maintaining that technique and fitness level in the water that will be the key to success for me.
FG: I know you had an injury in the past. How is your shoulder doing?
NC: I no longer have problems with my shoulder. I see a physical therapist, once a week and we deal with any issues that arise at the time and do preventative activities in hopes of staying ahead of injury, ninety-nine percent of the injuries that arise are overuse injuries and chronic tightness and just trying to take care of your body so I make a point to see my physical therapist once a week – and it’s super painful, but we try to get my body in a place where it can continue to heal. We do manual therapy, cupping…when I leave I’m exhausted, but it puts me back together for the rest of the week.
FG: Do you have any swim exercise recommendations for the average person?
NC: Swimming is a great form of exercise for lengthening the muscles and stretching out. It’s also an ideal post- workout. It feels so good after a really hard weight session to get a good swim in to kind of flush the muscles of lactic acid and just kind of and get them healthy…and one of the great things about swimming is that you could do it if you’re a baby, or if you’re nine months pregnant, when you’re elderly, if you have an injury-it’s great for anyone. I strongly recommend focusing on correct form and posture in the water which can definitely impact you’re experience in the water. FG: I read that you like cooking. What is your diet like, and what are some of your favorite quick meals and snacks to prepare?
NC: My diet—as much as possible—I try to have a plant-based diet, though I’m not vegetarian, by any means. I try to have the least amount of processed foods as possible. I think one of the best ways to get your nutrients is through smoothies, that’s one of my favorites. I have at least one green smoothie a day.
FG: What is your favorite green smoothie?
NC: I have a favorite Green Smoothie – it has an assortment of all types of veggies and fruits (See Natalie’s favorite smoothie recipe below).
FG: Last question is, “What next for Natalie?”
NC: As you mentioned, I love to cook and really want to do a cookbook at some point, but currently, I’m preparing for Nationals and Pan Pacific games at the end of August and hopefully World Championship and Olympic trials in two years. Things are really starting to ramp up. I just want to stay healthy and keep working hard and racing hard.
FG: That’s wonderful! We wish you all the best! We’ll be rooting for you all the way. Thanks so much for taking the time to grant us this exclusive interview.
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Featured photos by: Carlos Serrao.