A day in the life of an average Bremerton Olympic gold medalist

Nathan Adrian, a former Bremerton High School standout, celebrates a victory for Cal at the NCAA men
Nathan Adrian, a former Bremerton High School standout, celebrates a victory for Cal at the NCAA men's swimming national championships March 26.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Nathan Adrian might be too busy to rest on his laurels.

For Adrian, a senior at the University of California who also happens to be an Olympic gold medalist, life as a champion swimmer and full-time student includes local celebrity status and a slew of responsibilities, but the 22-year-old finds he needs to focus on the latter.

Despite swimming his way to various collegiate and professional titles, for Adrian to be himself, he needs a certain amount of separation between the private and the public.

“I don’t like to tell people I’m a swimmer,” he said last week by phone from Berkeley.

At 19, he won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he swam to victory on the 400-meter free relay team.

Adrian is proud of the victory, but isn’t quick to show the bling. The gold medal is locked away in a bank at home, and only comes out for special family occasions.

“It’s something so special and so precious to me,” he said. “I get to show it off sometimes and let it see light, but I mostly keep it locked up.”

Adrian, a 2006 graduate of Bremerton High School, said his popularity on campus is mostly limited to the Golden Bears’ swim team fan base, which celebrated the school’s first national championship in 31 years last month.

He wants his achievements to speak for themselves, and he wants to enjoy the company of friends and family.

For his own sanity, he needs to keep those two apart.

“I definitely like to think the people that are around me enjoy me for who I am and not for what I’ve done in the pool,” he said.

As for his work, Adrian is accustomed to a daily schedule of swims and studies, but that doesn’t mean the grind gets any easier for the Bremerton native.

His day starts with a chirping alarm clock at 5:20 a.m., which is followed by a 14-hour strict regimen of exams and practices.

And despite the discipline required, a level of maturity that most college students couldn’t dream of, Adrian said he feels lucky to be in this position. He’s basically running his own life.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m in control of every piece of my life. That’s unique for someone my age because there are a lot of times people are told what to do on a daily basis, whereas my performances in the pool and academics are completely up to me.”

Early to rise

On a typical weekday during the season, Adrian practices from 5:45 to 8 a.m.

After practice, he grabs a quick breakfast, usually consisting of toast and a breakfast burrito. Adrian doesn’t follow a strict diet, but his simple approach includes a healthy carbohydrate and protein intake, which means he’ll consume five to seven meals a day.

In a sense, in addition to class and practice, Adrian’s days revolve around food.

Once he’s scarfed the early snack, the California swimmer takes a short nap before class starts, which is in session at 9 a.m. Depending on the day, he returns home between 10 and 11 a.m. for rest and a sub sandwich. Then, it’s back to the pool again.

A three-hour practice session between 1 and 4 p.m. ensues for the Golden Bears swim team during the season. When Adrian finishes practicing with teammates, he makes time for another sandwich before class that runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

He catches up on studying and eats dinner after school, goes to bed and does it all over again the next day.

“I’m so tired by the end of the day,” he said. “But this is an absolute dream come true, and I appreciate the way my life is structured.”

Making every second count

Adrian’s efforts in the pool and classroom have yielded successful outcomes in both fields, which he credits to staying disciplined. He admits that sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day, so proper time management is paramount.

“I always make sure I have the time to do it all,” he said. “I run my own schedule instead of focusing on other people and mimicking them.”

The champion swimmer lives five blocks off campus in Berkeley, often driving his car to San Francisco to catch an occasional break for the afternoon. He joins a friend, whose family lives in the Bay Area, for a home-cooked meal during their down time.

With such a busy schedule, Adrian said it’s important for him to make the most of any free time he may have.

“Whenever I have a free moment, I’m going to be there for my friends,” he added. “I’m not one to waste moments and be sitting idling when I’m here.”

When Adrian chose colleges before graduating from Bremerton, he wanted to stay on the West Coast, albeit near a warm climate, so he decided on California. Sporting a tank top amidst another heat wave last week, he has no regrets.

He said his proudest achievement in the pool came March 26 when the Golden Bears won the NCAA national championship. Winning a major competition as a team trumps any individual achievement, he said. Swimming, for Adrian, is about coming together for a collective goal.

Leading by example

California head coach David Durden said last week that Adrian’s leadership by example was part of what propelled the Golden Bears to gold at nationals.

“He gave the other guys the confidence that he was on his game, and that at any time, he could give us a monstrous swim,” Durden said last week by phone from Berkeley. “Nathan was very calm about how he went about his business, and for him to make the final in the 100 fly sent a message to the team that he was doing everything he could to get us points.”

Durden will continue to coach Adrian when they next travel to the World Championships in Shanghai, China. The event runs from July 16 to 31.

Adrian needs 17 more units to graduate from California and his graduation date is contingent on his pro swim schedule next fall. He’s majoring in public health. The senior has a 3.75 grade-point average and was named a winter Scholar Athlete of the Year by the Pac-10 Conference last month.

Adrian isn’t sure if he’ll move back to Bremerton anytime soon because he’s training for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic games.

“I have no idea if I’ll move back,” he said. “The road right now extends to 2012 and 2016. There’s no doubt that I love Bremerton, and whether or not I return is up in the air.”

Adrian’s recent wins

Adrian was named Pac-10 Conference Co-Swimmer of the Year April 7. He won the same award in 2009.

The Bremerton swimmer was also named to the conference’s all-academic first team March 30.

On March 3, Adrian won the Pac-10 title in the 50-meter freestyle for the third straight year.

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