Surprise visitors do not come bigger or better than Natalie Coughlin, well, at least for young swimmers seeking inspiration.
Coughlin’s life story has that in abundance as swimmers at yesterday’s Dolphins Junior Gala held at Gems Cambridge International School found out.
The 34 year old is an American swimming legend in her own right with over 60 international medals, including three Olympic gold medals from Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, to her name. “I started swimming at about six years old but I was disqualified in my first competition for doing the stroke wrongly,” Couglin, who arrived midway through the morning swimming session, said
After that statement whatever she said should have sunk deep into the minds of the swimmers – most of them below 13 years and looking for inspiration.
Most local female swimmers drop out of the sport between ages 12-14. That means it could take generations to have our own Coughlin but the American legend, who appreciated the talent on show at the “beautiful facility” in Butabika urged swimmers to believe in the process that leads to success and the challenges it involves.
“It was not until I was 13 that I qualified for my first nationals and the idea of going to the Olympics started to make sense.
“I met a lot of challenges between 13 to 21 years when I won my first Olympic gold medal.
“You too will find times when you plateau or regress but those are times you need most. If you have the right mindset you will make it,” she added.
Coughlin said she trained at least six hours a day in the pool, gym and doing yoga. For the bulk of young Ugandan swimmers, that would be hard given school schedules.
“My parents told me that since I had chosen swimming, I had to figure out a way to balance school and sport. “So from a young age I learned how to manage time. Yes, there are times, you make mistakes when you fail to study or plan ahead but you have to learn from the consequences of those mistakes,” the backstroker and freestyler said.