Meredith Geyer, Contributing Writer
Energetic, goofy, caring, feisty, competitive, wearing Lululemon pants…these are just a just a few words that characterize Nathan Townsend, McKendree swim team’s new assistant coach. After growing up in Kingwood, Texas and being a part of an extremely talented swimming community, Nathan developed a love for the sport of swimming. After a semester at his dream college, Nathan knew that something was missing and that swimming needed to become an integral part of his life: “I went to the University of Texas, which is where I wanted to go for a long time, but I realized something was wrong because I just didn’t feel right. I made the realization that I needed to swim.”
And swim he did, for the rest of his college career before eventually going overseas (after he flew there, of course). Following his college swimming career at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, Nathan completed his master’s degree in Ireland. This move not only provided a completely new culture, but also a new swimming environment as well.
“I had never trained long-course and that was rough,” Nathan said. “Even though I started getting back into shape, I thought every practice was terrible.”
This training, no matter how difficult, paid off as Nathan competed in the Scottish Short-Course Nationals and eventually began volunteer coaching in Ireland. This experience allowed Nathan to become exposed to a whole new world of swimming as well as get “a jump-start on college coaching while being able to work with some pretty high-level athletes and coaches.”
As a coach for two colleges since his return to America, Oklahoma Christian and McKendree University, Nathan has been able to apply what he learned in Ireland and from his degree in kinesiology to enhance his coaching style. Nathan says that “there’s a difference between studying the movements and actually doing the movements and breaking them down.” In addition, as a swammer, someone who has completed their swimming career, Nathan has been able to recall the numerous early morning practices, hours of training in and out of the pool and the years of balancing school and swim he endured to relate to his swimmers today. Nathan believes that “if someone hadn’t been through that, they couldn’t really sympathize with their swimmers.”
In addition, Nathan indicated that he did not achieve all of the goals he wanted to during his swim career and feels as though this heartache has helped him in his coaching endeavors because “there is an appreciation when you haven’t made it to the highest level because you can relate to those who are still trying to get there.” After Nathan reminisced about a couple of races and successful swim meets, he summed up his feelings of being a swimmer: “The thrill of competing is something that sticks with you from swimming because racing when you’re rested and going a best time is probably one of the best feelings ever.”
Although Nathan often thinks back to the good days of being a part of a team, he explained that he has learned to love coaching the sport as much as taking part in it. Similarly, to the excitement he felt while he swam, Nathan claims that he does not think he was ever as nervous as a swimmer as he is as a coach. His commitment to his swimmers is the root of this nervousness because, as he describes, “When you’re a coach, you feel like you put your heart and soul into the athletes, and you want them to do well.”
After much contemplation, Nathan decided that between swimming and coaching, he would rather coach “because while swimming and competing as a team is great, seeing how you can affect 50 other swimmers and help them do well is so much better.” Swimmers on the McKendree swim team have noticed his impact and truly appreciate his coaching style. Iris Hilmarsdottir, a junior, described that Nathan “is always ready to give feedback and can always make you look on the bright side of things.”
Nathan has been with McKendree since the beginning of the 2019 fall semester and, while he has not been a part of the Bearcat family for very long, he has already made his mark by helping the men’s team achieve 2nd place in the GLVC Conference Championships. As for the team as a whole, Nathan has set a number of goals, such as increasing the number of girls and making sure every team member feels valued. In addition, similarly to how he has quickly made McKendree his new home, Nathan states that he also wants to help “make the people who do come here feel as though they are at home and want to stay here all four years.”
Along with goals for the team, Nathan also has a number of goals for himself as a coach. Apart from having the long-term goal of wanting to take swimmers to the Olympic trials, and eventually the Olympics, he says one of his goals is to improve the daily life of his swimmers.
“While I consider myself as an introvert, I find a lot of life being around people,” Nathan said. “I think interacting with people day to day is important for the mental health of myself as well as my swimmers.”
No matter what time of day, whether it be 5:45 a.m. on a Monday or the final afternoon session of a long swim meet, Nathan always finds a way to radiate positivity. Nathan’s positive energy is noticeable by anyone around him, even those who might not understand it.
“I don’t think I ever realized I had this energy until I was leaving Ireland and they said they were going to miss my American spirit,” Nathan explained.
Nathan says he is excited to be part of McKendree swimming and diving and attributes much of his positive energy to being here. “I feel like I have a lot of love to give and I feel like I can just empty it out to all my swimmers,” Nathan explained.
While the swim team occasionally has a difficult time accepting this love, specifically right before a 6 a.m. practice, his excitement and dedication to each swimmer has given the swim team a new energy of positivity.
Matt Meals, a senior and captain of the team, sums up how Nathan has impacted the team since his arrival this past fall: “Coach Nathan has been a blessing to this team. We are a team full of athletes demanding more than the status quo and Nathan is a coach that gives more than the status quo day in and day out. His energy and dedication towards the team has been instrumental to our success. I couldn’t be more thankful. Nathan is the future of Mckendree swimming.”