Skip to content

Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

Dec 10, 2012, 2:57 PM EDT

USA TODAY Sports USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off her history-making performance in London that saw her tie Dara Torres’ and Jenny Thompson’s all-time Olympic medals total of 12 (the most for a U.S. female), Natalie Coughlin wants to keep swimming at age 30.

We caught up with Coughlin and talked about working out, her recent trip to Africa – where she proudly wore her Oakland Raiders hat in the jungle – and a whole lot more. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:

How much swimming and training are you doing?
I’ve been lifting, running and swimming. I haven’t formally started training with the team yet, but I have been working out on my own. I’m swimming five days a week … not over 5,000 [meters a day].

When will you start competing again?
I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out my meet schedule. But I’ll definitely be at Santa Clara [Grand Prix in early June] and World Championships Trials [in late June].

You do a lot of running. Ever think of going the Brendan Hansen route and doing triathlons?
The whole cycling thing freaks me out. Being on the road with cars … when I’m in my own car I don’t trust other drivers. If there were run-swims, I would do those.
Editor’s note: Natalie, try an aquathlon.

Did it really take you 45 hours to travel to Rwanda for your recent trip with Right to Play?
We ended up having mechanical issues in Chicago that ruined the rest of our flight. We flew from San Francisco to Chicago, then Chicago to Brussels. And originally we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Kigali [Rwanda] but because we missed that connection, and that connection only happens twice a week, we couldn’t get a flight. So we ended up having this 10-hour layover in Brussels, and then we flew Brussels to Paris, Paris to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then Entebbe, Uganda to Rwanda.

We missed the first day of only a five-day trip. The day we landed, two hours later we had a press conference. Whenever I wasn’t speaking I was dozing off in front of all these reporters. I was at the point of absolute exhaustion.

Tell us about the gorillas you saw in Rwanda.
I will admit, there were times when I accepted that I might get completely mauled by gorillas. [laughs] A toddler gorilla kicked me and ran off. The alpha silverback came to me and brushed up against me. I was trying to look at the ground, look anywhere but in his eyes.

What else stood out during the trip?
I had my big camera and I’m taking all these photos of the kids. Everywhere we went, they were so excited to see us. They were signing and dancing and including us in all the Right to Play games. The kids … would ask me to take pictures of them so they could see their photos. It was because they don’t have mirrors; they don’t know what they look like.

If you retired tomorrow, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think I can ever be satisfied with my career, but I’m extremely proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But half the reason that I’m continuing is that I still have goals for myself. That being said, if this all gets taken away from me somehow I will continually be proud of it and I’ll be OK with moving on. I love doing this, so why not?

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more at righttoplay.com.

Latest Posts
  1. Phil Dalhausser, Sean Rosenthal split

    Jul 27, 2015, 11:28 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    An injury to Dalhausser spelled doom to their partnership.

  2. Boston ends bid for 2024 Olympics; USOC wants another city

    Jul 27, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT

    Boston 2024

    The 2024 bid race is down to four cities.

  3. Kerri Walsh Jennings to return at World Series of Beach Volleyball in August

    Jul 27, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The three-time Olympic champion hasn’t played since dislocating a shoulder July 10.

  4. Olympic equestrian champ’s ban lifted in horse doping case

    Jul 27, 2015, 4:36 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Steve Guerdat’s provisional ban was announced last Tuesday.

  5. Boston mayor: Olympic bid won’t go forward if forced to sign contract today

    Jul 27, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT

    Boston 2024

    Public support in Boston and Massachusetts has been less than 50 percent for months.

  6. Nike makes Ashton Eaton a ‘cooling hood’

    Jul 27, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT

    Nike Cooling Mask Nike

    “Why does it feel good, after running, to pour a bottle of water over your head?”

  7. Can Tour de France stars contend for medals at 2016 Olympics?

    Jul 27, 2015, 8:48 AM EDT

    AP AP

    The Rio Games open less than two weeks after the 2016 Tour de France ends.

  8. U.S. women dominate en route to FIVB World Grand Prix title

    Jul 27, 2015, 8:18 AM EDT

    AP AP

    The U.S. can achieve an Olympic first in Rio de Janeiro next year.

  9. Bill May becomes first man to win World Synchronized Swimming Championship

    Jul 27, 2015, 7:36 AM EDT

    AP AP

    May is a 36-year-old Cirque du Soleil performer who came out of a 10-year retirement.

  10. Neymar: I told Barcelona I want to play in Rio Olympics

    Jul 26, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Brazil’s coach has said Neymar’s Olympic participation is dependent on talks with Barcelona.

  11. Michael Phelps: I’ve looked at my 22 medals together once or twice

    Jul 26, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    More highlights from Phelps’ Q&A at the Doha Goals Forum.

  12. Simone Biles routs Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman at Secret Classic

    Jul 25, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Next up are the P&G Championships in three weeks.

  13. Jennifer Wu makes 2016 U.S. Olympic team in table tennis

    Jul 25, 2015, 7:06 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Wu is the second athlete to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team across all sports.

  14. Simone Biles as powerful as male gymnasts, Jonathan Horton says

    Jul 25, 2015, 7:43 AM EDT

    AP AP

    “She is as dominant as any athlete in any sport,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said.

  15. Shawn Johnson engaged after throwing first pitch (video)

    Jul 24, 2015, 7:09 PM EDT

    Shawn Johnson, Andrew East

    Johnson is at least the fourth member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team to get engaged.

  16. Usain Bolt returns with quick 100m wins in London

    Jul 24, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Less than a month until a showdown with Justin Gatlin at the World Championships.

  17. Claressa Shields: I would fight Ronda Rousey

    Jul 24, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    “I know for a fact I would beat her in boxing. That’s simple. But MMA?”

  18. Tokyo 2020 Olympic emblem revealed

    Jul 24, 2015, 9:26 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The emblem is based on three words.