Skip to content

Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

Dec 10, 2012, 2:57 PM EST

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. World Alpine Skiing Championships broadcast schedule

    Jan 29, 2015, 3:37 PM EST

    Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin Getty Images

    How to watch Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin and more go for gold in Colorado.

  2. Boston Marathon finish line shoveled by Ironman triathlete

    Jan 28, 2015, 3:23 PM EST

    Boston Marathon finish line shoveled

    “I only did it to send a message,” shoveler said.

  3. K.C. Boutiette returns to World Cup speed skating for first time since 2006

    Jan 28, 2015, 2:02 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    An Olympic legend helped convince him to come back, possibly for the 2018 Olympics.

  4. Tori Bowie ‘going after medals’ after breakthrough season

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:14 PM EST

    Tori Bowie Getty Images

    Bowie may try to make the World Championships team in three individual events.

  5. Yohan Blake details ‘dreams’ for 2015

    Jan 27, 2015, 2:37 PM EST

    Yohan Blake Getty Images

    Once Usain Bolt’s top rival, the Jamaican is returning from a second major injury in as many years.

  6. Lance Armstrong on forgiveness: ‘We’re getting close to that time’

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:41 PM EST

    AP AP

    Armstrong touched on many topics in a BBC interview.

  7. Martina Hingis eyes Rio Olympics

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:58 AM EST

    Martina Hingis Getty Images

    Could Hingis return to Olympic tennis, 20 years after her only Olympic appearance?

  8. South Korean Olympic swim champ Park Tae-hwan fails drug test

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:41 AM EST

    Park Tae-hwan Getty Images

    Park’s management agency cited “an illegal injection administered by a local doctor.”

  9. Jason Brown wins first U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:48 PM EST

    AP AP

    Brown is the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  10. Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson beaten in Winter X Games slopestyle

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:35 PM EST

    Sage Kotsenburg Getty Images

    Instead, past Winter X Games champions prevailed in Aspen.

  11. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s free skate — 4 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Jason Brown Getty Images

    Jason Brown tries to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  12. WATCH LIVE: ‘Lindsey Vonn: The Climb’ documentary — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Lindsey Vonn

    An inside look at the skier’s comeback from two major knee surgeries.

  13. Lindsey Vonn wins final race before World Championships (video)

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:36 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn captured victory No. 64 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

  14. Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:50 PM EST

    Ashley Wagner Getty Images

    Wagner becomes the oldest women’s champion since Michelle Kwan.

  15. Chloe Kim wins Winter X Games halfpipe at age 14

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

    Chloe Kim Getty Images

    Kim outdueled the greatest snowboarder of all time.

  16. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 8 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    Gracie Gold wants to deny history for Ashley Wagner.

  17. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani Getty Images

    Pairs free skate and free dance national titles to be awarded.

  18. Lindsey Vonn struggles in St. Moritz downhill (video)

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:23 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn missed an opportunity to all but clinch the World Cup season downhill title.