The Balancing Act

Oct. 03, 2011, 12:46 p.m. (ET)

Natalie CoughlinAnother day, another hectic schedule.  I’m sitting at the Chicago O’Hare airport, grabbing a bite to eat before my trip home.  I’ve been in Chicago just over 14 hours.  That gave me just enough time to grab a late dinner, sleep for 7 hours, have a breakfast meeting, participate in a Q&A, do a “photo op” and a meet & greet.  Today’s a Thursday, which happens to be my day out of the water.  I’ll be home in time for dinner, barring any flight delays, and tomorrow I’ll return to my normal training schedule.  I flew to Chicago and didn’t miss a single workout!

Juggling my swim schedule with the rest of my life is not something unique to the Olympic year.  Although this year will bring more travel than normal, I’ve had to be efficient with my time since I started swimming at the age of six.  Of course back then my schedule was far less demanding, but it laid the foundation of a lifetime of efficient time management.  As the demands for school grew greater, so did the demands of my sport.

One of the questions that parents and swimmers (usually high school age swimmers) often ask me is how I juggled swimming with school?  Doesn’t school come first?!?  The short answer: yes, school comes first.  The longer, more complicated answer: so do my swimming goals.

Missing practice or a competition because I didn’t get my schoolwork done in time was never an option.  If I didn’t plan ahead or if I procrastinated, I would suffer the consequences.  School was extremely important to me, but so was swimming.  I was fiercely competitive in both arenas.  Not having enough time to study for an exam or write a paper was simply never a viable excuse.  There is always enough time.  It’s all about using your time wisely.

Never giving myself an “out” taught me to plan ahead.  Never giving myself an “out” in high school prepped me for college.  When you’re on scholarship for a college, your job is to be a student-athlete.  Your job has academic as well as athletic requirements, and you have to figure out a way to manage them simultaneously.

Now that I’ve graduated my job is being a professional athlete.  I have to figure out ways to balance the professional side of things (my sponsor obligations) with the athlete side.  Fortunately I’ve been preparing for this my entire life.  The travel does get crazy at times, but I never let it get in the way of my training or my goals.