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Originally published August 27, 2012 at 9:28 PM | Page modified August 28, 2012 at 3:36 PM

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Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian shares wild ride with fans, family

Bremerton Olympian Nathan Adrian has been everywhere, from the "Today" show to a rodeo, since winning three medals in London. "It's been like a crazy roller-coaster ride," he says.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Nathan Adrian file

Age: 23 (born Dec. 7, 1988)

Hometown: Bremerton

Height: 6 foot 6

Weight: 220 pounds

High school: 2006 graduate of Bremerton High School

College: University of California, Berkeley, majoring in public health

Career goals: Wants to be a doctor

Olympic medals: Has won three Olympic gold medals, including two at the London Games, and one silver. First U.S. swimmer to win the signature 100-meter freestyle since 1988, by one-hundredth of a second, in 47.52.

Family: Older brother and sister both swam in college, Donella at Arizona State and Justin at Washington. Mother, who was born in Hong Kong, is a nurse. Father Jim is a retired nuclear engineer for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Training: Swims 3 to 5 miles and works out five hours in two to three sessions per day.

Fun facts: Hobbies are Jet Skiing, boating and dirt biking.

Source: USA Swimming

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BREMERTON — You don't think about them when you're standing on the pool deck, or coiling for the start of a race.

You're not swimming for them, but they are there. In bars and bedrooms, in dens and departure gates, they're watching you, rooting for you.

Fans aren't the reasons you swim, but their joy is an ancillary reward. They cheer from their hearts, whether they're in your aunt's living room in Indianapolis, where your grandfather watches your Olympic races, or in some pub in Duluth, where people you don't even know root for you.

You hold up your gold medals in a television studio and people stand and applaud wildly.

"I've only just started to understand the appreciation people feel for those races," said Bremerton native Nathan Adrian on Monday morning, sitting in the family dining room with his parents, Jim and Cecilia, and his brother, Justin.

"It's not something I take lightly, but it's not the reason I swim. I'm not in the water every day saying, 'Hey, I satisfy this number of people.' I do it for myself.

"There is the self-improvement part that is very, very important to me. I would do this even if I wasn't on the world stage. I think I'm every bit as addicted to it as a drug addict is to a drug."

Since winning two gold medals and a silver at the London Olympics, Adrian has traveled the country. He has been everywhere, from "Today" to "Tonight." He went to New York to appear on the "Today" show. He was a judge for one of Jay Leno's recurring skits on "The Tonight Show."

Closer to home, Adrian signed autographs at a Verizon store in Silverdale, threw out the first pitch at a Babe Ruth League World Series game, and was the guest of honor at the Xtreme Bulls competition at the Kitsap County Fair.

The Kitsap County Commission declared last Wednesday "Nathan Adrian Day." And Monday, Sumac Street, which is close to the aquatic center where Adrian trained early in his career, was renamed Nathan Adrian Drive.

"As much as any veteran athlete can tell you how it's going to be, you can never really know it until you go through it," Adrian said.

His hair was mussed, and it was obvious he hadn't been awake long. This place, tucked among trees, just off a main road, was his refuge. Here, briefly, he took a deep breath and a long sleep before he returned to his victory tour.

"It's been like a crazy roller-coaster ride," Adrian said of the two weeks since London's closing ceremony. "I'm trying to enjoy as much as possible. It only happens once every four years. The reception I've gotten back here in Bremerton has been pretty awesome, seeing the local support that I have here, that means a lot. I don't get to see that every day."

Life after the Olympics has been partly a warm reconnection with his friends and family, and partly an exhausting road trip that makes him feel as if he's running for national office.

"It's been a good time and a really fun ride," said Adrian, who will soon start planning the next four years, leading up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

He has paid attention to the advice of other Olympic swimmers, like 11-time medalist Natalie Coughlin.

Coughlin helped Adrian choose an agent and offered advice on how to handle himself through what he calls "the massive publicity."

"She's done it for so long and she's done it so well," Adrian said. "One thing she told me is that you can get a little overwhelmed if you look too far ahead and think about how many things you have to do and how many places you have to be. She told me that after you're done with an event, you're done with it."

Swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a record 18 gold medals, has helped him learn about some of the pitfalls of celebrity and how to gracefully deal with the paparazzi.

"He told me if I ever needed help, to just give him a call," Adrian said.

When the Adrians returned from London, Jim said it seemed every marquee in Bremerton was congratulating Nathan. A retired nuclear engineer at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Jim has been invited to speak at several service clubs in the area.

"They say, if we can't get Nathan, we'll have to settle for you," he joked.

After Nathan left an autograph session at the Silverdale Verizon store, people still looking to take pictures asked Jim and Cecilia to pose, holding a photo of Nathan.

The entire family belongs in those pictures. The parents also take that long ride to the Olympics.

Outside the house that Jim and Justin Adrian built, Jim points to the sedan and estimates he made thousands of round trips in that car with Nathan to Tacoma, some 30 miles away, for club practices and meets. On the way to the gold medal, the sacrifices are shared.

"It becomes your life," Justin said of the pursuit.

Nathan, who graduated from Bremerton High School, skipped parties and proms because of 5 a.m. wake-up calls and 6 a.m. practices.

His parents made the long trips and sat on the uncomfortable bleacher seats at muggy pools, sweating through their shirts, with their eyes burning from chlorine. Being the parent of an Olympic athlete is an Olympic event in itself.

"I don't think I'll ever really understand all that they've done until I have kids of my own," Nathan Adrian said. "I can hardly give myself enough time these days, let alone the kind of time they gave me. But they went to all of those meets, all those weekends, driving me to and from Tacoma every day."

This has been a summer like no other for this family. Nathan's sister, Donella, a former swimmer at Arizona State University, had a baby in May. Nathan finished his degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, the same month. Brother Justin, who swam at the UW, married Hillary in June.

The entire family traveled to the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., and then to London.

From the cradle to the Games, from the altar to the pool, it has been a transcendent summer of gold. A gift for Nathan Adrian and gift from him.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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