When Bremerton’s Nathan Adrian entered the doors of his alma mater Aug. 28, the multi-medaled Olympics swimmer received a warm reception befitting the champion he is.
The man of the moment walked into the performing arts center at Bremerton High School and was met by familiar faces —— former teachers and family members — and some not familiar — his legion of South Kitsap-area fans.
His return as a conquering hero was appropriate, since this was Adrian’s first time back to Washington since competing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games. In Rio, Adrian won two gold medals in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and the 4×100 medley relay. He also earned bronze in both his individual events of the 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle.
Adrian also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he won a gold medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, and the London Olympics in 2012, where he won three medals: gold in the 100-meter freestyle, gold in the 4×100-meter medley relay and silver in the 4×00-freestyle relay.
After the London Olympics, the city of Bremerton named a street after him — Nathan Adrian Drive — formerly known as xxxx. Now, after bringing home four more medals, Mayor Patty Lent handed over to Adrian another special gift.
“He already has a street named after him, now I have this key to the city,” Lent said as she handed over the key to Adrian. “Although, we all know there isn’t a door that would not be open to him in this city.”
Mayor Lent and several other educators and former coaches spoke at the event about Adrian’s swimming accomplishments and charisma.
“He put Bremerton on the map for swimming on the world stage,” said Bremerton School District Superintendent Dr. Aaron Leavell. “Thanks for making a difference in our community.”
Leavell recognized Adrian’s work by introducing swim classes for Bremerton’s youth.
“One in four kids in Kitsap County don’t know how to swim,” he said. “Through partnerships and this guy, we (now) offer swim lessons to third graders during school days.”
Adrian said he learned how to swim before he was 2 years old.
“Did you know that Kitsap County has the most coastline of any county in the United States?” Adrian said. “Plus all the parks on the water … I wanted to learn — well, my parents wanted me to learn. If I was on the boat and being dumb, looking too far over the edge, they wanted me to know how to swim.”
After learning, Adrian began swimming competitively when he was 5, “Well, as competitive as you can be at the age,” he said. But he didn’t truly start pursuing the sport seriously until he became a sophomore in high school. He then went on to attend the University of California-Berkeley before earning his spot on the United States national team.
Bonnie Burmaster was Adrian’s coach for a long time at the Olympic Aquatic Club. She expressed how happy it makes her to see that her former pupil still has the same love for being in the pool that he had 20 years ago.
“He always came in having fun, and how could you forget that smile?” she said. “He was always smile and giggling. Yes, he had a giggle.”
Burmaster said watching Adrian at Rio was the same as watching him for all those years in her own pool.
“When they would show him on deck I started pacing back and forth,” she said. “And then, when they show the blocks, I tighten up. He goes off, and it’s like I’m doing it with him.
“Once a coach, always a coach.”
“I thank my longevity to great coaches like Bonnie, who fostered my love for the water,” Adrian said. “You have to learn to love it and the work.
“I’m lucky, my motivation is the desire to keep getting better. It’s an intrinsic motivation that’s there, and I use it every day to want to get better.”
Another coach was also in attendance to share a memory of Adrian during his time at Bremerton High School. Casey Lindberg, now the athletic director, was the basketball coach when Adrian was in school. Every October, Lindberg would see Adrian’s 6-foot-6 figure and ask him to come out for the basketball team, although basketball and swimming shared the same competitive season.
“I’d ask, ‘Hey, why don’t you come out and play basketball?’ Every time, he would smile and say, ‘No thanks, coach,’” Lindberg said. “Well, for us all, I’d like to thank you for saying ‘no, thank you’ to basketball.”
Adrian said swimming in Rio was different from swimming during trials at home or in any other meet because of the time difference and TV scheduling.
Normally, prelims begin for the swimmers at 9 a.m. and the finals are raced at 6 p.m. However, in Rio, times were adjusted, and the swimmers had to adjust their pre-meet rituals.
“Our environment encourages you to go to bed early,” Adrian said. “But this round, prelims would be at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m. for finals. We had to adjust times for everything, learn to sleep with masks on and ear plugs to make sure we could get into our rhythmic nature and get optimum sleep.”
Adrian said he normally likes to eat three hours before meets, but due to buses and travel time, he and the rest of Team USA had to budget their time.
“I would usually snack in between because we had to make time to eat your meal and then swim,” he said.
Adrian reminded youngsters in the audience that he sat in those very seats and wished to one day be where he is now.
“The most important thing is to learn to love it and appreciate the process,” he said. “You need to understand and embrace the work you’re putting in. If you force yourself to work hard and get the outcome you want, it’s contagious. You want more of that success.
“It’s hard at the beginning, but you learn to grind it out. Ten years ago, I was told to dream big. If you surround yourself with the right people and push yourself, there’s no reason you can’t be here, too.”
After time off and a little traveling, Adrian said he will start the process all over again when he begins preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.