Feature by Elle Meinholz, Swimming World internship
Just like many young competitive swimmers, South African Olympic Gold Medalist Darian Townsend dreamed of continuing his swimming career in college. Unlike these swimmers who grow up and move miles away from home to swim as college athletes, Townsend wound up in an entirely different country as he moved to the United States to further his education and continue pursuing his passion for the sport of swimming.
From a swimming family, Townsend started swimming at a young age. Despite encouragement from his parents to try other sports, Townsend enjoyed swimming the most, and has stuck with it.
“It was the logical and natural thing for me to do,” Townsend said. “Just being in the water for me is just so much fun. When I get in to the water, it's the same every time, and I just love it. Water is where I kind of feel is the best place for me to be.”
Townsend came from a club team that sent a lot of swimmers overseas to swim, particularly in the American college system. Motivated by previous South African success stories, American college swimming became a huge goal for Townsend in his early teens.
“Just seeing swimmers that went over to the U.S. and did so well at the Olympics and World Champs and in the college system was kind of my motivating factor to get myself over there and be like them,” said Townsend.
Transitioning from a South African swimmer to a South African representative training in the U.S. has had its challenges for Townsend. In college, Townsend was united with his American team by group goals as an Arizona Wildcat.
“It was really nice to be a part of a group that had a single goal in mind” said Townsend.
Now training as a post-graduate as part of Tucson Ford, Townsend's goals are no longer shared by a team.
“Since I finished with college there is no longer a group goal we are all heading towards. I was training for something completely different than the college kids.”
Another significant transition for Townsend was from a very sprint-oriented and technique based program to one of high volume yardage and intense dryland work.
“When I came to the U.S. my training dramatically increased in the yardage, and also in the gym. I wasn't used to doing two weight sessions a week and dryland on top of that, and like I said, more yardage.”
Although the transition was tough initially, Townsend believes that the way he trained in South Africa before moving to the U.S. has allowed him to really excel in the U.S. and have a long and successful career.
“My coach was very big on good technique and that is something that I have carried throughout my career. I have been blessed to have an injury free career up to this point, and I think that has a lot to do with good technique and being taught good technique at a young age.”
Being from a sprint-oriented program has also allowed Townsend to build up his volume and intensity throughout his career.
“Right now even when I am 28 years old, I am probably training more now than when I was 18, 19 years old. I think that has a lot to do with the reason why I have had such a long swimming career, because I wasn't doing high yardage as a 13, 14 year old.”
Now a sponsored athlete by A3 Performance, Townsend enjoys his life in Tucson.
“I get to train with some of the best swimmers in the world here at the U of A. We have a good, healthy post-grad group as well as a phenomenal college team.”
In addition to training, Townsend is also coaching at Tucson Ford.
“I will finish my practice with U of A and then jump out of the water and straight on to the deck for two hours of Ford Practice.”
As Townsend has progressed in his swimming career, his level of responsibility has definitely grown.
“There is a responsibility with it, but it's a huge honor,” said Townsend. “I'm just grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, and you know it's not easy, especially as a swimmer, to get a sponsor. It's not a sport where you get a lot of face time on television. For a company to want to sponsor an athlete like that, it really says something about that athlete, and, like I said, it's a huge honor.”
Still improving in the pool, Townsend recently won the 200 IM at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa ahead of Ryan Lochte. What can we expect from Townsend moving forward?
“I definitely think Rio 2016 is in the cards. That's the long term goal” said Townsend. “Short term goals, I plan to race in the World Cup series, and race the 200 free more, shooting for that short course world record.”
Rio 2016 would be Townsend's fourth Olympic Games. In a sport like swimming, there are bound to be disappointments and frustrations. The reason why Townsend has made it this far is the mindset of “hard work and never give up. Every season has ups and downs. It's learning to persevere through those ups and downs. It's learning to swim when the odds are not really in your favor.”
Townsend has been active and extremely competitive in the sport for a long time now. In a sport so demanding, one may wonder how a swimmer stays so motivated and determined, but for Townsend, it's easy.
“I love swimming, I love training, and I love racing people, so I will do that for as long as I can. You only have one swimming career and you are only young once. I am going to try to do it for as long as I can and if I am still successful at it, I am going to keep doing it.”