The Champion’s Mojo Podcast: Catching Up With Olympic Titlist Natalie Coughlin


Natalie Coughlin (Champion’s Mojo Podcast)

Once again, Swimming World is thrilled to partner with the Champion’s Mojo Podcast to highlight an interview with a prominent name in the sport. The podcast, hosted by Kelly Palace and Maria Parker, has generated a dedicated following and, on a bi-weekly basis, visits with athletes and coaches to provide insights into various individuals’ careers. The previous episode shared with Swimming World focused on the career of Cody Miller.

In the latest episode of the Champion’s Mojo Podcast, Palace and Parker sat down with the legendary Olympic Champion, Natalie Coughlin, to talk about how this icon felt about her return to swimming with the International Swim League (ISL) after being out of the water for three years, and how her competitiveness has helped her achieve her goals. Additionally, Coughlin gives some important and practical advice for how swimmers can get the most out of practice and the role mindfulness plays in life and athletics.

Below is an abridged Q&A of the interview with Coughlin. You can listen here to the full podcast, episode #43, or check out You could have a 1 in 50 chance to win a Natalie Coughlin autographed U.S. Masters Swimming Swim Cap from a drawing of the next 50 Champion’s Mojo YouTube Subscribers.

The Interview

CHAMPION’S MOJO: When you swam in your last meet in 2016 you really made a point to say I’m not retiring. What was your thought process around that?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Natalie Coughlin: I didn’t want to come out after the 2016 trials and say I’m announcing my retirement because I love swimming. And although, yes, I don’t see myself going to another trials and trying to make another run at an Olympic team, I wanted to compete and I wanted to leave that door open. When one announces their retirement, what that means is you sign these papers and you pull yourself out of the drug testing pool. And if you want to ever compete again, you start drug testing and then there’s this nine month waiting period before you can start competing. So I didn’t want to have that hanging over my head, if I wanted to start competing again. And then the ISL (International Swim League) came about and it was kind of the perfect opportunity for me to swim again.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: How did you end up returning to competition and the International Swim League (ISL)?

Natalie Coughlin: I knew a little bit about the ISL, but I didn’t think I was going to participate and then Kaitlin Sandeno, who is the GM of the DC Trident and a good friend of mine from previous national teams, asked me to be a part of her team and I said no first. And then three days later, I said yes. And I was really excited that I did. And it’s been fun to see exactly what the ISL is and to see what they’ve achieved in such a small amount of time.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Tell us about the three year break you took before you returned to the ISL.

Natalie Coughlin: I was totally out of the water. If I don’t have a competition looming, I won’t be consistent with swimming. So after 2016, I didn’t really have a pool to swim in like I had at Cal. So, unless I wanted to swim with the college team at Cal, I really didn’t have a place to go. I really loved running and I love being outside. So I hiked and ran quite a bit and I bought a 10 pass for one of the local pools and my goal was to swim once a week. I only refilled that pass in three years! Conservatively, I probably swam a dozen times since the 2016 Olympic Trials.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: So in the world of swimming being 37, as you are, could be considered to be a little older than most. What are your thoughts on that?

Natalie Coughlin: You know, there’s no delicate way to put it. I’m definitely a lot older than most of the swimmers.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: So at 37, you’re doing the ISL this year. Do you have any goals to push the age envelope and see what you can do?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Natalie Coughlin: No, not really. I wanted to be a part of the ISL just because I wanted to see what it was all about. And I think the best way to do that is to immerse yourself in the actual event and be a part of it. And I also wanted to have a goal to get back in shape after having a baby. I opened up this Pandora’s box of doing ISL and it was so fun.

I wish I had a lot more time to train for the ISL than I did. I have my business Gaderian Wines. I have my daughter that I take care of full time. I’m also on the board of USA Swimming, so there’s a lot that I do that I didn’t get a chance to do when I was in full time training to make an Olympic team, training to win gold medals.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Yes, you certainly have a wide range of interests and skills and talents. So any chance you would ever do Masters Swimming?

Natalie Coughlin: I’m never gonna say no, you never know. At this stage, probably not. But talk to me in 10 years, who knows?

CHAMPION’S MOJO: What would you say are some routines or rituals that have made you successful?

Natalie Coughlin: I am someone who does not like to be rushed, ever. If practice starts at 6:00 a.m., I will be the first person there. And it’s because I need buffer time to just sit there and drink my coffee and listen to my podcast and get my stretches in and just relax. I would rather get 20-30 minutes less sleep than be rushed. Being rushed stresses me out and it sets me up for an awful day.

I’m also a counter. It is not technically OCD, but I do find myself counting things all the time. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’ll count how many times I wash my hands. It’s not like I have to wash my hands for 10 seconds, but I just find myself counting. And I think that comes back from swimming. I would count every kick off the wall, every stroke in the pool, and I would be able to do that without much conscious thought that I was counting. So I think that has seeped into the rest of my life. But it’s not like I think the world’s going to end if I don’t hit a certain number.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: So it’s not a secret that you are competitive. Can you talk about that a little.

Natalie Coughlin: Yes, I’m very competitive.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Do you think people are born being competitive or that competitiveness can be an acquired skill?


Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel/USA Today Sports Images

Natalie Coughlin: I am not sure. I look at the difference between my sister and me, and I was always very, very competitive, she was not. And I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t. I look at home videos from when I was in dance class at like 4 or 5, I would look to the person to my left and if we were supposed to do one turn, I would just barrel through three turns just because I felt like I should just do more than her. And in my middle school and elementary school, everyone was really into soccer. And I wanted to be good at it. So after school, I got a soccer ball and would practice every day until I was really good at soccer. And so I taught myself because I hated not being good at it. Those are just a couple of examples of how I was competitive. I didn’t like to not be good at things. And so I would figure out and work out a way to be good at it. Therefore, competitive.

And when I look at my sister she had the same athletic skills that I had. She was very, very good as a swimmer. But I don’t think she had the same competitive fire that I did. She didn’t have the need to beat the people next to her like I did.

I learned that as I got older, I had to tone down my competitiveness when it’s not socially appropriate.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: You swam for one of the only women coaches in the NCAA, Head Women’s Coach at Cal Berkeley and Head Women’s 2012 Olympic Coach, Teri McKeever. What are your thoughts on where the women are in swim coaching jobs at the top of our sport?

Natalie Coughlin: It’s very complex to figure out why there aren’t that many female coaches at the upper levels. USA Swimming is, I believe, about 51-52 percent women. But then you get to those upper levels, it tends to be men. I am married to a club coach. And so I know those are hard hours with time away from your family. It’s early mornings and late evenings and weekends. In general I think there needs to be more support for all coaches, not just females, but men as well. For coaches to have their families and to find a way to balance that.

Lindsay Mintenko at USA Swimming is working on making it a priority to fit in family, mental and physical health and overall wellness for coaches. Part of that mental health side is fitting in family. And I know that’s been a big part of it. She wants to allow Dave Durden and Greg Meeham (2020 Olympic Coaches) to bring their families to Tokyo next year.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: That’s great. People can hear this and know that some changes are underway. So you made your first senior national final at 13 and now you’re still swimming at 37, with some injuries and struggles along the way. What advice would you give to young swimmers?


Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine

Natalie Coughlin: From the time I was age 13 to 21, when I won my first Olympic medal, felt like an eternity. When you’re a teenager, time doesn’t go as quickly as it does when you’re in your 20s and 30s, and then 40s. But, seven years from now seems like a blink of an eye. Like 2012 London, that seems like it was last summer.

But when you’re a kid, time just goes so slowly. And so you have to be really patient when you hit a plateau or you have an injury or you have a bad season.

If you have the right attitude and if you have the right mindset, any setback could be a learning opportunity.

When there’s a setback you can say OK, how can I improve my stroke so that I don’t get this injury? How can I take care of my body so that this doesn’t doesn’t happen again? How can you know if you have hit that plateau? You have to be brutally honest with yourself. What am I doing? What can I improve? Is it in the pool? Is it my life outside the pool? Am I getting enough rest? Am I making the right choices outside of the pool? Nutrition wise, can I do better?

There are always things that you could do to improve yourself. Coach Teri McKeever says you are training 24/7, whether you like it or not. And and that’s something that I don’t think people realize. Even your posture throughout the day, the way you walk to and from classes, the way you sit all day, that affects your training.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Any other advice to help one achieve success?

Natalie Coughlin: Mindfulness. Being present is so important in all aspects of life. Doing everything with purpose. It’s so easy to be distracted today and not mindful.

You look around and you see everyone staring at their phones. If you’re in the elevator, God forbid you don’t look at your phone. People are constantly searching, searching for a distraction because it is uncomfortable to be present sometimes. So being comfortable with being present and being purposeful in everything that you do is a really good practice that serves you in life, but definitely serves you well swimming.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: What traits of Champions do you think that swimmers (or just people in general) need to succeed?


Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

Natalie Coughlin: I think being present and again, mindful, is a big thing. I am very particular in paying attention to what I’m doing. I think it’s easy when you’re swimmer, when you’re training five hours in the pool, to start to daydream and to start doing things on autopilot. That’s easy and that’s a coping mechanism, like daydreaming or singing a song in your head or thinking about what happened at school or what’s going to happen on the weekend.

That may seem like a good use of your time, but I promise you, it’s not. It’s a total waste of your time and your coach’s time. For example, how are your underwaters going to improve? They’re going to improve by you working on them off of every single wall. Whether you feel like you have enough air or not, you will do eight kicks off of every wall. And there’s no magic pill. There’s no magic solution other than that 10,000 hours of practice.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: How do you feel about swimming now?

Natalie Coughlin: If you told me at 13 that I’d still be competing at 37, I would have never believed you. I love swimming and I love everything about swimming, but especially the daily struggle of swimming. In those three years that I took off, I missed my teammates and I missed having a common goal and working together.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Is there anything that you would like to share with our listeners that I haven’t directly asked you?

Natalie Coughlin: If you’re interested in my wines, at our company Gaderian Wines, we produce out of St. Colina in the Napa Valley. It’s all Napa Valley fruit, and it’s been a really fun project. Gaderian means to bring together or gather in old English. So that’s the basis of the name. We also have a wine club and we ship to most states.

CHAMPION’S MOJO: Thank you for being with us Natalie! It’s been great. I know our listeners are going to love it. You’re an inspiration. And we wish you all the best. Thank you.

Natalie Coughlin: Thank you so much. Thank you.


  1. avatar
    Val Pate

    Great interview! Finally… swimming and life’s lessons take a front seat in the sports arena with Champions Mojo podcast! I love it! This podcast covers it all— from competition and interviews with former and rising Olympians to overcoming obstacles , the power of positive thinking and the effectiveness of mindfulness to goal setting in order to achieve success. Co-hosts Maria Parker and Kelly Palace share their personal experiences often exposing their vulnerability in order for listeners to learn. These two are sincere, genuine, brutally honest and self-confident which speaks to their successes and willingness to help others through education, exposure and charity pursuits. They come across as two good friends inviting us along to learn, ponder, explore some of life’s most personal crises as they share, laugh, challenge us to make ourselves a better person. As a former teacher, current coach, Masters swimmer, three sport collegiate athlete and mother of three, I can instantly relate to all the topics they cover. This podcast is refreshing, interesting, informative and challenges the listener to become a better person.

  2. avatar
    Jill Grens

    I love Champions’ Mojo!
    A little behind with the times, this was actually the first podcast I had ever listened to. After this discovery, I listened to each and every episode!
    Maria Parker and Kelly Palace have a great rapport with the athletes they interview as well with each other!
    Each episode is filled with great techniques that all athletes can apply in addition to the knowledge shared by the athletic hosts and the athletes they interview.
    I look forward to Kelly and Maria sharing their 20/20 insight and wisdom in 2020!