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Nathan Adrian, with cancer diagnosis, surgeries behind him, has simple ask for return meet

by ZwemZa on May 16th, 2019

Nathan Adrian (Twitter)

Nathan Adrian would like to reveal special plans for his first meet since his testicular cancer diagnosis and two surgeries, but that is not his style.

“As I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking,” Adrian said Tuesday night, “I don’t even have something cool, like Damian Lillard wearing an Oakland A’s jersey to the arena.”

No, Adrian would be fine without extra fanfare at this weekend’s Tyr Pro Swim Series in Bloomington, Ind., where he will race the 100m freestyle on Friday and the 50m freestyle on Sunday.

“My hope is that you see the same Nathan Adrian at this meet that you’re used to,” the eight-time Olympic medalist said. “I just don’t know, because I am different, whether it be from a physical perspective — I’m missing an entire organ and lymph nodes and have pretty nasty scars. … And from an emotional perspective … I was moved to tears throughout that process.”

Adrian, now 30 years old, received his first Olympic gold medal in a vacuum-sealed packet at a team meeting a decade ago (as a preliminary heat swimmer before the famous Beijing 4x100m freestyle final). His second gold came by .01 of a second in the London 2012 100m free, after which he said he almost cried in the water (but appeared to stay composed in a TV interview and on the medal stand).

His last two golds in Rio relays brought teammates to tears — Ryan Held‘s sobbing in the 4x100m free and Michael Phelps welling up after his last career race in the medley. But Adrian stayed composed on the outside, per usual, casually opening that megawatt smile throughout the pool deck. His Twitter bio reads, “I have never taken myself too seriously and never intend to. I also went to the Olympics.”

“There are a lot of people that are really nice in this sport, but I can count on one hand the people that nobody dislikes,” said NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines, who is on this week’s Olympic Channel call. “Nathan is that one guy that everybody loves.

“He walks into a room, and everybody’s instantly attracted to that, that humility and that grace and that magnetism. … He has time for the 90-year-olds and the 9-year-olds, and everyone in between.”

Adrian, at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds (pre-cancer), is a giant in the sport, perhaps the greatest American sprinter in history. The last year knocked him over like a tidal wave that accompanies him off the turn of a 100m free.

“I would wake up from being asleep and just be in tears, sobbing. I didn’t know why,” he said of life post-cancer diagnosis. “Those were more powerful emotions than I think I’ve ever felt.”

Before catching it early, and undergoing two surgeries, Adrian would have considered summer 2018 his greatest adversity as a swimmer. He failed to qualify for this summer’s world championships in an individual event. He is part of the 4x100m free relay at July’s worlds in South Korea, but it’s his first major international meet without an individual swim since Beijing 2008.

“I just chalk it up to a freak accident of a year,” Adrian said, echoing teammates like Katie Ledecky, who noted nationals and the Pan Pacific Championships being two weeks apart and having a few days to acclimate to the 16-hour difference after arriving in Tokyo for Pan Pacs. Usually, nationals/trials are about a month before Olympics or worlds, and the team has a training camp near the site of international meets.

“It was super weird to see the Americans struggling at night [in finals at Pan Pacs],” said Adrian, who was slower at Pan Pacs than at nationals. “We don’t normally have those issues. It was super weird with, honestly, how slow we were.”

Adrian is adamant that this is the beginning of a full-fledged return that will not end next summer. He is amped to not only race at Indiana University this weekend, not only in Gwangju, not only at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, but also, if maybe not this summer, the new FINA Champions Series and International Swimming League in the years ahead.

What he can’t predict is what it will feel like in Bloomington on Friday, when he mounts an official race starting block for the first time since Dec. 1. He’s lost a couple of inches of vertical leap, which affects his explosiveness off starts and turns.

“It’s one thing to be in good shape. It’s a different thing to be in racing shape,” Adrian said. “Even, like, from an emotional or mental perspective, I’m not in racing shape.

“I still love swimming, but at the same time there was this threat of maybe not being able to compete for a really long time. That certainly made me think, makes me appreciate every day that I get to be in the pool.”

As for tears? “I’m not an extremely emotional guy,” he said, “but you certainly can’t rule it out.”

Nick Zaccardi | NBC Sports

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