Recently I have felt really inspired by the women that surround me, and have surrounded me for years in all seasons of life. Whether they swam, went to school with me, mentored me, or prayed for me, there are multiple women who have helped shape my life. Natalie Hinds is someone who I can relate to and inspires me because of her grit and determination.
I was a freshman in high school when I met Natalie for the first time and dang, that girl is someone you will NEVER forget. I was lucky enough to room with her during the National Select Camp in 2011, which seems like light years ago (This also means that I have somehow known her for nine years????). Looking back, I remember being giddy and nervous as most fourteen year olds are. But here was something about her that made me feel less nervous and a little more outgoing. Natalie was extremely outgoing, personable, and honestly just fun to be around. She was someone who made me feel as though as I could just be myself. Aren’t those the best kind of people?
From high school star recruit, to college stud
Natalie is from Midland, Texas and was the No. 1 recruit out of Texas and also the No.13 recruit in the 2012 class according to College Swimming. She was named the Female Swimmer of the UIL Class 5A 2011 meet, broke two district records in 2011 in the 100 fly and back. Her college options? Florida, USC, Arizona and Texas were top on her list as she headed into college.
Sadly though, in 2012 she decided to become a Florida Gator (had to do it to ya Nat!). The Texas native followed her dreams and swam in college. Hinds become a 20-Time All-American which is pretty freaking successful if you ask me.
Here are just some of her successes… thanks SwimSwam 😉
As a freshman Hinds earned seven All-America honors, tying for the most honors on Florida’s team. At the NCAA Championships Hinds finished 3rd in the 100-yard free, and won the consolation final in both the 100-yard fly and the 50-yard free. On top of that, she was also named the SEC Female Freshman of the Year after finishing in the top eight in all her events, and took the title in the 100 fly. Like what??? That is a phenomenal freshman year.
Hinds had another successful season as a sophomore — she had three individual All-America honors and three relay All-America honors. Hinds set a Florida Record in the 100-yard free (47.40) and 50-yard free (21.66). Additionally, she was also a member of the 200-yard medley relay that won a bronze, the 400-yard medley that took 4th.
Hinds made history as a junior as she and Neal and Manuel became the first African-American swimmers to go 1-2-3 in a single event. Besides her bronze medal finish in the 100-yard free, Hinds also took 5th in the 100-yard fly.
Most athletes would probably be more than delighted to call that a career. They would hang up their suits and caps, moving on with life. Natalie did all of these at the end of her career, after Olympic Trials in 2016.
2016 Olympic Trials Rolled Around
At what she thought would be the last meet of her career, Hinds swam the 50 free (26.08), 100 free (56.31), and 100 fly (1:01.08) at the 2016 Olympic Trials (she is already dominating and passing these times by the way). I actually remember watching her swim proudly. It is beyond special to watch someone you really admired finish their career and head into the unknown. When she finished the meet, she was done swimming as far as she knew.
This worked until two years passed and she realized she felt incomplete. Those feelings would not go away unless she acted upon them. Two years out of the water had come and gone and she knew she wasn’t done. I’d say that there are a decent amount of swimmers and athletes that felt as though their career was incomplete. Heck I bet a ton of athletes feel that way. But when you reconsider the time, effort, pain, the sacrifices, many would rather swallow those feelings than try again.
However, Natalie is different and determined. And she is making waves in the swimming world leading up to 2020. So watch out, and be prepared.
I asked Natalie why she had even retired in the first place and how she had originally felt about it. Her answer resonated with me because it is relatable as a graduated collegiate athlete.
“Looking back, originally, I felt incomplete, but was convinced that I needed to move on since my college career and the Olympic year had finished. I was excited at the thought of getting a real job, doing the things that I had put off because I was swimming all the time, and mentally being able to focus on something else.” – Natalie
Who else has felt like that had to follow a certain path of life and therefore, gave up on hopes and dreams? Yeah, same.
Time can change people though, and reignite those unique feelings. Soon her determination within her became an incredible beginning to a wholesome comeback story. Why did she decide to swim again? Natalie realized that she had stopped because she was unhappy with the sport and where she was within it. Being away for two years made her realize that she still had so much potential and happiness left.
“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”
I think a lot of people need change, and honestly change can lead to real results and new outcomes. Personally, I’ve sought change to bring about new happiness, and I would highly recommend it. Natalie knew she needed it. I think a lot of people need it.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
In fall of 2018, she took a HUGE leap in faith, and she made her way down to Georgia Dawg territory, a known rival with the University of Florida. But why Georgia? An obvious first answer would be that Georgia is a known powerhouse for post-grad swimmers. UGA has athletes such as Melanie Margalis, Olivia Smoliga, Nic Fink, Matias Koski, and Jay Litherland, to name a few. She also noted that Jack has been nothing but gracious towards her since she met him when she swam at Florida. Natalie knew that she was going to feel comfortable swimming for him and the rest of the coaching staff at UGA.
Unless you either, 1. Don’t know much about swimming or, 2. haven’t been keeping up with pro athletes, then you KNOW that this change has done some real good for Natalie. She has been training alongside sprinter/bff/soulmate Olivia Smoliga which has helped her find her happiness. Additionally has also helped her fit right in with the Georgia crew. Natalie has already dropped best times left and right after being out of the water for two years.
At her first meet back, the 2018 Georgia Senior State Championships, Natalie made a statement by going near bests in her 3 primary events (50 free, 100 free, 100 fly). At the Knoxville Pro Swim in January 2019 (her first long course meet since 2016 Olympic Trials), she went best times in all 4 events. Hinds swam (50/100 free, 50/100 fly), twice in some (prelims and finals). Okkayyyy girl!!!!!
She ain’t done though
On June 11, 2019, Natalie Hinds was announced as a member of the Cali Condors ISL team. This team is headed by GM Jason Lezak, being a part of the pack of pros starting a new and bright future for swimming. Her goals? Sight is on the 2020 Olympic team first and foremost but she would also like to be involved with educating different cultures about swimming by doing clinics and speaking engagements.
But who inspires her on this path to 2020? Her first answer are her parents, who have supported her nonstop during her journey. Her role model besides her parents is Elaine welteroth. She was the youngest editor in chief at teen vogue. She’s also a motivational speaker and she juggles so many projects with such humility and grace and Natalie just loves her!
Day in and day out, Natalie is focused and driven. She works hard with a smile on her face and enjoyes supporting those around her. So I would watch out, because this girl is not slowing down or stopping anytime soon before Olympic Trials next summer. Go Natalie!