By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When she was 10, Chelsea Nauta made a prophetic statement that is slowly but surely proving true.
She proclaimed to her parents and coach that she wanted to earn a college swimming scholarship and make the Olympic team one day.
So far, she’s 1-for-2, having completed her senior season at the University of Georgia this past March, with the second part of that statement definitely within reach.
For Nauta, who is competing this weekend at the AT&T Winter National Championships in Atlanta, setting goals and chasing them are keys to helping her attain her dreams little by little, step by step.
“I think verbalizing my goals has been really beneficial throughout my career,” said Nauta, who is finishing her final semester at Georgia and will graduate this month. “Saying it out loud and sharing it with someone important to me has helped me really commit to a goal. I remember it was kind of scary at first, but ultimately, I think it’s worked in my favor.”
Nauta took a leap toward realizing the second part of her prophesy with a busy but tremendously successful summer meet schedule that took her to California, then China and finally Mexico to hone her competition and racing skills for next summer’s Olympic Trials in Omaha.
She started strong in August with a fourth place finish in the 200 freestyle at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., holding her own and swimming a personal-best against most of the top talent in the United States.
A week and transcontinental flight later, she overcame potential jetlag and fatigue to win a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China.
Having been a member of the 2009 U.S. World University Games team that competed in Serbia, Nauta admitted the meet – and overall experience – proved to be the next step in what became her summer of change.
“Compared to 2009 WUGs, the village and the venue where the pool was at were incredible,” said Nauta, who also won gold in the 800 free relay in 2009. “I was so impressed with how supportive the community was, as finals were packed every night. The awards ceremony was really incredible, too. I loved being on the podium representing the USA.”
It was during her time in China that Nauta learned – based on her performance at Nationals – she had been named to the Pan American Games team competing in Guadalajara, Mexico, a couple of months later in October.
In Mexico, she had her best meet of the summer, winning silver in the 200 free (behind teammate Catherine Breed) and also won gold as a member of the 800 free relay.
“It was really exciting to read the email as well as hear (University of Georgia coach) Jack (Bauerle) explain how he thought it was a perfect meet for me to go to given my recent completion of NCAA swimming,” Nauta said.
“I actually felt incredibly lucky to have such a big meet like Pan Ams to get ready for in October. I felt like it really jump-started this year for me both physically and with the perfect mindset leading into these next seven months of swimming. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to start off the Olympic year than with such a good taste of international swimming.”
Nauta, who continues to train with her Bulldog teammates, said the success she experienced this summer has fueled her desire to reach for and accomplish more in the sport.
And while she’s thoroughly enjoyed her experience of being a student-athlete at Georgia, she said she’s looking forward to not having class next year and being able to focus on the next seven months of swimming leading up to next summer’s Olympic Trials and making good on achieving her Olympic dream.
“I’ve always had dreams to make the Olympic team, but I felt like I got a new boost of confidence after having success in Mexico,” said Nauta, who knew she wanted to be a swimmer by age 4 but didn’t start lessons until she was 6. “I know I have to get faster if I want to be a big player in the 200 free next summer, but I’ve never felt more confident in my ability to do so.”
Between now and late June, Nauta knows she still has work to do to put herself in a better position to contend for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.
She said she plans to focus on improving her first 100 (of the 200 free), taking it out faster than she has been doing. She will also work on creating what she calls “easy speed” in the first 100 – leaving more in the tank for the last 100 – and has been watching underwater video of her swims to keep track of her stroke and increase efficiency.
“With Pan Ams being in October (and no one really being tapered) and also being at altitude, it wasn’t about our times so much as it was about just getting your hand on the wall and getting a medal for the USA,” Nauta said. “I think that situation really allowed me to focus on the race instead of my time which is what it’s going to come down to this summer at Trials.
“I think this summer has taught me to believe in myself and my ability to race and how important these concepts are in being successful at Trials.”