POSTED: June 21st 2012
Olympic Trendsetter: Gold medal swimmer and environmentalist Natalie Coughlin
June 21 - Swimmer Natalie Couglin, 29, was the most decorated female athlete at both the 2004 Athens and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In Beijing, she became the first U.S. woman to medal six times during a single Games, giving her a lifetime total of 11. She hopes to add to that number this summer at the 30th Olympiad in London. Besides swimming, Coughlin's passions include food, gardening, and the five chickens she keeps in her backyard in Lafayette, California.
What do you mean when you call yourself an "urban farmer"?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: I grow a lot of my own food and have replaced a lot of our landscaping with edibles. We have 10 citrus trees, seven seasonal vegetable beds, and chickens for eggs. We're considering honeybees next.
How did you pick up gardening as a hobby?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: When I was a kid, I had a 90-year-old neighbor—she could stick anything in the ground and it would grow and flourish. We'd always play in her garden. I still have the colander that she used to make potpourri from her roses. A lot of people in my life have had backyard gardens, so when I was looking to buy a home, that was one of the requirements.
What do you get from gardening?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: It gives me a sense of calm. I just go out and stare at the beds. My husband makes fun of me, but I love it. I also love having a huge array of herbs at any given time. And the health benefit—having something so fresh—just makes total sense.
What's it like to have five chickens?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: Chickens are probably the easiest pet you can have. You just provide them with shelter, food, water, and protection and they're happy. We get three to eight beautiful eggs a day—greenish-blue eggs, pinkish-brown eggs—and they're as fresh as they possibly could be. They're better than anything you can get in stores.
Switching gears a bit, have water pollutants ever affected you?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: Oh, definitely. There was one time when my team and I were on a training trip in San Diego doing an ocean swim right when there was an oil spill. It coated all of us. I got a pretty good upper respiratory infection. Another time, in Bali, I got a skin infection because of sewage in the water.
As a community, are swimmers more passionate about water issues?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: I think a handful are, especially the ones who grew up on the coast. But surfers are the most passionate about saving the water. It's closer to their heart. It's something that they know firsthand affects them. They become aware of just how big of a deal it is.
What are you most looking forward to in London?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: First of all, making the team. Assuming that I'm there, bangers and mash is definitely something I'll hit up. Also, my guilty pleasure is a really good hot dog. It's funny because I eat mostly vegetarian and I'm all about health, but one of my favorite foods in the world is hot dogs, which is terrible.
What motivates you?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: I was a very, very competitive kid. And swimming is just what I was good at. I love being a professional athlete. I just love being paid to be outdoors most of the day, take care of my body, travel the world, represent my country.
How did it feel to win the gold?
NATALIE COUGHLIN: I'm not really an emotional person, but I was crying. It's not an emotion that's normal. It was something that we don't really have a word for.
—interview by Avital Binshtock Andrews
This article originally appeared in Sierra magazine reprinted by permission
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