Press Box: Olympics

Looking to Turn Water into Gold

By Andrew Linker, Photography by Cassie Miller

Sitting in the middle of Hershey’s Chocolate World, surrounded by candy and enveloped by its intoxicating aroma, David Nolan pauses in mid-sentence, looks around at the goodies near him and speaks with his heart, not his head.

“A Reese’s Cup every now and then,” he says with a smile, “doesn’t hurt, right?”

The thought comes out as half-question and half-declaration.

No matter. Nolan knows he should not – really, he cannot – indulge himself, regardless of whether he wants a single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or a bagful of them.

Lay off those Kit Kat bars, too, kid.

Such is the life of a world-class athlete in training.

Such is Nolan’s life right now.

On this day, Nolan briefly is visiting Hershey, where he once was a champion swimmer and where he now is returning to help the behemoth of a candy company promote its sponsorship of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The 23-year-old Nolan is a natural spokesman for Hershey, having come from one of the most distinguished swimming families in an area immersed with tradition in the sport (see Linn, Jeremy and Nall, Anita, past Olympic champions both).

Nolan is well-spoken and well-educated – a Hershey High and Stanford University education can do that for you.

He also is a sought-after interview, getting questions not only about himself but of his teammate, Michael Phelps, the U.S. Olympic swimming icon who every four years turns water into gold.

“Michael has been doing it from 15 (years old) to 31, but obviously he’s an anomaly,” Nolan says.

Nolan does not strive to be an anomaly but simply a member of the United States’ perennially powerful team prepping for the 2016 Games that begin in August.

To do that, he first needs to survive the Olympic Trials held in late June and early July in Omaha, Neb.

Just as he tried in the 2012 Olympic Trials, Nolan is pursuing one of two spots on the 2016 team in any one of his specialties – the individual medley, butterfly and backstroke.

Nolan and others seemingly are chasing down just one spot in each discipline, since the incomparable Phelps, he of the 22 career Olympic gold medals, tends to dominate all of them.

“It’s nice to train against Michael,” says Nolan, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., but who during his not-so-long-ago days at Hershey was Pennsylvania’s high-school version of a mini-Michael.

Nolan was – and still is – that good, and he currently is the American record holder in the 200-yard IM.

Today, like everyone else at the Olympic-training complex, Nolan says he finds the competition to join Phelps in Brazil to be “beyond intense.”

A typical day for Nolan consists of swimming four to five miles in the morning with another three miles at night.

This goes on for five days each week. Weight-training comes three days a week for Nolan and the nine other swimmers with whom he has been training both in Arizona and Colorado.

“Every day, we come in and push pretty hard to get those miles,” he says.

In between, there is plenty of fruit, yogurt, granola, bread and protein shakes to be consumed and, for the start of Nolan’s day, a little guilty pleasure in homemade French-press coffee.

And, no, sorry Hershey, candy is not part of the daily diet.

“It’s better than a normal work day,” Nolan says. “You wake up, and you work out, so you’re doing something good for your body. You’re taking care of what you’re putting into your body, and then you work out again at night.”

Then there is just enough time to eat dinner, watch a little TV and crash until the next morning.

Nolan says he does not know how much longer he will follow the routine, how long he will continue to compete after a few post-Olympic meets in the fall. Another go at the Olympics in 2020, maybe. Then again, maybe not.

“I’ll definitely take next year off from swimming, for the most part, to finish my degree and set myself up for a job,” he says.

Nolan has stayed in contact with his professors from Stanford, where he says he needs a few more classes to earn a degree in biochemical engineering.

For Nolan, there is little else now beyond swimming and studying other than, of course, enjoying the songs of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin pulsing through his 2014 Toyota Prius during his 50-mile roundtrips to practice in Arizona.

“You definitely have to sacrifice some of your social life to achieve your goals in a sport like swimming,” he says. “It’s pretty cut-throat. You need to train super hard, and when you train super hard, you get super tired. When you have school on the side, you really don’t have time for too much of anything else. But, honestly, I’ve made so many close friends in swimming that I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much.”

Except, maybe, for an occasional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine