Swimmer Nathan Adrian On Heading to the Olympics After Cancer Battle: 'I'm Looking Forward to Competing'

In the past four years, this five-time Olympic gold medalist got married, was diagnosed with and then beat cancer, and trained twice for the 2020 Olympics. Amid everything, he and his wife, Hallie, found new joy as they welcomed their daughter, Parker.

Nathan Adrian kissing baby
Aside from the athletes, no overseas visitors are allowed at this year’s Games, so Hallie will be rooting from home with Parker. Photo: Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa; Maisonette/Maison Me Baby

You might think that the daughter of Olympic gold-medal swimmer Nathan Adrian and former Stanford diver Hallie Adrian would take to bath time like a duck to water. But nope. Parker Jacquelyn Adrian, born this past February, did not smile, gurgle, or display a powerful baby backstroke the first time she was lowered into a tub in her Oakland, California, home.

"She hated it," reports Hallie.

"She cried!" says Nathan.

"I think maybe she was cold?" says Hallie. "We were all traumatized!"

But the new parents persisted, learning all the usual tricks (like putting a warm washcloth on Parker's stomach) to make their newborn comfortable in the water. "Now she finally likes to float around the tub," says Nathan, clearly tickled.

"She's got a good kick!" adds Hallie.

Baby Parker is too young to know it, but her father—one of the best sprinters in American swimming history, the recipient of eight Olympic medals, and a brand ambassador for Olympic outfitter Ralph Lauren—is expected to help lead Team USA to victory this summer. His fourth trip back to the games is all the more remarkable given Nathan's challenging past few years.

In December 2018, just months after marrying Hallie in Napa Valley, Nathan was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The couple learned that it could compromise his fertility—devastating for the newlyweds, who had been looking forward to starting a family. Though the cancer was caught early, Nathan required two surgeries and put training on hold. At one point during recovery, he was restricted from lifting much weight ("I was using soup cans") and shed more than 10 pounds. The time off was worrisome for an athlete whose speed is measured to hundredths of a second.

Fast-forward two years (plus one global pandemic), and he and Hallie, the director of merchandising for Pottery Barn Teen, are the elated parents of healthy and well-bathed Parker. To their immense relief, she was conceived naturally after they had made backup IVF plans. Best of all, following several years of medical surveillance, Nathan has been declared cancer-free. "I feel great," he says, flashing a dimpled grin. "And I'm looking forward to competing."

Nathan Adrian with wife and baby
Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa; Maisonette/Maison Me Baby

What was it like having a baby during the pandemic?

Nathan: I've always been a germophobe. I wore a mask on a plane before all this, so for me, having a wife pregnant through it all was absolutely terrifying.

Hallie: Definitely stressful. Being pregnant is considered a comorbidity, so I didn't see many friends during those nine months. I was so scared of getting sick and I was nervous about Nathan getting sick. And the delivery! Nathan was able to be at the hospital with me, but my mom couldn't be there. And then you have the fear that the baby could get it from the nurses or the doctors.

Nathan, what about training?

Nathan: I ordered a weight rack for my garage as soon as COVID-19 hit. For a while I trained at the swim club I co-own, AC Swim Club, in San Rafael, California, which has basically a kiddie pool in comparison with an Olympic one. The deepest it gets is 4 1/2 feet! I made it back to our real training pool last August.

Behind every Olympic athlete are the parents. Does becoming a dad make you think about your parents?

Nathan:My parents win a team-effort award. They took turns driving me to early-morning and evening practices, and when I got home there would always be a home-cooked meal on the table. It had to be stressful for them to watch their kid go through training, Olympic Trials, three Olympics so far, and all these ups and downs of my life. I look at Parker and hope she doesn't put me through what I put my parents through!

Nathan, your mom is from Hong Kong. Will Chinese heritage play a role in Parker's life?

Nathan: I'm glad you asked. My parents had the best intentions, but they didn't focus on race when my siblings and I were growing up, hoping that racism was "over." I still want to explore more of my identity, and I definitely want to educate Parker on my mom's side of the family.

Nathan Adrian holding baby by pool
Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa / Shirt Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

When will Parker swim? Do you believe in just throwing a kid in?

Hallie: We're going to wait for swim school until she's 6 months.

Nathan:Regardless of what she does down the road, we want her to be water safe. And no, I don't believe in throwing babies into the pool. You need them to feel comfortable putting their face in.

Hallie: This is Nathan's area. I'm actually terrible at swimming!

Everything You Need to Know About Nathan Adrian's Family

When I started swimming... I had no idea what I was getting into.

Favorite baby book: Corduroy, which I had growing up.

Least favorite parenting task: Making sure everyone who goes near Parker is up-to-date with vaccinations.

Key piece of baby gear: The Snoo. We live in the Bay area­, which is the tech world, so everybody's got their gadgets.

Parenting oops moment: The first time we left the house with Parker, we forgot an extra outfit, and she had her first blowout. At least we didn't forget the wipes.

Nathan Adrian getting out of pool
See Nathan Swim! USA Swimming will be broadcast on NBC starting July 24. Mark Williams + Sara Hirakawa

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's July 2021 issue as "Nathan Adrian's Victory Lap."

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23 on NBC.

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