MY JOURNEY STARTED the day after a southern New Mexico thunderstorm created a massive flash flood. My brother Lucas and I wanted to go swimming. Micki, our mom, took us firmly in hand and stopped us from entering the flood. Knowing her young boys didn’t have a clue how to swim, she promptly decided swimming lessons were in order.
Our dad, Keith Schrimsher, was a proud alumnus of the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. He took my brother and me to a pool at the school in 2004, and set into motion an impossible dream.
“Who wants to become an Olympian?” an old coach asked a group of us during youth camp at NMMI. Of course we all raised our hands and jumped with excitement at the idea of being on TV and competing for the United States. Turning that excitement into reality was possible, but it would take a lot of work—and a lot of New Mexico help.
Jan Olesinski, the head coach at NMMI, had competed at the 1980 Summer Olympics for Poland in the sport of modern pentathlon, which requires fencing, swimming, stadium show jumping, running, and shooting. Jan, whom we call “Coach,” introduced my brother and me to the pentathlon soon after we joined the swim team. What two boys wouldn’t want to try out fencing and shooting? We could hit each other with swords and not get grounded! Growing up as ranch kids in New Mexico, riding was just a given for us. The rest is history. My brother and I have been doing the pentathlon ever since.
Over the next seven years, we spent countless hours at NMMI and with Coach, growing from kids who couldn’t swim across a pool into national champions and world-class elite athletes. Coach and NMMI forever shaped a part of our lives.
After I left NMMI, I was presented with the opportunity to join the army and, after initial training, was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, where I became part of its World Class Athlete Program. I soon made the U.S. national team for pentathlon and began training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs—a state-of-the-art facility for many Olympic sports. I’ve trained there for the past three years.
New Mexican athletes stick together here. My close friend Tharon Drake, from Hobbs, my brother, and several others from around the state are often found joking about whose hometown is the best or what our favorite green chile dishes are. New Mexico runs in our blood, and we are proud to take our sports to the world as we travel to championships across the globe.
Last year, during the Pan American Games, I finally made good on that little boy’s hand in the air—I qualified for the Olympics. I was the first athlete to make it to the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in any sport. It was an amazing feeling to have accomplished the goal I had been dreaming of for so long. It was also painful. My dad, who had encouraged me through all those practices as a kid and had seen me grow up into the man I have become, passed away before he could see me qualify. The Olympics had been just as much his dream as it is mine. Now that he’s not here, my accomplishment is bittersweet, but I am going to compete for him.
It’s been a long and hard road, but my hand is still raised high. On August 5, I will walk into Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as part of the athlete parade. The title of “Olympian” will go with me for the rest of my life. From New Mexico to Brazil, this Olympic journey will be completed.
Everything I learned growing up in New Mexico helped me get here. I am thankful to call it home.
—Nathan Schrimsher lives in Colorado Springs.
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