By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Near the end of his career, swimming had become a chore for Chad LaTourette.
For the vast majority of his highly successful time in the water, he loved competing, but when he realized he was no longer having fun doing that, he knew it was time to quit.
He hasn’t returned to the pool since he retired last year following Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – and he doesn’t miss it.
The time away has allowed him to explore other interests, and pursue new passions that motivate and excite him.
“I've been enjoying some other sports, namely cycling, that I never had a chance to master when I was swimming, and now I have time and I’m loving it,” LaTourette said. “I have a great group of friends from work that I will often ride with before work and on the weekends. I can't get over the ride we do before work on Fridays, Hawk Hill just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m convinced it is one of the best views on the planet. I have several century rides in my future that I am excited about tackling.”
Excitement is an emotion LaTourette wasn’t able to feel for many months after the 2012 Olympic Trials. His third-place finish in the 1500 freestyle marked the second Trials in a row where he came in third and missed swimming in the Olympics.
Coming into the meet, he was riding a high that included six medals at major international competitions, an NCAA title, two runner-up finishes and an American record in the three years since the 2008 Trials. He held the nation’s fastest time in the 30-lap 1500 free, and was a pre-meet favorite to redeem himself from four years earlier.
Despite being the top seed, LaTourette finished sixth in the preliminary session with a time that was much slower than he expected. Still, he qualified for the finals, and even though he was worried about swimming slower times and not feeling great in the water, he did his best to put those concerns out of his head.
For the first 12 minutes of his finals race, it looked as if he was on track to fulfilling his dream of representing his country at the Olympics.
LaTourette took the race out just as he and his Coach Bill Rose had planned it. By the 400-meter mark, he had a three-second lead over the rest of the field, and at the 800 mark, he was almost a full four seconds ahead of his closest competitor.
But by 1,000 meters, La Tourette hit the proverbial wall and a feeling of fatigue began to take over – a feeling foreign to him in past competitions or even training. He watched helplessly as his lead quickly evaporated.
Just two minutes after leading, he was now trailing two swimmers with the gap widening.
When he climbed out the pool, the realization that he had missed making the team again after coming so close was almost too much.
“I felt unnaturally gassed, just strange and not characteristic of how I usually feel,” LaTourette said. “At that point, you’re definitely starting to get tired, but you’re usually not totally gassed. There was a really strange sensation in my arm, a sense of lactate that I had never dealt with in the 1,500.”
LaTourette said he never had a “lowest moment,” but for months after the race, he had trouble sleeping as his mind replayed the disastrous Trials over and over.
He had plenty of support, including his family, who had always supported him in his Olympic quest. Still, no matter how much his family or friends consoled him, time was the only healer that could help LaTourette recover from the disappointment.
“In all reality, the only thing that has made it better is time and being several degrees removed from swimming,” LaTourette said. “One can only do so much to manage disappointment. Most of the uptick afterward came from putting it in the rear view mirror.”
Before stepping away from the sport, LaTourette swam one final time last summer at the Phillips 66 National Championships, finishing fourth in the 1500 and also swimming the 400 freestyle.
He said he approached the event knowing it was most likely his final meet, so he went in relaxed and excited to see what he could do.
“There was a strong likelihood that I would retire in the spring sometime before the meet, but I decided to stick it out and see where the new training regimen would take me,” said LaTourette, who trained as a part of the Stanford Post-Grad group under Tony Batis and Scott Armstrong.
“I was pleasantly surprised for what I had put in (in terms of number of meters I was swimming during training). We had a great group of guys training together, and I really enjoyed approaching my season from a more technical and sprint background.”
Since then, he has been working at his current company, Cleantech Group, using his educational background conducting research and consulting for large companies interested in sourcing investments and partnerships into clean technology start-ups.
He sees graduate school in his future, but for the time being, he said he is enjoying working in the private sector while still wanting to explore other career possibilities.
“I was quite keen on an MBA program out of college but have since shied a bit away,” LaTourette said. “I am looking at several Environmental Management (MSEM) or Urban/City Planning (MCP) programs for graduate school. My undergrad degree focused on solving some of the bigger societal and environmental problems, and I would like to return to those questions at some point.”
Wherever his career takes him, LaTourette said he is at peace with his swimming career and looks back choosing to focus on the great moments rather than the very few shortcomings.
Time and distance have given him perspective and appreciation.
“I've gotten to a good place in being able to look at results and root for some of my close friends but don't follow the sport with much intensity,” he said. “I do hold [my accomplishments] up, and I do try to be as proud of them as I can.
“That’s part of life. You’re going to fail at things and you’re going to come up short. And there’s nothing you can really do besides learn how to adapt and move on.”