A for Athlete


  • Former swimmer in Division III at St. Olaf College in 2009 named swimmer of the week.
  • In 2010, training under Coach David Marsh of SwimMAC


Nelson Westby (Salem, OR) had two wins at to help his team win the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships. The senior won the 100 breaststroke (55.33, NCAA "A" time, MIAC and Meet Records), the 200 breaststroke (2:01.44, NCAA "A" time MIAC and meet records) and swam to a second place finish in the 200 individual medley (1:51.59, NCAA "A" time). The All-American also assisted on the winning 200 medley relay (1:30.72, NCAA "A" time MIAC and meet records) and the second place 800 freestyle relay (8:47.68, NCAA "B" time).


Feature on College Swimming dot com By Julia Wilkinson and Charlotte Green[]

Nelson Westby doesn’t think that he is at a disadvantage because he chose to swim Division III. Right now, less than two years away from United States (also known as USA) Flag of the United States Olympic trials, he actually believes that his choice to swim at St. Olaf College has given him an advantage over his competition that hails from larger “dynasty” style programs like Auburn or The University of Texas: “The biggest advantage I have coming from St. Olaf is that I didn’t burn out,” Westby says. And in a sport like this, with agonizingly early mornings and a demanding schedule, motivation can be everything.

Westby graduated from St. Olaf as a highly decorated student-athlete. He is a four-time Division III NCAA champion, a 20-time All-American, a 2008 Olympic Trials competitor in the 100-meter breaststroke, and he holds seven St. Olaf school records. He came within a whisker of the NCAA Division III record in the 200-yard breaststroker despite turning down the offer of a body suit from a rival. It is no surprise to mention that he was chosen as MVP all four years at St. Olaf. For someone who was self-proclaimed “new to the sport of swimming” when he started University, he has a fairly impressive resume tucked into his drag suit.

It may come as a surprise to some that a guy who has been ranked in the top 100 in the world and is now training full-time with SwimMAC Carolina didn’t come from a powerhouse Division I school. Because he had no idea how far he could, or even wanted to go, in the sport of swimming, Westby decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and attend St. Olaf College after high school. And unlike in most Division I programs, Westby was able to do more than just train and go to class. It was being this well rounded that he attributes to his current successes in the pool: “I wasn’t stuck in a monotonous cycle of training and school. It helped me to realize how much I did appreciate swimming.”

Westby’s coach, David Marsh, also believes that Westby’s humble college roots have benefited him. Marsh describes Westby as “eager, enjoying every day at practice,” and emphasizes how much Westby brings to the atmosphere of the training group with his positive attitude. According to Marsh, Westby is not afraid to work himself into the ground and that blood analyses during last season indicated that Westby had slipped into the trough of being “over-trained” simply by trying harder than everyone else in the group that was doing the same program. Marsh compares this attitude of a Division II or III swimmer to that of an over-looked football recruit: “They all have something to prove.” Whether or not Westby feels like he has a chip on his shoulder, he definitely trains like someone who does.

When it comes to swimmers from smaller programs who choose to turn pro, Marsh requires three things of his swimmers: you must be an Olympic medal contender, you must support this cause, and you must be a role model to the younger kids on the club team. Marsh believes that Westby has at least two—and is slowly creeping up on three—of these requirements. Westby is a favorite among the younger club swimmers when he helps with clinics, and it all comes back to the same personality trait that makes him great in his own swimming: his passion for the sport. “He is the most popular of the post-grads with the kids because he cares so much,” Marsh says of Westby.

Marsh likes to look for human potential, giving guys like Nelson Westby a chance to figure out how great they can really be. And by how Marsh describes Westby in training, it is obvious that Westby is just as eager to discover his potential. When asked about the adjustment from college swimming to being a professional, Westby mentioned how “heated” a workout can get when everyone in the pool has similar—if not the same—goals as you. This falls in line with Marsh’s description of Westby in practice: “he is feisty and likes to race.” Marsh believes this attitude was bred in his Division III background, because Westby was never told there was anyone he “couldn’t” race. So it’s no surprise to hear that Westby, a breaststroker, can be seen racing one of the best freestylers in the world—Cullen Jones—during freestyle sets at practice.

Nelson Westby may have had a different college experience than most of the professional swimmers in the pool today, but he shares a common goal with them: to wear the USA cap at the Olympics in 2012. And with an attitude and work ethic like his, there is no one out there who can say that his dream can’t become a reality: but even if there were, Westby wouldn’t believe them anyway.