Interview: Olympic Swimming Champion Natalie Coughlin

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When 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin takes her dog to the pet hotel, it’s not the 32-year-old champion swimmer who makes waves – it’s her 110-pound American Bulldog, Dozer.

Never mind that Coughlin is one of the most decorated women in U.S. Olympic history, who has appeared on Iron Chef America, Dancing with the Stars and Sports Illustrated; cheers of, “Dozer’s back!” greet her when she walks in the door.

Coughlin hardly minds sharing the spotlight – in fact, Dozer and his sister She-Ra, a Border Terrier, are mentioned in just about every article profiling the athlete’s life on dry land (sometimes more so than her husband, Ethan Hall!), and the dynamic duo have been known to steal the show on Coughlin’s Instagram feed. For a woman who travels to compete in the world’s most elite international swim meets, coming home to her furry co-stars is its own special reward.

“Every dog owner knows that feeling of walking into the house and being greeted,” Coughlin says. “Whether you’ve been gone for five minutes or five weeks, they are so excited to see you. It’s the best feeling.”

The pair may be a bit of an odd couple (Dozer physically dwarfs his sister, but She-Ra is the intellectual giant), Coughlin’s dogs fit perfectly into her active lifestyle.

“There’s definitely a balance between spoiling them and keeping them healthy, but we always make sure they get plenty of exercise,” she says.

Coughlin lets the dogs indulge in healthy treats, like eggs and carrots, and feeds them only top-quality kibble (being the spokesperson for Nulo has its perks!). But being healthy goes beyond just diet and exercise in the Coughlin-Hall household.

“We also think it is important to create discipline, so we set rules in the house,” Coughlin explains. “They both know the rules, but when we’re not looking they do try to test them.”

While pushing the boundaries is all part of life with a pet, there is one threshold Coughlin is careful never to toy with: their physical safety. Dozer’s battle with heat stroke was a frightening reminder of how quickly trouble can happen.

“It wasn’t even that hot of a day, but it was super dry outside,” Coughlin recalls. “And suddenly he just got this look in his eyes, and he was drooling a lot. He looked like he wasn’t really there; it was unmistakable.”

Recognizing the signs that Dozer was in distress, Coughlin acted quickly, carrying all 110 pounds of him to the car to rush to the emergency vet.

“For two days we weren’t sure he was going to make it. We’re lucky to have a great pet hospital nearby. The treatment cost a fortune but it was so worth it,” she says.

And that wasn’t the first time Coughlin’s quick thinking saved her pet

“When She-Ra was about three or four years old she got into a bowl of dark chocolates on the table. She actually unwrapped each one and ate them. Later when I got home I was rubbing her belly and noticed it was unusually hard, and then I found the wrappers,” she remembers. “Off we went to the ER to get her stomach pumped.”

Despite health hindrances in their pasts, both She-Ra and Dozer are in tip top shape today – and they’ve happily resumed their favorite activities. For She-Ra, ever true to her Terrier instincts, this means chasing wild turkeys and deer in the yard. For Dozer, it’s a day at the beach.

“Anytime he is off-leash on the beach is the best day of his life. He runs so freely – it’s so funny to see him because he’s all eyes and jowls flying up and down,” Coughlin laughs.

With her “turf” dog, her “surf” dog and her husband to cheer her on – not to mention one of the most impressive records in the world of competitive swimming – it seems Natalie Coughlin has a lot to smile about these days. And while they have no current plans to add four more paws to their pack (“We’d have to get a bigger bed,” she jokes.), Coughlin says her love for animals is a lifelong thing.

“Dogs don’t require much other than love, exercise, food and shelter and they give you so much back. It’s really special. I will always have dogs in my life.”

— published in fetch! magazine, the “Surf & Turf” issue

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