Jill McCormick is pretty sure the email came in June.
It read something along the lines of, “Hey Coach Jill, I don’t know if you remember me … ”
McCormick, the coach of Santa Rosa Junior College’s swim and dive team, knew the sender all right.
“I remember him distinctly because he was a big fish that got away,” she said.
The big fish was Nate English.
English, 30, graduated from Santa Rosa High in 2005 as an experienced and decorated swimmer for both club and school teams. But he was done. Something he had once loved had become a chore.
“It was one of those things where I almost lost the fun for it in high school,” he said. “I had this talent to swim fast, but my work ethic wasn’t there.”
When English enrolled at SRJC, McCormick tried to get him to come out for the Bear Cubs, but he was never interested.
“I went after him pretty hard,” she said. “He was really good. I knew he was on my campus walking around and it was making me crazy.”
He always said no. Instead, he focused on school, got his AA degree and transferred to Cal. He swam some there, just for exercise, but largely worked on getting his degree in philosophy.
Then it was extended travel, a move to Los Angeles, a good-paying job in bartending and the high life. And, eventually, the beginning signs of a paunch and some back pain.
“I was having a little too much fun,” he said.
So he returned to the water. And this time, it was different. He was once again putting something of himself into his workouts, but suddenly he was getting more in return.
“It was more than exercise,” he said. “That kind of clicked, ‘I love swimming.’ It was an awakening moment, ‘Man, this is what makes me happy.’ ”
“It’s almost meditative for me,” he said. “At that time in my life it was a way to figure out what I was doing with my life.”
Swimming helped English realign how he thought about things. And swimming gave him balance when he moved back to Santa Rosa after what he describes as a rough spell in southern California.
He admits he was in a little bit of “panic mode. That feeling of ‘What am I doing with my life?’ ” He called it his quarter-life crisis.
So he jumped into a master’s swim program coached by SRJC’s head assistant coach Tyler Denize.
He also readied himself to take classes at the JC to “restart the engine, see what clicks.”
After watching English swim in the masters groups, Denize suggested to English that he reach out to McCormick. As long as English was returning to the classroom, he might as well give the team a go, right?
But 12 years is a long time to be away from competitive swimming, and McCormick’s program is no joke. How would a 30-year-old fare in her withering workouts?
“I already had Nolan (Stimple, assistant coach) and Tyler saying right off the bat, ‘He’s legit. He’s good,’ ” she said.