Natalie Davis had a big decision to make when she turned 12.
She excelled at swimming and loved gymnastics. She chose swimming and hasn’t looked back.
“I was raised in a pool,” said Davis, who is an instructor at Little Flipper Swim School at the LaFleur Gymnastics Club off Anderson Road in Tampa. “My parents had me in a pool as long as I can remember. I was 6 months old and my neighbors had a blowup pool and I never wanted to get out.”
She started getting into competitive swimming relatively late, waiting until she was 12 and had decided to concentrate on swimming over gymnastics. After 18 months she was competing in the Junior Olympics in the backstroke, and the 100- and 200-freestyle.
She started racing in high school, for two years in North Carolina, then her final two years at Gaither High School, and had plenty of success, going to states each year, but she never set her sights on anything beyond that. Instead, she decided she loved coaching even more than competing.
“I loved swimming, but I found an even bigger passion for coaching kids,” Davis said. “I still enjoy swimming on my own but it’s all about teaching now.”
Most of the swimmers at Little Flipper are young and learning, which is what Davis said she’s most interested in. She’s not trying to train the next Michael Phelps, but she wants to be the one who trains the kids who someday may be the next Phelps. For now, though, she emphasizes fun over competition.
That’s not to say that she’ll never compete again. Davis coached the Cambridge Christian swim team for a year and hasn’t ruled out racing at the Masters level. She said she can still put up some good times, especially in the backstroke, but after six years at Little Flipper, her priorities are with the kids.
“When I see the excitement in the eyes of those young kids, that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” Davis said. “It takes a lot of time and dedication but it has all been worth it.”
It hasn’t always been easy. In high school, Davis practiced every morning from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. and studied her way to a 4.6 grade point average. Swimming, she said, was her social life. She built up a work ethic that has lasted and she’ll need that to pursue her next goal. She wants to compete in a triathlon, mixing swimming, running and cycling. The swimming is in the open water and is one of the most grueling competitions in the world.
She’s ready to take on the challenge, but it’s still the kids that mean the most. A lot of them are very happy she chose swimming over gymnastics.