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March 26, 2003

Aggie swimmer uses faith to overcome obstacles

From: The Battalion - Mar 26, 2003

Hearing-impaired athlete qualifies for NCAAs

By Jeff Allen
March 26, 2003

There was a time last year when Texas A&M junior and NCAA qualifier Chris Nelan had to stop and reconsider his role on the Aggie swimming and diving team. After training daily under Head Coach Mel Nash for two years, Nelan had finally hit a wall.

"It was really frustrating for both of us," Nash said. "It had got to where we thought that maybe we weren't a good match, so we redshirted him last year and gave him time to catch his breath."

Nelan, who has only been swimming since he was 17 years old, was no stranger to adversity. Born with only 40 percent of the hearing of the average person, he learned at an early age that things in life do not come easily.

"I was mainstreamed my whole life," Nelan said. "With my disability, they were going to put me into a special school, but my parents didn't want that, and I was mainstreamed. It pushed me. I learned that I can't sit back on my heels. It motivated me to prove to people that I could do anything that I wanted to do."

While in high school in Keller, Texas, Nelan was a jack-of-all-trades, playing in so many sports it caused a ripple in the general populace, forcing the athletics director to make him choose a sport. Nelan applied a lesson that he had learned throughout his life to help make his decision - he decided to trust God.

"I wasn't sure about it, so I went to bed, prayed and asked the Lord to show me what to do," he said. "When I woke up I wanted to be a swimmer and haven't looked back."

At the time, Nelan had been swimming to stay in shape for sports such as football, basketball and soccer. The switch changed his focus and he decided that he would devote his athletic abilities to swimming.

After searching with his father for a swim coach, Nelan found himself in a program preparing him for the rigors of the collegiate level. The program had him in the pool everyday for more than two years, preparing him for his future career at A&M, a place where, upon his arrival, doors opened that Nelan could have never anticipated.

Based on times while swimming at A&M, Nelan was recruited to compete in the 2001 World Deaf Games in Rome, Italy, for the United States. He returned as the most decorated athlete on the American team, garnering three gold, two silver and a bronze medal, while becoming the highest point scorer on the U.S. team.

While in Rome, Nelan set American records in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard fly, and was on the world-record setting U.S. 400-yard freestyle relay team.

"It was awesome to compete at that level with the world records and help the U.S.A. win golds," Nelan said.

It was when Nelan returned to College Station that his faith in himself and his trust in his direction was tested again. After the stint, Nelan returned and was having trouble improving his times. It was then, during the 2001-2002 season, that he was redshirted by Coach Nash.

"That year showed me that you can't give up," Nelan said. "Everybody is going to hit rock bottom at some point in their life, and that's when you find out who you really are. I knew that if I had faith in the Lord and my ability and that if I trained hard, I would come through. I just had to trust."

After much contemplation, Nelan decided to stay at A&M and keep training, but heading into this season, not a whole lot had changed. As late as the Big 12 Conference meet, he was swimming on the "B-squad".

But while swimming in a relay, Nelan made an impressive split time and Nash moved him into a time trial relay. The team of four swimmers qualified for the NCAA Championships, making Nelan the first swimmer in A&M history to qualify for the Championships who was not on the first team. The accomplishment is only the most recent in the career of a student athlete who has chosen to overcome any obstacle he might face.

"It shows anything can happen," Nelan said. "Whether you're on A squad or B squad, if you believe and trust in the Lord it can happen."

© 2003 The Battalion Online - Texas A&M's News Source