By Stephen Miwa
Competing in the Olympic Trials is a BIG deal, but it is not even the biggest event taking place this summer for Brian Donnatelli. Brian is an elite sprint distance swimmer, and he will be going to Cambodia as a member of the Peace Corp for over two years right after competing in the Olympic Trials this coming July.
A competitive swimmer was not something that Brian anticipated becoming when he was young. He actually hated club swimming because he was rail thin at only 90 pounds and just hated being cold all of the time in the water. It was not until his freshman year of high school that Brian decided to join the school team. He went out for a conference meet and broke 23 seconds in the 50 meter freestyle and realized that he had big potential. As a student athlete at the University of Iowa, making the typically individual sport of swimming a team atmosphere was a very important goal to Brian. He worked hard to get to know everyone on the team and create a brotherhood-like atmosphere. “Make it where you are thinking more about your teammates than you are about yourself. That mentality, I believe that made me faster,” Brian quotes. This mentality helped him to qualify for the London Olympic Trials.
“It’s one of those moments where you think you’re dreaming,” Brian says of competing at the Olympic Trials. Warming up in the same lane as Michael Phelps; sitting in the same hot tub as Ryan Lochte; bumping into Missy Franklin- these are things that many people dream about, and this amazement was not lost on Brian. “TV can only do so much, but when you are there standing next to guys who are 6’7” it’s amazing. It’s an amazing event to be a part of.” Brian did not qualify for the London Olympics in 2012, but he was able to take away many great experiences from the event.
Going into the 2013-14 season, Brian tore his ACL forcing him to miss the entire season. When asked about his rehabilitation Brian has a one word response. “Painful.” Brian continues, “It was painful both physically and mentally. There’s a lot of alone time, but I think it’s essential for growth. That’s one thing that I was grateful for.” Before his injury, Brian admits that he used to rely mostly on his raw talent. He would take it easy at practice, and then just try to flip a switch at meets. His outlook has forever changed after the grueling rehabilitation that he went through with Achieve. “I realize how much small victories matter. Before I was a stupid, young college kid living on cloud 9 because I was an athlete, and then after, I became more grateful and understanding of each and every aspect of what I have. I was grateful of just being able to walk around the pool deck.”
Brian’s injury really shaped his outlook on life. He started to focus more on personal growth and how he could help better society. While at University of Iowa, Brian was a teacher’s assistant working with international students. He met some amazing faculty that had worked abroad including one that had worked in the Peace Corp in Thailand. All of these influences helped to solidify Brian’s decision to join the Peace Corp. He admits that it was a tough decision, but he knows that this will be his way to help society. “I didn’t want to have an outside approach where I am just looking through a computer screen or TV.” Brian continues, “I want to go in and see what I can offer them.” During his time in Cambodia, Brian will be teaching secondary English to high school students and hopes that he will also be able to do some coaching as well.
When asked about what lies ahead, Brian responds with, “I don’t want to think too far ahead. I am just enjoying living in the moment and enjoying this time that I have here at home. We’ll see what happens afterwards.” Brian has not yet qualified for the Olympic Trails, but he has a couple more meets remaining to make his cuts. “I don’t hope, I know I am going to get it.” Brian would like to have the amazing experience of competing against the best in the world once more before he heads to the other side of the globe to have an all new amazing experience as a member of the Peace Corp.