BOISE — Nathan Quarterman was meant to be in the water.
Even if the Boise High School swimmer’s parents tried to fight it at first.
The junior is now arguably the best swimmer in the state.
He will look to add to his haul of seven state titles at the Idaho High School Swimming State Championships beginning Friday at the West Valley YMCA.
“He has a really good feel for the water and not everyone has that natural ability,” Boise coach Jeff Erwin said. “But beyond that, there’s lots of kids that have the talent, but they don’t want to put the work in. But not him. He’s here for 5 a.m. practices every morning. So it’s that combination that makes him special. Kids like him don’t come around too often.”
Quarterman gets it from his parents.
Audrey Quarterman swam for the University of Washington. Ken Quarterman was the top recruit with the fastest 200-meter freestyle time in the country coming out of Cascade High School in Everett, Washington. He won a national championship with the University of Texas in 1988.
But it was for those very reasons why Audrey and Ken were hesitant to get their own kids involved in the sport.
“We both knew what it all entailed,” Audrey said. “There’s just so much dedication and commitment required. The pressure can also be overwhelming at times. And just because we chose that life, we didn’t want our kids to feel inclined to do so too. So we kept things low key for as long as possible.”
So there were no formal swimming lessons.
And Nathan did soccer, flag football and basketball instead.
But he and his parents could only avoid his true calling for so long.
It started when Audrey signed up for the Midlakes Swim League in Seattle, when Nathan was 8. Nathan came along — and despite crying a time or two because the water was cold — he loved it.
His first ever race was the 25-yard backstroke.
Nathan joined the Bellevue Club Swim Team (Seattle area) the following year — the same club his mom swam for.
“As his little arms and legs flailed through the water, emotion welled up from deep within me,” Audrey said. “I remember glancing at my husband and seeing tears in his eyes as we took off to the end of the pool to congratulate our boy. I don’t remember what his time was or even what place he got. It didn’t matter. Our little boy was embarking on a journey.”
Nathan set his first record at 10.
It wasn’t at any sort of championship or national event, but rather during a small outdoor meet. He broke the 25-yard butterfly record of 13.89 seconds. Days before, his parents had printed the 13.89 time on several sheets of paper. Nathan placed them all over his room, including on the nightstand and on the ceiling wall.
The strategy work.
After winning the race, Nathan immediately jumped out of the pool and headed toward the timekeepers. They both gave him a time of 13.31 seconds. The record still stands to this day.
“I was almost in shock. Well, shock from a 10-year-old’s perspective,” Nathan said. “I remember running over and giving my mom a hug. That was the best part for me.”
It wasn’t until Nathan came to Idaho, though, that he really started making a name for himself.
He moved to Boise right before the start of the seventh grade. Just years later, he was a multiple-time state champion and on some of the biggest stages for swimming.
He went 4-for-4 at the 5A District III meet as a freshman. Nathan claimed titles in the 200-yard freestyle, the 100 backstroke and the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle relays. Nathan followed that up by winning three state championships, including the 200 freestyle. The same event where his father won three state titles in Washington.
“I shared a cool moment with him,” Nathan said. “He was on the pool deck and we both started crying.”
Nathan then went to YMCA Nationals that year in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was the only one on his Boise Y Swim team to compete on all five relays (200 medley, 400 medley, 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle, 800 freestyle). His 400 freestyle relay team took third.
He won four more district and state titles as a sophomore, including the 200 backstroke, the only one Nathan didn’t win the year prior, before qualifying for Junior Nationals in Austin, Texas.
Nathan competed again at the YMCA Nationals last April in Greensboro, where his 1:38.3 split in the 800 freestyle relay was the second-fastest for the entire meet. He took fourth in the 200 backstroke as well.
He is fresh off winning another four district titles (12 overall now) in the 200 medley relay, 400 freestyle relay, 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke last week. He broke the district’s all-time record in the 100 backstroke at 50.57 seconds — just months after hernia surgery.
“He’s resilient,” Boise Y Swim coach Todd Marsh said. “I thought it was a miracle that he still swam as well as he did, given the circumstances
“That’s what separates the good kids from the great kids, they’re not afraid to fail.”
Nathan is also doing all of this with nystagmus. According to The Discovery Eye Foundation, it’s a “vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, often resulting in reduced vision. These involuntary eye movements can occur from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern.”
Nathan was diagnosed with the genetic disorder at 6 months old.
“Of course we knew nothing about it. The more we researched it, the more terrifying it kind of became,” Audrey said. “It said oftentimes people with nystagmus aren’t able to drive or play sports.
“So initially, it was devastating.”
Nathan had to wear special goggles and tilt his head all the way back toward the sky just to be able to see straight.
But he still swam — even if he did crash into a wall or two.
However, thanks to a couple of surgeries and contacts, it’s not a problem anymore. He has 20/20 vision.
“I’ve gotten really used to it to the point where I don’t notice it that much,” Nathan said. “It’s just part of my daily routine that in order to see straight, I just have to kind of tilt my head a little bit.
“And with swimming, you don’t really have to focus on anything. So it really doesn’t bother to me at all or have any effect.”
This includes with state and beyond.
While Nathan looks to add another four state titles to his already long resume and help the Brave win their fifth state championship in a row, he has bigger aspirations.
He has already made visits to places like North Carolina State, Tennessee and his dad’s alma mater, Texas — the dream scenario. Nathan is also looking to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June in the 100 and 200-meter backstrokes.
He’ll have his chances at the Husky Invite and Junior Nationals in December, which will both be at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington. The Olympic Trials qualifying times are 56.59 seconds in the 100 backstroke and 2:02.99 in the 200.
He’s a second and a half back in the 100 and two in the 200.
So it’s a good thing he embraced his destiny after all.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Nathan said. “I’ve met so many amazing people and had so many great experiences. Choosing to swim was one of the best decisions my parents and I have ever made.”