Theresa Brannen couldn’t be more proud of her husband, Nate, and not just because he’s a two-time Olympian.
No, she’s proud because she knows how hard he had to work and how much adversity he had to overcome to get there.
Nate will compete today in London in the 1,500 meters as a member of the Canadian team.
He also made it to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“This time is definitely more special than the first,” said the former Theresa Feldkamp, a 2001 Amherst graduate who was an outstanding track and cross country athlete for the Comets and then at the University of Michigan. “He’s in better shape, and he completely committed himself to his training.”
Nate qualified for the Olympics by eclipsing the “A” qualifying standard of 3:35.50 with a career-record time of 3:34.22 on May 27 at the Fanny Blankers-Koen meet in Hengelo, Netherlands. It was his fastest time since running a 3:34.68 in 2008.
Ranked 20th in the world, the native of Cambridge, Ontario, has the six fastest 1,500 times in Canada this year, the second-fastest time in North America and was chosen as one of Team Canada’s four Olympic track team captains.
Quite a turnaround for someone who could barely walk, let alone run competitively less than five years ago.
“He always had to deal with some type of injury,” Theresa said.
Before his first Olympics, he had to fight his way back into shape following back surgery for a herniated disc Nov. 30, 2007.
“The surgery I had was a minimally invasive discectomy,” he said in an email. “The injury most likely was caused by the pounding involved in running. The amount of stress on the body is pretty high when training at an elite level.”
After surgery, Nate flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, to begin a month of rehab with the Canadian Olympic team therapist. His regimen included back treatment twice a day along with strengthening and flexibility. After a month, he was allowed to start training again, such as it was.
His first day of running was Jan. 1, 2008, and started with 30 seconds of light jogging followed by 4.5 minutes of walking, which he alternated at 30-minute intervals.
“It was hard to think that I wanted to be competing at the Olympic Games in eight months and I was only allowed to run for 30 seconds at a time,” he said.
It took him some five weeks just to be able to run for 15 minutes, but he slowly increased his mileage until just over two months later he was able to do his first workout.
Problem was, he had less than six months before the Olympics.
“They told him he had a chance of never racing again,” Theresa said, “but eight weeks later he qualified for the Canadian team.”
For this Olympics, Nate overcame a stress fracture in his left foot at the end of the 2009 season that forced him to miss all of the 2010 season. He was put on non-weight-bearing crutches for four months then slowly starting walking again.
He returned to racing in April of 2011, but only had until June to make the qualifying standard for the September IAAF World Championships in South Korea.
He failed to make the cut.
“That type of injury is potentially career-ending,” Theresa said. “He knows when to push and when not to. His coach is also a physiotherapist so he makes sure that the distance runners have a massage therapist where they’re training in Arizona. There’s a lot of support for him off the track there, too.”
That support was a big key to his return.
“My coach and I approached this year with the Olympic final in mind,” he said. “We knew I was fit enough to hit my ‘A’ standard and we weren’t going to chase times. Chasing times means going into each race going after the standard. Instead, since we knew I was fit we decided to just race to win instead of focusing on running a certain time.”
Nate and Theresa met in 2001 during their freshman year at the University of Michigan when they attended a pre-training camp for the cross country program.
Though they didn’t connect right away, they still saw a lot of each other.
“We had three out of four classes together our first two semesters of college,” Theresa said. “We started hanging out and studying together. Our first date was at the end of our freshman year when we went out to grab some pizza in downtown Ann Arbor.
“We had a lot in common. Not only were we in the same classes but we ran the same event. I knew how good he was so I would listen to his advice on racing. I’ve always said he brought out the best in my running.”
That’s for sure. Theresa was a two-time All-American and an NCAA champ as a member of the distance medley relay, as well as a Big Ten champ in the 800 and the distance medley relay.
They were engaged in September of 2009. A month later, Theresa got an offer to be Southeast Regional rep for PUMA in Florida, so they bought a house and moved to Tallahassee that November. Nate helped to open a running store called Capital City Runners with four-time Canadian Olympian Kevin Sullivan.
Theresa and Nate were married April 3, 2010, in Ann Arbor. When Theresa became pregnant, they decided to return to the area — specifically Westlake — in October of 2011 so Theresa could have help with the baby while Nate prepared for the Olympics.
“Last year he traveled back and forth between Arizona and our home in Florida,” Theresa said. “He came back home about every third week. He didn’t race as well last summer. He was pretty upset about that. That’s why he committed himself 100 percent this year. Nate’s only been back three times since January for about a week.”
Being an Olympic athlete comes with a price at times. Their daughter, Gianna, was born Nov. 25, 2011, and Nate left for Arizona to train at Scottsdale Community College in January.
But after running a 3:40 in China and finishing less that a second from making the final, he knew sacrifices had to be made if he wanted to improve. His goal this Olympics is to make the final (the top 12).
“He has a different mindset,” Theresa said. “He’s training a lot smarter. It’s a different situation because we’re married and now he’s providing for a family.”
Theresa, her mother-in-law Debbie DaSilva and Dick and Darline Elsasser — Theresa’s high school track coaches — planned to leave Thursday for London. Nate will be in action in Round 1 today at 3:05 p.m. EST. The semifinals are set for Sunday at 3:15 p.m. and the finals are Tuesday at 4:15.
“I heard it’ll be crazy and kind of a madhouse, but I’m excited,” Theresa said.
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or email@example.com.