In the early 1990s, Nathan Stalker was a state-caliber swimmer for the Morris boys swim team.
He competed at the IHSA State Meet his junior year in both the 50 and 100 freestyle before moving out to California for his senior season.
These days, Stalker is still competitive in the pool, even at 37 years old. Swimming as part of a Masters swim program for adults 18 and over, Stalker practices with high school swimmers out in southern California, trying to get his times back to where they were when he was a prep competitor.
Stalker competes in the 50 and 100 freestyle, 50 and 100 breaststroke, as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly.
Stalker started swimming in the Masters program when his son, Graham, started swimming. Swimming with high schoolers really gets Stalker's competitive juices flowing.
"You see some of the kids practice and you're like 'I can swim faster than that kid,'" Stalker said. "It all comes back to you. Just realizing what your real potential is at this age. When I get back in there I always think I can hit the times that I did at 17, 18 years old. I'm right now just getting as fast as I was at 17 or 18."
Before he started swimming competitively again a year ago, Stalker would usually just swim a mile. Now, he's going three or four miles per day.
"I can't imagine not [swimming] at this point," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure. I've got in really good shape. My clothes fit me much, much better."
Earlier this month, Stalkers 200-freestyle relay team came just four-tenths of a second from the national record at a championship meet in Long Beach, Calif.
For Stalker, getting back into competitive swimming has been good motivation.
"I went to get into shape and keep up with the high school kids that are really fast," he said. "Once you're doing it, you want to take it to the next level."
Heading out west
Before he became a southern California native, Stalker went to state in 1991, his junior season, as a member of the Redskins.
He competed in both the 50 and 100 freestyle at the state meet, and his 100-freestyle time of 47.9 seconds is a school record.
When his family moved out to California his senior year, he attended Palos Verdes Penninsula High School. Stalker found out that swimming in Southern California, which he calls "the mecca for swimmers" was a lot different than what he experienced back in Northern Illinois along the Illinois River.
"In Morris I was pretty fast but in Palos Verdes Penninsula there were about five guys as fast as I was," Stalker said. "Moving to Palos Verdes that year, they had budget cuts. Three big schools went together into one school that year so there was 3,500 people in one school. There was a lot of talent in every sport."
Stalker ended up being an Ocean League champion in the 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle, and made it to state.
After high school, Stalker tried out — and made — the L.A. County Lifeguards. He describes them as what anyone would see while watching the show Baywatch. He ended up finishing in the top 10 at the tryouts, yet found a job working with an entrepreneur making twice as much money.
"I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and I knew I could swim very well," Stalker said of the L.A. County Lifeguards tryout. "You end up competing against 400 people, you swim a mile from Venice to Santa Monica."
Yet another hobby Stalker picked up in California was surfing, and it's just another activity in the water he does today.
"I surf every Saturday morning or Sunday morning if I can do it," he said. "Surfing's definitely a passion of mine. I started surfing when I was training for the L.A. County Lifeguards. It's part of the beach community down here."
For Stalker, coming from a football town like Morris to an ocean community couldn't have worked out any better in terms of his swimming career.
"I really moved to the right place," he said. "Of all the places on earth I could have moved to, Palos Verdes has a long, rich history in nurturing swimmers and surfers."