NMMI hires second Olympic athlete to help coach

Nathan Schrimsher carries his father’s flag after he finishes his final race in the modern pentathlon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Tim Hipps US Army/IMCOM.

NMMI Sports Press

For more than 30 years, NMMI has had an Olympic athlete on staff.

Nathan Schrimsher smiles for a picture at the opening ceremonies. Photo by Greg Rosenbaum, USA Pentathlon (USAP)Team Leader.

Cross country, swimming and track coach Jan Olesinski (1980, Moscow; 1984, Los Angeles, modern pentathlon) has been helping Institute athletes hone their skills for more than three decades. Now coach ‘O’ will get some assistance from another Olympian, Nathan Schrimsher (Rio, 2016, pentathlon), one of his former pupils.

Schrimsher’s history at NMMI goes back a long way, all because of Jan Olesinski. He and his brother Lucas were home-schooled on their ranch west of Roswell, and their parents were looking for some extracurricular activities for them to engage in. They found the Caprock swim team, coached by Jan Olesinski. Shortly after joining the community team, the pair were convinced to join Olesinski’s pentathlon program.

“They tried some of the events; the parents were kind of excited and the father was involved with us, so it made it easier for them to stick with it,” Olesinski said.

For the pair of brothers and Olesinski’s daughter, Anna, there was one goal from the very beginning: the Youth Olympics. “When we started this I told them, ‘Guys, this is our goal. In 2010 we are going to the youth Olympics’”

Nathan Schrimsher celebrates after a fencing victory over an opponent in the 2016 Olympic Games. Photo by Tim Hipps US Army/IMCOM.

The trio worked their way up through world championship events, eventually earning spots at the Singapore Youth Olympics, where Schrimsher finished 13th individually and Anna fourth.

“We started step-by-step,” coach Olesinski said. “And after 2010 we came back and I said, ‘Guys, I am done. I can’t help you anymore. Because youth is different. The real Olympics is a lot tougher. You can train here, but if you want to be an athlete you have to move to Colorado.’”

And that’s exactly what Schrimsher did.

In 2013, he joined the Army’s World Class Athlete program in Colorado Springs, where his job was strictly to train for his sport, a grueling five-event challenge that includes swimming, fencing riding, running and shooting.

“That definitely was the starting point to the next level. Our sole job was to train in our respective sports with the goal to go to the Olympics and win medals. Quite a few hours a day for quite a few years and lots of miles.” Schrimsher said.

In 2015, that hard work and training paid off: he qualified for the Rio Olympics with a third-place finish at the Pan Am Games in Toronto – the only American to qualify in the sport. His brother, Lucas, just missed qualifying. “It was almost a Schrimsher brother duo,” said Nathan.

Nathan Schrimsher and Jan Olesiński heading to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. Photo by Greg Rosenbaum, USA Pentathlon (USAP)Team Leader.

After celebrating at home for a few days, he went back to Colorado for a final year of training.

The Roswell native didn’t come home with a medal from Rio, but placed 11th overall, only 29 points behind the gold medal winner. Russia’s Alexander Lesun had the top score of 1479, compared to Schrimsher’s 1450 – that’s just how close the completion was.

“Anybody who was competing in the Olympics, out of the 36 athletes, all of us could possibly have been the Olympic champion – because the nerves, just the atmosphere switches it up. It was close all the way through.” he said.

The 2016 Olympic pentathlon began with fencing, Schrimsher’s favorite of the five events. “It’s the only sport in the pentathlon where you are one-on-one against your opponent. Otherwise, it’s against yourself and the clock,” said Schrimsher.

Nathan did extremely well in fencings’ ‘mano a mano’ format, placing tenth overall with a score of 220.

His best event, however, was swimming. His time of 2:00.82 in the 200m freestyle earned him sixth place and another 262 points.

In the riding portion of the competition, Schrimsher drew what he termed “a difficult horse to ride.” After being penalized for three knockdowns in the 15-jump format – which lowered his score from a perfect 300 to 282 – he finished 18th in the event.

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program swims the 200-meter freestyle in 2:00.87 to earn 338 Modern Pentathlon points during the swimming portion of the men’s Modern Pentatlon on Aug. 20, 2016 at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Schrimsher was seventh-fastest in the swim. Photo by Tim Hipps US Army/IMCOM.

“The pentathlon is based off of what a 19th century cavalry soldier would be required to do in the line of duty. One of those is the ability to ride a horse you’ve never met. We only get a 20-minute warm-up before the show-jumping event. You have to make it work. Your life is on the line, so to speak.”

The last portion of the modern pentathlon is a combination of running and shooting. The competing athletes must complete four 800 meter runs, each run prefaced by hitting five targets from 10 meters away with a laser pistol. No penalty is assessed for missing a target, but it must be hit all five times (or 50 seconds has passed) before the athlete is allowed to start their 800m run.

“My shooting was exceptional, and that helped me stay in almost the top 10,” said Schrimsher. “Running is my least favorite part of the pentathlon or at least the most difficult for me. If my shooting had been sub-par, I might have slipped out of the top 20.”

“I left everything I could on that last lap. It was a difficult course, twisty, but I ran as hard as I could and when I crossed the line I was done and happy with where I finished.

“It was one of my best competitions, so having done it there at the Olympics, there was a lot of emotion, thankfulness, especially of finishing what I started.”

Nathan Schrimsher participates in the Equestrian portion of the modern pentathlon in the 2016 Olympic games. Photo by Tim Hipps US Army/IMCOM.

And he said two keys that were invaluable in him getting to the top echelon of his sport were Olesinski and the Army.

“Without Jan I would have never made it to where I got,” he said. “And if I’d never had the Army, I never would have gotten where I was as well. You can’t take credit for just yourself doing this. There’s so many people and things along the way that get you to where you’re going – it wasn’t just me.”

So when the NMMI coach asked him to come back to NMMI and help out, he couldn’t say no.

“NMMI is where it all started,” Schrimsher said. “I definitely think there’s all sorts of reasons, but that’s one of them. Giving back. Seeing it full circle. That’s just as important. Everyone hangs up their shoes one day, so there’s got to be something to keep on going.”

The young athlete came in at the end of the winter sports season and helped as an assistant coach for Olesinski, and this spring he’ll be working with the Colt and Lady Colt sprinters on the track team. He’s also helping with the corps physical training program and with the pentathlon program.

“All these sports are something that I was involved with in some degree as an athlete myself, and getting to work under Jan and his tutelage is really cool,” he said. “The next generation’s coming – the shoe’s gotta be replaced – and I get to help show and teach them.”

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program finishes 11th in the men’s Modern Pentathlon event Aug. 20, 2016, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Tim Hipps US Army/IMCOM.

What’s up next for the 25-year old is still up in the air. He’s back home helping around the family ranch, and is planning on going back to school to get a degree in communications. He likes coaching, though, and said that could be in his future as well.

“I never thought I could be a coach. Never thought that time would come,” he said. “Time keeps on rolling and I think coaching will be a good way to give back.”

As to the 2020 Olympics, that’s really not on his radar right now but Olesinski thinks Schrimsher could change his mind.

“He needs time to rest and who knows? Maybe he’ll come back in,” the coach said.

In the meantime, the NMMI cadets will get the advantage of his expertise, and he’ll pull for his brother to maybe try for Tokoyo.

“It’s an interesting time right now. We’re just kind of figuring it out. I’m kind of writing it off. I’m kind of done and ready to move on to the next step, but Lucas, we’ll see. There’s a lot of time still, and he’s young, too, so there’s plenty of chances in the future if he decides.”

And who knows? Maybe Schrimsher will find a youngster who wants to follow in his footsteps, just as he did Olesinski’s.

Nathan Schrimsher’s Olympic ring that he wears every day. Photo by Tanner Hightower-Wilson.

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