Swimmer Douglas Nogueira is no stranger to adversity, in or out of the pool.
The former UC Santa Barbara competitor dealt with fires and mudslides when he lived near campus and, most recently, joined others in enduring a pandemic that forced schools throughout the state to cancel in-person commencement ceremonies — including his, which was held virtually.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” Nogueira, a St. Francis High School alumnus who graduated from UCSB as one of the best in the swimming program, said of the shutdown. “I remember that weekend in March when it all went down. I wasn’t really sure how it would go. Some people were cool and many were upset. I was indifferent. I go with the flow.”
Those challenges prepared Nogueira for his biggest one yet — the postponement of the Olympic Team Trials. The event, expected to feature more than 1,200 swimmers, was supposed to take place in Omaha, Nebraska, last month but was rescheduled for June 13-20, 2021.
The former Gaucho had qualified in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 individual medley and really hoped to accomplish his dream of competing in the Tokyo Summer Games, which will now take place in 2021 instead of this year.
“Everything has been put on hold,” he said. “You kind of grow up facing adversity with anything you do. You learn to deal with it and push beyond it. … There’s no use in trying to make plans. Just push past it.”
Nogueira embraced the fresh start that many athletes now have after sports were put on hold in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. He is currently applying for jobs and plans to get back in the pool when facilities are open.
“Sports have taught me to roll with the punches and not expect what’s coming for you,” Nogueira said. “You just have to be prepared, adapt and overcome. You can’t expect everything to go your way. OK, this happened, so move on from there.”
That attitude doesn’t surprise St. Francis swimming and water polo coach Brady Lowdermilk, who coached Nogueira in 2016 when the swimming program was reinstated after being shuttered in 1997. The former Golden Knight and his mom were essential to bringing back aquatic sports to SFHS, and he quickly became a legend on campus.
“We were only together for a year on campus, and it was just a scrappy group of freshmen around him,” Lowdermilk recalled. “Those kids looked at him with big eyes, and they grew up and fostered the next generation, which is my current group of guys. They can say, ‘We saw Doug do this.’ … They told all those kids now here all about his leadership.”
Nogueira, who was trained by Jeff Julian at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, made a big splash in his first and only CIF Southern Section competition. He placed sixth in the 100 backstroke in the CIF-SS finals, earned All-American honors and broke five school records.
“He went from unknown to sixth in CIF,” Lowdermilk said. “Other Mission League coaches were applauding me from across the deck because it was such a surprise.”
Lowdermilk added that Nogueira is one of the best swimmers he’s ever seen, and he doesn’t doubt him as he prepares for next year’s trials.
“I would never bet against him,” he said. “I know there are bigger dogs in [the trials], and they only take two in each event. I know how hard it is. That’s harder than track and basketball. If he can train like I know he can, I don’t doubt he can finish in the top 10 in Omaha. … He can go far as he wants if he is willing to work. He’ll be in the mix. He won his conference meet in a couple of races, and now has a whole year to think about kicking people’s butts.”
Nogueira carried his high school success into his collegiate career, helping the Gauchos claim Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships in 2017 and 2018. This year, he won the 200 IM, placed second in the 400 IM and finished third in the 200 backstroke. He was also part of the 800 and 400 freestyle relay teams that won the conference title.
He was also finally able to achieve his goal of qualifying for the Olympic trials, an objective he set his sights on since missing the mark by less than half a second in 2016. Under the guidance of Julian and UCSB head coach Matt Macedo, Nogueira put in the time and work and pushed himself to punch his ticket to Omaha.
“Douglas has impacted our program, and UCSB really, in a number of ways,” Macedo said. “He was an Olympic trials qualifier and conference champion in several events but his versatility is something we will always remember. Doug can swim any event at a high level. No matter the stroke or the distance, Doug will step up for his team. He was also one of if not the hardest worker in the program, and this daily commitment to excellence translated to his success when it mattered most.”
With many facilities closed at the moment due to the pandemic, Nogueira is facing yet another challenge: finding a job.
“I’m hoping to get hired soon,” he said. “I’ve been taking a well-deserved mental break. This is definitely the longest break I’ve ever taken. It’s crazy. I haven’t really been out of the water this long, but I guess it’s what I needed. Once I get that job, I’ll get back into my training regimen. I can’t wait to get back in that pool.”