Nick Lowe: From England With Love

  • Name: Nick Lowe
  • Age: 21
  • Organization: UNC Tar Heels Swimming

(Pictured: Nick and Rachel Lowe. Photo courtesy Nick Lowe.)

Author: Patrick Kinas, creator.

As far as he knows, he’s the only one.

With the anticipation of graduation, a new job and one final season in the pool for the University of North Carolina, real life is weighing on senior sprinter Nick Lowe.

But after the early alarm clock has sounded, the hours in the pool are complete, and the last echo of the classroom lectures dissipate, Lowe heads home to something no other Tar Heel athlete can understand.

A spouse.

“I haven’t met anyone else, and neither has anyone else,” Lowe said. “I presume I’m the only one.”

Lowe, 21, whose pool specialties are the sprint freestyle and butterfly, is part of another precious minority on the Chapel Hill campus, one of just a handful of scholarship athletes from England.

Born in Hemel Hempstead, England, Lowe grew up in Elstree, which is situated a little more than 10 miles northwest of London.

He is the youngest of the four Lowe boys, with the three older brothers already well-established as Ph. D.’s, teachers and lawyers. After graduating this May with a Math degree, Nick will soon join that elite family club, with an awaiting job as a financial advisor at Navigon Financial Group in the Triangle.

Swimming has always been the hallmark of Lowe’s athletic life, a budding youth star in the pool a decade ago.

“As a younger swimmer, I was one of the best,” Lowe humbly admitted. “When I was 11, I finished 4th at British Nationals, then I placed 5th (100 fly) and 6th (200 fly) when I was 12, and at 13, I was selected for British Wolrd Class Start Program.”

This program identifies the top 15 swimmers in each age bracket to nurture them in advance of international competition.

Just as Lowe was readying himself for this opportunity, a broken arm halted his training. The injury set Lowe back, and upon his return to the pool, he struggled to regain his top-flight form.

“I wasn’t making national finals like I had before, and by the time I was 16 and 17, I started to come back, and that’s when Coach Mel convinced me best for me to come to Florida to train with him.”

Mel, is Mel Nash, regarded as one of the top swimming coaches in the United States. Renown for building up the Texas A&M program into a national contender for the better part of three decades, Nash was dismissed by now-retired Aggies’ Athletic Director Bill Byrne in 2004.

Nash then made his way to instructing at the YMCA of Central Florida, and when Lowe was ready for his next phase in his swimming life, Nash was his North Star.

“I graduated high school a year early, and he persuaded me to come over,” Lowe said. “So technically my senior year, I was swimming in Florida to get exposure for college coaches. Through that, with his connections, we talked to Todd DeSorbo, who was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington.”

“I went through normal recruiting process, looking at Ohio State, UNC-W and Kentucky, but Wilmington seemed like the best fit.”

“I liked being at the beach, the swimming program was really, really good. They had won 10 straight CAA titles on men’s side, so that made it really attractive. He sold me on idea of going there, winning, trying to make NCAAs, and moving up the country rankings.”

And just like that, Lowe was a Seahawk, or AquaHawk as they’re known on campus.

But as Lowe arrived on the beach he so loved, things quickly changed.

“I took summer school at Wilmington leading up to my freshman season, but Coach DeSorbo left before the season started. He took a job as the associate head coach at NC State."

While the door of familiarity closed with DeSorbo’s departure, immediately another one opened.

Rachel Wilson was her name, and from the time Lowe first saw her, his life took on different meaning.

“I noticed her on my recruiting trip,” Lowe snickered. “When I first realized that I really liked her, we were on the beach in Wilmington and I looked around and sort of realized that this was the girl I wanted to be with.”

Rachel knew of the rigors of the sport, the early wake-up calls, the travel, the seemingly 24-hour commitment to the sport. The Pfafftown, NC native was a distance swimmer at UNC-W and understood the demands of the sport.

Neither was dissuaded. In fact, that bond drew them closer together.

They dated for a year, were got engaged on her Valentine’s Day birthday, and were married last July.

The timing of their relationship was perfect, as was the timing of her graduation, which was also the end of Nick’s sophomore year.

That’s when things became as murky as the waters of Lake Michigan.

“At the end of my sophomore year, they (UNC-W) were in process cutting five teams,” Lowe recalled. “Swimming on both the men’s and women’s side was going to end. I spoke to the Athletic Director (Jimmy Bass), and he said he didn’t know if he could promise me two more years. I then spoke to a couple of coaches who suggested I look around and go somewhere just in case something happened.”

“I wanted to stay in North Carolina. I had just gotten engaged, and was getting married prior to my junior year. Rachel is from there. Her family is there. It’s much easier. So I looked at Duke, NC State and UNC.”

“Basically, my coaches and the team persuaded me to go to UNC at that point. In my mind, I was thinking about going somewhere else, and I couldn’t stay at UNCW. Ironically, as I made my decision (to transfer), they announced they were going to have a review (of the possible cutbacks). I already made decision to leave. Two weeks later, announced they were reinstating the programs.”

The Married Life

Being the first member of the family to have her college diploma has made for a unique lifestyle as Lowe concludes his UNC career this spring.

“My wife is very understanding,” Lowe said. “She went through her four years, and now she works a normal week as a swim coach, but then has weekends off. Sometimes she wants to go do things, see family, and I have commitments of practice, competition and recruiting. During the week, it’s not so bad. The hardest part is the weekends. On one hand, there’s me focusing on school and swimming every day, but when she’s done with work, she’s done. It’s difficult like that.”

While every other Tar Heel student-athlete doesn’t have the demands of supporting a spouse, the Lowes do.

“We definitely financially have to keep a tighter eye on things,” Lowe said. “Newly married couples need to have a stable job, have two people working to build a good income. With me still being in school, we have to be tighter than normal couples.”

The Future

When graduation arrives in May for Lowe and his job as a financial advisor begins, he’s still conflicted about his future place in the sport. Lowe still ponders the reality of a life completely outside the pool.

“In my mindset, once May comes, I will be done (with swimming),” Lowe said. “I won’t swim and don’t know if that will be involved in it.”

“But I have been swimming since I was six years old, and almost 16 years of my life I’ve been obsessed with it. It will be nice finishing, nice knowing what you’ve achieved. In my mind, I want to be done, but in my heart I may not.”

There is one thing of which Lowe is sure.

There will be another trip to Orlando. Not necessarily to visit swimming mentors like Mel Nash, who is tangentially responsible for the Nick and Rachel becoming one.

The thrust of the Orlando trip is Mickey.

“Rachel and I are Disneyworld freaks,” Lowe laughed. “We love Florida.”

As for the Lowe’s future, with Nick’s parents and three brothers residing in England and Rachel’s family in Winston-Salem, America is clearly winning out long-term.

“I recently just got my green card, and I’d like to gain dual citizenship of England and the United States.”

As for his parents, his father a retired accountant for Ernst & Young and his mother, a housewife, they’re enjoying their trips back and forth across the pond to visit all of the Lowe children.

“My parents spend six months in England taking their RV around to visit my brothers, and the other six months, they come over here to follow me here to meets.”

Soon, they’ll be back one last time in Chapel Hill for their youngest son’s final lap in the pool.

The pool - where the ebbs and flows of Nick and Rachel’s lives have intersected for a lifetime.

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