Chia aims for third Olympics

Nei-Kuan Chia knows all too well about overcoming long odds.Chia, a USF student, is a two-time Olympic swimmer for the Taiwanese team who participated in the 1996 games in Atlanta and the 2000 games in Sydney.

“It was a special feeling being in the elite 0.1 percent of swimmers in the world,” Chia said.

But Chia’s trip to Australia almost never happened.

He finished 32nd in 1996 and 16th in the 2000 games despite suffering a potentially career ending back injury in 1998, which rendered his left leg paralyzed.

During swimming practice in his senior year at Florida State, Chia suffered a bulging disk in his back and was told by doctors he would never compete again. Determined to swim competitively again, he opted not to have surgery and began a long and tedious six-month rehabilitation process. Through hard work and painful determination, he was able to swim again in three months. Chia overcame his injury and eventually qualified for Taiwan’s Olympic swim team.

Chia said overcoming his injury has been his greatest athletic achievement and qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Games, after being told he would never compete again, has been his proudest moment.

“Injury puts sports in perspective,” he said. “I went into the 2000 games with no expectations, I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”

Chia’s hard work and determination was instilled in him at an early age. His family moved to the United States from Taiwan when he was 6 years old and as an only child, his parents sought to provide him with better opportunities in the United States. As a child, education was the family’s primary concern, with sports being secondary. Chia first got into swimming when he was 11 years old. He almost drowned at a water theme park on a family outing, and the next day his parents enrolled him in swim classes.

Chia attended Leon High School in Tallahassee where he became a standout swimmer. His high school achievements include 1994 High School All-American honors, a silver and bronze medal in the U.S. Swimming Junior National Championships and a spot on the 1993 Florida All-Star Team. His decorated high school career led him to be one of the country’s top 50 recruits in 1995.

He decided to stay close to home and attended Florida State. There he helped FSU to its first undefeated season in 35 years and was a member of the No. 1 nationally ranked 200-meter freestyle relay team. Among his many collegiate accolades, he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection and also received FSU Athletic Department’s Gold Torch Award. He graduated from Florida State Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

As one of the nation’s top swimmers, Chia qualified to compete for his native country of Taiwan. He is the national record holder in the 50-meter butterfly and four-time United States Masters Swimming National Champion and was recently named to PowerBar’s 2001 Team Elite. Chia is one of 2,500 athletes nationwide to be given this honor.

“It is a great honor to be recognized and to be member of Team Elite,” Chia said.

Chia is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in finance and accounting at USF and is training himself in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. Along with attending classes, the 24-year-old trains for about five hours a day. His training regime is split between hours in the pool and the weight room.

“Right now, I am focusing on the upcoming U.S. Open, World Cup and World Championships,” Chia said. “My ultimate goal is to win a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics Games.”

While pursuing his academic and athletic ambitions, Chia also finds time to explore other interests. He models and acts part time and has a part in an upcoming show on the Sci-Fi Network. Chia is also in the process of writing his first novel, a book detailing the Chinese Civil War, and is currently employed in a venture capital firm in Tampa.

With many goals set for the future, Chia is pushing himself to attain them.

“I do a lot of things for the challenge, not for the rewards,” he said.