Engman, a 6-foot-6 senior from Mill Valley, Calif., made his biggest splash at Whitman in the 200-yard freestyle.
Competing in the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC), which is home to many of the nation's best NAIA swimmers, Engman won conference titles in the 200-yard freestyle as a junior and senior. He capped both of those seasons by placing fourth in the event at the NAIA national championships to earn first-team All-American honors.
Engman leaves Whitman as the school record holder in the 50-yard, 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle events. He also shares the school record in three relay events. A team captain for two seasons, he received MVP honors on the men's team in each of the past three seasons.
"His teammates also voted him the Most Inspirational award this year, and it was well-deserved," Whitman coach Lee Coleman said. "Nathan is an inspiration. He helped the slower swimmers along. He really cares about people."
In the 1996 NAIA national championships, which were held in March in San Antonio, Texas, Engman earned All-American honors in a total of six events.
In addition to breaking his own school record while placing fourth in the 200-yard freestyle, Engman also led Whitman's 800-yard freestyle relay team to an eighth-place finish and first-team All-American honors. The foursome set a new school record and recorded the highest finish ever for a Whitman men's relay team at nationals.
Engman also swam the opening leg for Whitman's 400-yard freestyle relay team, resetting his own school record for the 100-yard freestyle to 47.45 seconds. Had he swum that time in the 100-yard individual freestyle event, he would have placed third. Engman's blistering pace had Whitman in first place heading into the second leg of the relay. Whitman's foursome eventually placed 11th, good enough for honorable mention All-American recognition.
Engman and his teammates earned honorable mention recognition in two other relays, placing 11th and setting a new school record in the 200-yard freestyle and placing 12th in the 400-yard medley. Engman rounded out his final collegiate competition by entering the 200- yard individual medley, a new event for him, and placing 15th to gain honorable mention distinction.
Engman qualified for the national championships in each of his four seasons at Whitman. "Even as a freshman, we knew he was a cut above most of the other swimmers," Coleman said. Engman began to assert himself as a sophomore, when he picked up honorable mention All-American awards in one individual event and three relays at the national championships.
Coleman said Engman will be remembered for his late surges at the end of races. "Nathan's trademark was that he would run people down at the end. He'd start conservatively and then come barreling back at the finish. The other swimmers knew he had that ability, and it was intimidating. They knew they had to have a huge lead at the final turn, or he would beat them."
Coleman said humor was another of Engman's trademarks. In the days prior to this year's national championships, he was one of several male swimmers who colored their hair to match most colors of the rainbow. Engman, in fact, bounced his blond hair from red to yellow to purple.
"Nathan knows how to have fun, and he always has a comment about everything. He's a politics major, and he's pretty well read. If you ask for comments and there's the slightest opening, Nathan will say something and get the discussion started."
His humor, however, was balanced by hard work and commitment that comes with maturity, Coleman said.
"As a freshman, Nathan would slack off at times during workouts, and he'd be the first to admit it," she said. "But then he caught a vision that he could be really good, and he decided that he was going to work hard at it. Because of that transformation, he became a much better team leader. He also was very coachable. He would take suggestions and incorporate them into what he was doing. He wasn't someone who thought he knew everything."
As a junior, Engman did not lose a single race in his 200-yard freestyle specialty until the national championships. Last summer, however, back and shoulder ailments placed his senior season in jeopardy.
"His doctor told him it was something he needed to be very careful with," Coleman said. "He could very easily have said he wasn't going to swim this year. But with Nathan, that really wasn't a possibility because he sets such high standards for himself."
Engman is a 1992 graduate of Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Calif. He is the son of Claudia Trinklein-Engman and Robert Engman of Mill Valley.
Before shaving their heads for the NAIA national swimming championships, Whitman's Nathan Engman (far left) and other members of the Whitman men's team had some fun with colorful hairstyles.