Remembering the Natatorium

After almost 60 years, the Natatorium has officially closed for demolition and construction of a new recreation facility, expected to open in 2023. Since it opened in the 1960s, the Nat has been home to countless activities, classes, events, and memories. So, before we officially say goodbye, we asked our members to share their favorite memories, and what they’re looking forward to in the new Natatorium. 


We asked: What did you love most about the Nat?

I first toured the Nat during my SOAR orientation and was so excited to be living in Phillips as a freshman, just across the way. Though my first year in college turned out to be a bit bumpy, the Nat was always there as the place I could go and do something that was always a constant in my life: working out. I may have been miles away from home and going through a really tough time, but when I went to the Nat, I could forget everything and just be in my “happy place” with the weight training equipment. 

          – Cassandra, Class of 2018 


In the spring of 1965 I had finished a successful season swimming for my junior high school in Rockford, IL. My father drove me and three of my teammates to Madison to watch the Big Ten Swimming Championship Meet at the brand new Natatorium. What a thrill. Before the events started, the UW hosts introduced swimmers from the Big Ten schools who had competed the previous summer in the Olympics, mostly Doc Counsilman’s Indiana swimmers. I took in the scene of the pool and swimmers and thought how wonderful it would be to get in the water. Years later I got that opportunity on a daily basis. 

          – Howard G., Law School ‘78


I work in the School of Veterinary Medicine, which is right across the Nat so it was so convenient for me to go to the Nat whenever I needed a break. And when I discovered Group Fitness last year, it changed my life! Words cannot adequately express how much I enjoyed my time there – and Raquel’s Zumba classes were something I looked forward to the most. I just couldn’t stop raving about how therapeutic these classes were, that I convinced my friends to join too! The Nat was one of my favorite places on campus and I, for one, cannot wait for things to go back to normal and I’m excited for the new Natatorium! 

          – Sai, Graduate Student 


The absolute best part of the Nat was the basketball courts. My favorite memory on those courts is more of a continuous string of memories: I once jokingly told my best friend, another University of Wisconsin student Danny, that I would never lose to him in a game of one-on-one basketball. After that day we would go to the Nat at least once a week to play and to this day he is still trying to make what I said untrue. 

          – Grant, Senior 


I’ve been a regular at the Nat for years, but I went into turbo mode once the SERF closed—working out there nearly seven days a week. My favorite memories center around group fitness classes and the student & staff friends I’ve made there. Rec Well instructors are simply amazing—better than from any private studio in Madison, and they bring so much encouragement and joy to their classes. During summers, our Zumba group informally agreed NOT to check the thermometer in Gym 2 before classes—as we didn’t really want to know when it was above 90 degrees until AFTER class. So I must admit, having an air-conditioned fitness studio in the Nick is one of the many upgrades I’m excited about!

          – Rob S., Rec Well member since 1993


My favorite thing about the Natatorium was all of the friends that I have made through participating in Sport Clubs. I have made countless memories in the gym and met my closest college friends in the Natatorium. I always look forward to coming back to school and getting to practice at the Nat each year. 

          – Anonymous, Senior 


I loved attending Zumba class every Sunday with Raquel. For 75 minutes, her classes made me feel so energetic and proud of myself. 

          – Ryan, Class of 2020 


My favorite part about the Nat was seeing one of my classmates every time I walked in. Whether it was late on a Tuesday night or early on a Saturday morning, I would always run into a Kinesiology student or professor and get the chance to connect with them. 

          – Anonymous, Class of 2020


Initially, I was NOT a fan of the Nat. It was always far from my home, there’s no air conditioning and, well, it was just the Nat. When I was training to become a group fitness instructor in 2010, the first classes I had to teach were at the Nat, and it became something different for me. The first time I put the mic around my head was in Gym 2, and I can remember how excited (and nervous) I was to lead a large group of people, trusting in me for their workout. I taught Early Morning Fitness classes at the Nat through the Department of Kinesiology from 2010-2012 for extra experience and these women were so kind to me (they even got me a graduation present). From 2016-2019, I was tasked with the honor of being the cycling instructor for the UW Swim Team. This meant that I was responsible for leading the team through exceptionally rigorous cycling drills in a very hot, humid and fan-off studio. The team was too large to lead them all at once, so whatever these athletes did, some of whom had Olympic medals and titles, I had to do – twice. Two hours of the most brutal cycling in the heat several times a week. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had and though it was challenging, it was inspiring to work with such incredible athletes and dedicated students. They made me feel a part of their team. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

          – Alex S., group fitness instructor, BS ‘12, MS ‘14, PhD ‘19


I worked at the Nat as an undergraduate. I think from 1987-89. I was an ID checker (back when it was all manual) and Facility Supervisor. I loved the people I worked with, and getting to meet other students and faculty who used the facility. It was also a great job that let me study when things were slow. Loved swimming in the pool and working out in the gym with the old-school Aerodyne stationary bikes. My least favorite memory was having 5 minutes to take the volleyball nets down (by myself) between reservations!

          – L Nielsen A., Class of 1989


I really enjoyed pickup basketball and swimming at the Nat. The Nat became a part of my daily routine after I had classes at Engineering Hall. The Nat helped me work through some very difficult times in college, and the building will always hold a special place in my heart.

          – Noah, Class of 2020


The Nat was like a ‘morning cup of coffee.’ Never too crowded and just the right way to start the day.

          – Dave, Class of 1991, MD ‘95


Wow, I’m actually tearing up thinking about the Nat going away. I never realized what it meant to me until writing this up now. I lived in Lakeshore and was quite active my freshman year so the Nat quickly became a wonderful place to destress and stay healthy. As I moved off campus, I always found myself coming back there to exercise, especially when the SERF closed. Some of my best undergrad memories are up in those basketball courts, whether it was playing basketball after a long school week with some friends, or shooting around to blow off some steam in between studies. I remember when the PTC opened, and I felt like no other undergrad anywhere in the country had a cooler place to workout. All of the functional equipment and friendly staff made every workout, no matter how hard it was, a blast. But perhaps most important was my time spent in the classroom. As a Kinesiology student I darn near lived there, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The classrooms were always comfortable, the faculty impressive with their endless depths of knowledge and teaching ability, and the student workers always smiling and saying hi as you swiped your card to get in the building. It was a warm and welcoming atmosphere that I will always remember and cherish. I hope the newest building provides future students with similar experiences to mine. On Wisconsin, and thank you to the Nat and every employee that made it so special! 

          – Jason, Class of 2019


We asked: What are you most excited about for the new Natatorium? 

The addition of a track and more multi-purpose fitness space has me most excited. Of course new equipment as well. The architecture of the building also looks quite pleasing and semi-futuristic. 

          – Anonymous, Class of 2016


I am excited for the wellbeing spaces and the multipurpose rooms! The design is also gorgeous so I can’t wait to see the final product!

          – Current student, Class of 2021


I’m excited about how nature is being incorporated more. I enjoy running outside and cannot wait for there to be equipment overlooking the beautiful outdoors by the Natatorium.

          – Katie


Visit our website to see renderings of what the new Natatorium is expected to look like. What are you most excited about?