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Michael Andrew: “Being Unconventional My Entire Life Helped Me Prepare For Change Like This”

By Karen Price | March 26, 2020, 5:08 p.m. (ET)

Michael Andrew swims the 200 IM at the TYR Pro Swim Series on Mar. 7, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Michael Andrew’s playbook has never been a conventional one for a swimmer, and that’s truer than ever right now.

At the start of the month he was right where he wanted to be leading up to what presumably would have been his Olympic debut, swimming faster than ever and crushing races in the TYR Pro Swim Series. Now the Olympic Games won’t happen until 2021, the pools are all closed and Andrew’s doing everything from paddleboarding to ping-pong to stay both entertained and in shape during shelter-in-place orders in his home state of California.

He’s not only taking it all in stride, but also managing to make the most of a very unusual time.

“Being unconventional my entire life helped me prepare for change like this,” he said. “I’m used to changing things up and experimenting, and I also think I have the mentality to deal with a weird situation. Being able to adapt and to think quickly definitely gives me not just an edge but an opportunity to come out stronger.”

Andrew, 20, was just 14 when he became the youngest swimmer ever in the U.S. to turn professional. After a junior career that included winning three gold medals and setting three records at the world junior championships in 2017, Andrew stepped up the following summer. At the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, he won his first four senior national titles in the 50-meter butterfly, 50-meter breaststroke, 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter breaststroke. 

His training methods garnered almost as much attention as his results. Andrew and his coach and father, Peter, are proponents of the Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training method and started using it when he was just 10. Instead of loading up on laps, Andrew trains at race pace and keeps the volume low. The idea is that his body is coding his movements, therefore what he does in training is what he wants to do in a race. 

Most recently, Andrew set new personal bests at the Pro Swim Series stop in early March in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 100 butterfly, 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley, setting the fourth-fastest time in the world this year in the latter at 1:56.83.

Little did he know that would be the last racing he’d do for a while. 

“Before all this (quarantine) started I was on fire,” he said, “I was ready for (Olympic) Trials, ready for everything coming up and I was really looking forward to it all. I kept telling people it’s a good year to be swimming fast and I knew I was on fire, swimming fast and with confidence. As much as it sucks to have that cut short I think I’ll still be able to maintain it and carry it to 2021. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the perspective to push on.”

The International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday that the Tokyo Games would be postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak that’s stopped much of the world in its tracks. Andrew joined millions of other Americans in taking steps to social distance before that decision was made.

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The first few days of social distancing, Andrew said, he was spending too much time on video games and knew that couldn’t last. He’s recently been creating daily vlogs and posting them to his YouTube channel showing him and his dad doing what they can to inspire others and stay healthy while maintaining social distance. 

The first video showed the two heading to the ocean to paddleboard and play in the waves, but then the beaches closed and there’s now a hefty fine for anyone caught passing the barricades so that’s no longer an option.

The next day was raining, so he showed his breakfast and his home gym routine and explained how his lifting program has changed recently without a pool. Day three shows Andrew and his dad playing ping-pong/sting-pong, which is pretty much as it sounds. 

Sometime in the near future, Andrew said, they’ll probably go on a bike ride and make that into a video. It’s something they ordinarily don’t do, he said, because of all the traffic and the fear of getting hit, but with far fewer cars on the road now they plan to take advantage. 

“It’s a good distraction from the chaos and craziness going on and a good way to cope,” Andrew said of making the videos. “As much as I’m using the vlogs to help other people it’s helping me to think beyond what I’m doing right now and opens my mind up to how I’m going to do more race analysis and learn about strokes. I can learn something new and get strong at home and focus on other details that typically go neglected when I have pool time.”

Asked how long he’d been away from the pool, Andrew first had to figure out what day it was. As is the case for many people, that’s become harder to track than usual. It had been over a week though, even though his local YMCA was one of the last to close.

And like many athletes, Andrew is happy that a decision has been made about the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 so he knows how to plan.

First and foremost, he said, the decision to postpone was the best for the health and well-being of everyone involved. Plus, the way he sees it, he’ll be a year older and a year stronger by next summer with even more training and knowledge under his belt, and that can’t be a bad thing.

“It really is (strange to not be swimming) but it’s a fun strange and it’s a challenge,” he said. “With the Olympics being postponed it’s going to turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Michael Andrew