By Mike Watkins, Contributor | Friday, November 1, 2019
Michael Andrew has always known he gets his energy from the spotlight.
In many ways, it feeds him – makes him stronger, faster and more confident in the water.
It’s something he’s always known but only recently embraced.
“I love to perform for people, even if it scares me,” he said. “For whatever reason, when I get on a stage to swim in front of thousands of people, I get so amped, and the work I’ve put in takes over.”
That feeling of exhilaration in the pool has led to some impressive results on the National and international stages over the past few years.
Coupled with intense but focused training and lots of opportunities to race and learn, Andrew has expanded his spotlight to become one of the most versatile and successful swimmers in the world.
Throughout his journey, he said he’s learned several lessons, but few have been as important as being in the moment and enjoying the experiences and opportunities that swimming continues to give him.
“There are many trips I look back on and have a very hard time really remembering much about,” said Andrew, who became the youngest American swimmer to turn pro as a 14-year-old in 2013. “Part of the reason being I was so focused on just swimming fast that I couldn’t be present for the little things, and it’s not worth missing.”
Because he trains solely with his father and travels all the time, he said he’s also struggled with forming strong relationships outside of his family.
When he’s home, his time is consumed with training, and that doesn’t allow him much free time to socialize, so he’s had a tough time creating a “super-tight friend group.”
But he is grateful and thankful to be fortunate enough to have company and friends when traveling, even if many of those relationships can sometimes be surface-level.
But he’s getting better.
“I do feel like when I travel now, it’s like I’m visiting my second family,” he said. “I won’t get started on dating because that’s something I have yet to attempt with my schedule.”
Now for the ISL
The schedule he’s talking about keeps him traveling a good bit of the year but, with World Cup, TYR Pro Swim Series and now the International Swim League (ISL), of which he is part owner of the New York Breakers team, plus endorsements, it’s become quite lucrative – as long as he continues to perform.
He said he sees the ISL as the future of swimming, which is one of the major reasons he bought into it with his parents. He also sees it as a great opportunity to introduce the sport to a whole new sect of fans who are used to “spectacle” athletics.
“I’ve never been to a meet that is on fire with energy the entire session (like the ISL),” said Andrew, who made his debut in the league two weekends ago in Austin, Texas. “It’s incredibly fast-paced and opens the door to spectators that may know nothing about swimming. It was such a fun format to race and be a part of.
“I really do believe in the league. It’s pretty cool to be a part of this revolution from the beginning, and when I was offered the opportunity to own a team, I had no hesitation in going for it.”
And while Andrew’s journey to swimming stardom began during his teenage years, it’s really just been over the past few years that he’s truly found his wings in the pool, particularly on the senior level.
After working through a couple years of “hype” and expectations as the next great American swimmer combined with a very successful junior career that included numerous National and World titles, Andrew got his true first taste of success at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. He earned a top 4 finish in the 100 breaststroke but missed making the team.
Since then, he’s been on somewhat of a tear. At 2018 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, he was the top point earner, winning four titles and earning a spot on that summer’s Pan Pacific Championship and this past summer’s World Championship teams.
At Pan Pacs, he bested the field – including 2017 and 2019 World Champion and U.S. teammate Caeleb Dressell – to win gold in the 50 freestyle, his first World title. He followed that up with five relay medals – four gold – at the 2018 FINA Short Course World Championships.
But when it came to 2019 Worlds this summer, he came up short of his previous results, winning a single medal – silver as a member of the 400 medley relay.
He said while it didn’t necessarily live up to his own personal expectations – or those of others – he left Gwangju, South Korea, having learned a few things that he knows will come in very handy in the future.
“This year’s Worlds was a good experience, but not the experience I was looking for,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous or afraid; I actually felt very at home. But I didn’t race at my best, and that hurt. I feel like my preparation going into it was average at best, and I feel like I could have still stood on the podium in my events but mentally I gave in to that thinking.
“That’s part of why I wasn’t at my best. I think it was and continues to be excellent motivation for me going in to Trials 2020. What I’ve realized is I swim at my best when I’m confident in my training. So, something I’m really going to focus a lot on (over the next few months) is doing what I can to be at my best physically. That way mentally I can stand confident and just race.”
Because of his versatility – excelling at all four strokes as a top sprinter – he said training can be a bit of a juggling act at times.
For him, the easiest way to do it is to prepare for competitions, so at some competitions, his events will be different than the other.
He simply tailors his sessions to focus on what he needs to be ready for.
“I love the fact that the way I train is so specific and repetitive that its relatively plug and play,” he said. “It’s not very complicated. The sets are the same. All I need to change are the strokes and the splits that go with that stroke.”
And while he said his love for swimming has increased since he first started, he said he knows he has been blessed with a gift to swimming professionally and earn a living.
He continues to love it because of all the incredible people he gets to travel with, the places he gets to see and the memories he gets to make along the way.
“I’ve been swimming pro for over 6 years now, and never once have I doubted my decision,” said Andrew, who makes time for surfing when he’s home and enjoys making YouTube videos about his swimming travels and adventures. “My swimming journey up to now has been a complete dream come true. That doesn’t mean it’s always been exciting, but I’ve been very fortunate and worked hard for an exciting career.
“Pro swimming is changing so quickly, and I’ve been able to be a part of that. What continues to surprise me about the sport is how quick it changes and how much room the sport still has to change. It will be very cool to see where swimming is even 4 years from now in terms of earning potential and viewership outside of the Olympic Games.”