Place strategy

Michael Andrew sees swimming as a place to ‘meet Jesus in the water’

Michael Andrew at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Michael Andrew stepped into the starting block inside the spacious natatorium in Budapest, Hungary, for his final individual event at the 2022 FINA World Championships. In a stacked 50-meter freestyle field, the American swimmer knew that a place on the podium would not be easy. He knew how decided these elite-level races could be. Less than a year earlier, at the Tokyo Olympics, he had come within three hundredths of a second of a medal in the same race.

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But this time, he entered the block with a new perspective and less internal pressure on his shoulders. If there was one main objective for the 23-year-old taking part in this major international competition, it didn’t involve time or medals. He was solely based on perspective, recognizing the opportunities God had placed before him and making the most of those in the present.

He did just that and ran without losing anything, making his way into the 50m pool in lane two. When he hit the wall, the scoreboard showed a lifetime best of 21.41 seconds, just nine hundredths behind gold medalist Ben Proud, as Andrew took silver. More than a personal best or an international medal, Andrew’s performance in the 50m freestyle made history. The Minnesota native became the first swimmer to medal in three 50m events at a single world championship – having never won an individual medal at the world championships before.

On top of that, he left Budapest with a gold medal in the mixed 4x100m medley relay and a silver in the men’s 4x100m medley relay.

“It was a bit of a different perspective that I came in with,” Andrew told Sports Spectrum in a recent interview. “Coming out of the world championships in Gwangju in 2019, I swam the four 50s and the 100 breaststroke there. I had put a ton of pressure on myself to try to perform. in the long course (50 meters in the pool), I said to myself: “I have to win a medal in the four 50s and do this and that.”

“Going into this one, the attitude was very much about the blessings I have in the sport. I was just enjoying being able to do what I love again. I had this crazy freedom of being able to run and the joy how it feels to be able to swim and run at the same time.

Resilience is a primary quality in a swimmer, especially at Andrew’s level. Mere milliseconds regularly decide who ends up on a podium, and having competed professionally since the age of 14, it’s a quality he has developed well. Take for example the first two nights of competition in Budapest.

He qualified for the 50m butterfly final to open on Day 1, and minutes later he was back on the blocks, in position for an event in which many predicted he would medal – the 100. m breaststroke. But he deviated from his race strategy and unfortunately missed the cut for the Day 2 Final, finishing just outside the top eight in ninth place. Less than 24 hours later, however, he found himself on the 50m butterfly podium, having faced fellow American and world record holder Caeleb Dressel, winning a bronze medal.

“After this 50 m butterfly, it was my first long course medal that I won, I broke my camel’s back. I was like, ‘Okay, I got my medal. Now I can just run. At the end of the day, I felt like I was like, “It’s kind of silly, the pressure we put on ourselves. This is where faith plays a huge role.

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Andrew is in a unique position, as a Christian in a largely individualized sport. It’s an aspect he achieves, with a lot of emphasis on the ‘I’, whether in training sessions or race performance. He burst onto the national scene at age 12, becoming well known for his unique training method, known as USRPT, or Ultra Short Race Pace Training. As a junior swimmer, he broke over 100 national records by age group. In 2016, at the age of 17, he became the youngest American to swim the 100m breaststroke in less than a minute. But through it all, and with the strong influence of his parents, Peter and Tina, Andrew has remained grounded.

“In the sports world, it’s a very selfish world,” says Andrew. “It all depends on what I can do, what I can control and what I am capable of in my own strength. But from an early age, I learned to recognize that I have no power; I do not control the result. I can only prepare myself as well as possible to run. This is where the ‘let go and let God’ mentality has improved over the years.

He notes that even while traveling to Tokyo last summer, he felt substantial pressure from internal and external sources, but as with many things, the results were not in his hands. Instead, a trust in God was needed, and that included embracing the moment even in the difficult aspects.

“All I can do is do my best to work with the Lord and my craft, recognizing that swimming is an act of worship and a place for me to meet Jesus in the water. sport, he connects me with other like-minded people to spread his message about how faith has helped me. This allows me to accept whatever the Lord has to give me at this time- there, and sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not. But I still have to find a way to celebrate eighth place like I celebrate first place.

“All I can do is do my best to work with the Lord and my craft, recognizing that swimming is an act of worship and a place for me to meet Jesus in the water.” — American swimmer Michael Andrew

A nearly nine-year professional career has been filled with many highs for Andrew, but he’s also open to disappointments. In Tokyo, he swam a strong breaststroke leg in the men’s 4x100m medley relay, helping the United States win gold and a world record. But individually, it was not the meeting he hoped for, finishing fourth in two events (100m breaststroke, 50m freestyle) and fifth in a third (200m individual medley). And yet, looking back a year later, he found major positives, things he credits with helping his prospect in Budapest two weeks ago.

“I think the only reason I was able to figure out how to deal with it and swim so freely [this year] is the fact that I hadn’t been able to do that in the past and had gone through those experiences,” says Andrew. “Tokyo was great, and I came away with a gold medal [in the medley relay] but it was not the individual encounter that I had wanted or was capable of.

“After going through that in the weeks that followed, looking inward and focusing on relationships, I realized that it really didn’t matter. So I wonder if I had really done well and if I hadn’t wrestled in some seasons, could I have stepped on the blocks here at these worlds and realized the blessings I have in the sport?

“I’m too lucky to stress and I tell people that often, but that goes for all of us in life. We have so many blessings that we become quite naïve, because of the distractions that society paints around us. Relying on faith comes from having tough seasons and recognizing that through those tough seasons I am able to grow and have a healthy understanding of what I am doing and why I am doing it.

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Tokyo had its additional challenges for Andrew, who was ostracized by the media for his personal decision not to receive the COVID vaccine weeks before the Olympics. But he remained bold for the Lord. In the call room before the 50m freestyle, he noticed a group of South African swimmers putting Bible verses on their masks and decided to write 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 on his. A team leader tried to end it minutes before the athletes were called to the deck, but Andrew just shook his head. There he was, marching the blocks on an international stage, publicly professing his faith.

“I had noticed friends of mine from South Africa putting Bible verses on their masks,” Andrew recalled in an interview with Brett Hawke. “I thought it was the coolest thing. What an easy way to be bold in my faith.

Michael Andrew before the men’s 50-meter freestyle final at the Tokyo Olympics, Aug. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This audacity has developed over what is now nearly a decade of professional competition. Sponsorships are a major aspect of the sport, and as he strikes up conversations with various companies, he occasionally gets asked for his perspective, and that’s when he gets the opportunity to share his faith. It seems there are few athletes more sincere and genuine about the ups and downs of the sport than Andrew, but he’s also embedded in a foundation that goes beyond medals and best times.

“I have the opportunity to live a goal-based life rather than a performance-based life,” Andrew told Sports Spectrum. “Whether or not they are a faith-based company, they recognize the uniqueness and importance of having that perspective.

“They recognize that what I’m doing is a very healthy approach. It’s cool, because it’s also a foot in the door, because it’s like, ‘You agree with what I’m saying, but here’s why I believe it, and it’s because of Jesus.’ It’s part of that powerful testimony that comes from turning pro at such a young age. A lot of people didn’t get it and I had to find the faith to get through it. I had to own it. I couldn’t pretend. Of course, that came with time.

All the while he relied on the scriptures. Philippians 1:6 has always stuck with him, especially as he looks at his sport with a lens of faith. The apostle Paul writes:[B]having the certainty that he who began a good work in you will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.

“Philippians 1:6 is a verse that I have always relied on,” says Andrew. “For me, I recognize that there is nothing I can do to prevent what God is going to do. It takes a lot of the pressure off me to stay bold and steadfast in what I believe in and take life day by day and not put all this crazy pressure on myself, but still recognize that God wants good for us. This is not a prosperity gospel. You are going to have challenges and go through things, but at the end of the day, God is in control.

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