By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
It seems there is always an athlete coming up through the ranks that is deemed to be the next great one in his or her sport.
One such youngster is in the area this weekend competing in the Northridge Area Swimming Association meet at Northridge High School.
Fourteen-year-old Michael Andrew of Lawrence, Kan., could be the next standout is his sport and is being compared to Michael Phelps, the sport’s most decorated Olympian of all time.
“It’s a special felling when someone compares me to Phelps,” Andrew said. “It gives me a chance to be a role model. I’ve been blessed by God with a talent and want to use that as a platform to get the word out. It gives me the drive to be the best I can be.”
Michael has the physical ability as he is already 6-foot-4.
“He was a great kicker in my belly,” his mother Tina quipped about her son who weighed 10 pounds, three ounces at birth.
Michael comes by his height naturally as dad stands 6-5 and mom 6-2.
“All the doctors and scientists we have talked to expect me to grow to 6-8 or 6-9,” Michael said.
Michael began swimming competitively at age 7, Prior to that he had been playing soccer, basketball and football.
“The very first race he was ever in he qualified for state,” Tina Andrew said.
Michael has broken 12 national age group records in the 9-10 category and 21 in the 11-12 one.
Michael made news recently by turning professional when he signed an endorsement contract with P2Life, becoming the youngest U.S swimmer to ever turn pro.
“We are getting flak in the worst way,” Tina Andrew said. “We have been accused of keeping our child in a bubble. But we want him to have a balanced life. If it ever gets to the point where I don’t think it is I’ll be the first one to pull the plug.”
Phelps turned professional at age 16 and went on to win a total of 22 Olympic medals, including a record-shattering 18 gold.
“People hammer my parents all the time,” Michael said. “They think I’m naive, but we are smart enough to make the decisions and I’m mature enough to handle things.”
Michael has a younger sister Michaela who also swims.
“Right now she swims for fun,” Peter Andrew said. “You can’t push kids into a sport. They have to want to compete. To me with Michaela it’s more important that she love me as a father than hate me as a coach.”
Michael swam three events on Saturday. He won the 100-yard backstroke (50.17), the 50 freestyle (20.66) and the 200 breaststroke (2:09.14).
His goals for Saturday were to try and break the national age group records in the 100 back (48.73) and the 500 free (20.29).
“I’m happy with how I did,” he said. “My times except for the 200 breast were personal bests.”
Michael was born in the United States, but his parents are originally from South Africa.
“My wife and I traveled the world for eight years,” Peter Andrew said. “The U.S. was our last stop and we loved it here. After Michael was born we went back to South Africa to run the family farm. But that is not a friendly environment to raise children.
“America is the best. There is such a democracy here. You can say when you don’t agree with the government. You can’t do that in a lot of countries.
“We are so blessed in this country.”
Michael has been home schooled until he recently enrolled in a high school academy at Liberty University.
“The biggest problem we’ve had with most programs is they wouldn’t allow Michael to work more than one week ahead,” Tina Andrew said. “He is very smart and had tested at a high school junior level in math, science and English.
Michael has established short and long-term goals.
“My short-term goal is to set as many national age group records as possible,” he said. “My long-term goal is to make the Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. It’s not unheard to make the Olympic swimming team at a young age, but it seems to happen more with the women than the guys,”
“He has not grown into his strength yet,” Tina Andrew said. “He is still a baby.”
Michael just turned 14 on April 18.
Part of the controversy comes from the training methods. A normal training according to Peter Andrew consists of swimming between 1,000 and 2,000 yards, which is much less than you would expect from a world-class athlete.
“Not many train with the methods we are using,” Peter Andrew said. “That is another reason why we let him turn pro. We don’t want to spend the next three years getting him ready for the Olympics and then turn him over to a college program and let them change his training. It’s hard to go from a yardage-based training system to what we are doing.”
Northridge High School swimming coach Joe Keller shared his feelings about the training.
“Michael is a really good athlete with a lot of talent and a lot of physical ability,” the coach said. “I wish him all the best and I hope he makes his goals. I’m just not sure I would try the methods he is using. The bottom line is success and none of the top athletes in the sport have used these methods. I don’t want to take anything away from Michael. If he believes in what he is doing that is half the battle.”
Andrew went head-to-head in the 50 free with recent Northridge graduate Austin Flager who was the state champion in the event at the 2013 state meet. Flager finished second in a time of 21.08.
“Austin has been training hard and his goal today was to just go out and see what happened,” Keller said. “Austin’s best time is a 20.3.”
Peter Andrew is more concerned about the future.
“At the end of the day no one really remembers what an athlete does when he is 14. What they remember is the world championships or the Olympics,” he said.
Michael’s dad sees an advantage to the training style.
“Michael doesn’t have to taper,” Peter Andrew explained. “We feel he can go out and have a competitive swim any day.”
The family was impressed with the facilities at Northridge.
“This is an amazing pool,” Peter said. “We like to come to Indiana whenever we can. We love Indiana. Swimming is celebrated in Indiana.”
Michael’s dad played rugby in South Africa and his mom was on a British version of the television show “American Gladiators.”
“Both Peter and I tried out to be contestants on the show, but due to some injuries they called and asked me to be on the show as a character called Laser,” she said. “Being on the show gave me a chance to see how people handled fame and how some didn’t.”
Both parents feel that experience happened for a reason.
“Without a doubt I feel that happened to prepare me for what we are going through with Michael.” Tina Andrew said. “It keeps us grounded and keeps our priorities in order.”