Article originally published in The Washington Post on June 25, 2016.
by Amie Just
In Andrew Seliskar’s first big swim meet, his goggles fell off. He doesn’t remember whether he was 6 or 7 years old, but he does recall how nervous he felt before diving in, even though the event was only 25 yards.
Seliskar, 19, is no longer afraid even though the stakes will be far higher Sunday when he dives into the CenturyLink Center pool in Omaha for a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Seliskar will swim his best events — the 200-meter butterfly and 400 individual medley — as well as the 100 fly and 400 IM at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin Sunday.
Heats in the 400 IM are Sunday morning; Seliskar is seeded ninth. He has met qualifying times in 10 events and is entered in seven but might not swim all of them.
“I don’t want to do that,” Seliskar said. “I might technically be entered in all of them . . . just so I can have the flexibility of swimming what I want to swim.”
The McLean native is a rising sophomore at Cal Berkeley, where he is majoring in mechanical engineering.
The Cal swim program produced Matt Biondi, Mary T. Meagher, Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer, Nathan Adrian and Missy Franklin. Swimming alongside some of those Olympic gold medalists has been incredibly beneficial, Seliskar said.
“It’s great to be able to train with people who are a lot better than me,” Seliskar said. “When I got toward the end of high school, it was me and my coach working really hard. I was the oldest one in the group. I was swimming at my own pace. Coming to Cal, there are professional swimmers, there’s Olympic gold medalists. There are people here who are super fast and incredible in practice. That sense of competition has changed a lot of things for me.”
The summer before his freshman year of high school, Seliskar wasn’t sure swimming collegiately or professionally was in the cards. Seliskar had qualified for junior nationals only by his fingernails. And he stood somewhere in the vicinity of 5 feet 8.
But a year later, Seliskar had a growth spurt, and everything changed. Sprouting to 6-1, Seliskar swam in three races in the 2012 Olympic trials — the 200 butterfly, the 200 IM and the 400 IM. Before he could legally drive, Seliskar finished two places shy of a semifinals berth in the 200 IM, finishing 18th.
Away from the pool or on the deck, Seliskar keeps grounded by making and listening to music. He has played electric and acoustic guitar since his father bought him his first instrument at a swim meet when he was 11.
After taking lessons and teaching himself some things, Seliskar;, his older brother, Stephen; Ben Southern of McLean; Brian Phillips of Arlington; and Nathan Pawlowicz of Vienna formed a garage band, Seahorse Yesterday. The purpose was solely to jam and annoy the neighbors.
He’s in another low-key band, Sather Lane, with Cal teammate Carson Sand. They made sure their coaches found it.
“We thought it was funny, and it kind of bugged them,” Seliskar said.
Seliskar copied some of his pump-up playlist from swimming legend Michael Phelps.
“I started listening to Young Jeezy a lot because I read an article that said Phelps listened to that in 2008,” Seliskar said. “I knew some of the songs, so I have those on my playlist.”
Post-race is a completely different story. The moment the reigning Pacific-12 freshman/newcomer of the year climbs out of the pool, his headphones go back on, playing acoustic versions of punk rock songs or solo piano works.
“I feel like our coach talks a lot about being in the race,” Seliskar said. “The minute you’re finished, you’re immediately focused on recovery.”
Although Seliskar is younger than many competitors, the child who lost his goggles is gone. He’s ready for his shot at the Olympics in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 14,500.
“It’s really crazy swimming in that arena feeling with all the spectators,” Seliskar said. “It’s a really fast pool, and the atmosphere itself tends to make people swim fast. I’m excited.”