BETHESDA, Md. (WDVM) – The chances of making the Olympics for an average youth swimmer are slim to none, but never impossible. Heading to his first Olympics at 27-years-old, Andrew Wilson is proof of that.
At the entrance to the Kenwood Golf and Country Club swimming pool in Bethesda, Maryland, the wall is plastered with pictures of youth swimming champions, teams and coaches. Wilson is on that wall, posing with as a six-year-old, with a trophy that’s almost as big as him.
Longtime Kenwood swim coach Monica Barry was Wilson’s first swimming coach, she says he “was very active and very focused, even at a young age, and he wanted to win.”
Wilson’s drive to compete has helped him continue to push for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, even at many times when the odds were against him. He swam at the Division III level at Emory, but as a walk-on.
“A coach in college was like, maybe I’ll give you a walk on [spot],” Barry said. “That just drove Andrew to prove them wrong.”
At Emory, Wilson led the men’s swimming team to its first ever national championship in 2017. He was a national swimmer of the year twice during his college career, winning ten division III national championships.
In 2016, Wilson came just short over qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, but got back to work, competing at the U.S. National Championships in Irvine, California, where he finished as a runner up in two races. He also won a gold medal at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and three silver medals and a gold medal combined at world championships in China and South Korea in 2018 and 2019.
His father Bruce Wilson says, he’ll always remember when reporters interviewed Andrew after his first national championship win.
“They asked him, ‘what club did you swim with?’ Andrew looked at the camera and said, ‘the Kenwood golf and country club,'” Bruce said. “Everybody laughed, because they were asking about his swim club, and they asked if he was serious, and Andrew leaned into the mic and said, ‘no, seriously.'”
In his second attempt at a spot on the Olympic team at this month’s U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, Wilson’s family was on the edge of their seat.
“Watching the race, watching the clock, watching the race, watching the clock,” Bruce Wilson told WDVM. “The best part was the shock of the look on his face when he realized that he’d made it.”
In Omaha, Wilson qualified in the 100m breaststroke race, swimming a personal best 58.74, a time that was .01 seconds behind the first place finisher. He also qualified for the 200m breaststroke, with a time of 2:08.32. The cheers at Kenwood, resembled those in Omaha.
“Everybody was over there, the TV’s were on over there, we had a swim meet and we were screaming,” Barry said. “Everybody was screaming when he made it and then they made a big announcement. Everybody is so proud of him.”
As the first ever division III swimmer in the Olympics, Wilson is a shining example of the potential and importance of hard work and determination.
“I tell all these little kids that the pool has Olympic spirit water in here,” Barry said.
Years after watching his son swim at Kenwood, Bruce Wilson is excited to see his son in the Olympics.
“Any time one of your kids puts on that cap with a flag on it, that’s a really neat feeling,” Bruce Wilson said. “And we’re just as excited as we can be.”
At Kenwood, Barry coached Wilson to his first swimming victory. Now, Barry has a prediction about his next one, as the kid who broke records at Kenwood, is ready to swim for gold in Tokyo.
“Andrew is gonna medal in something,” Barry said. “Andrew is ready. He’s pumped. It’s good to be the underdog.”