By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Each month, as part of our “Trials and Tribulations” series, we’ll give you an inside look at an Olympic Trials qualifier. If you have a story to share, please email Trials.Tribulations.email@example.com.
Adam Mania went to the 2004 Olympics as a member of the Polish team (he has dual citizenship). Then, in 2007, he decided that he wanted to try for the United States roster. He missed the U.S. team in 2008, but that won’t stop him from attempting to come back and make the team this year. The former swimmer at the University of Wisconsin, and now professional swimmer, is this focus of this week’s Trials and Tribulations Series. He discusses growing up swimming in a tiny pool in Nebraska, and being a post-graduate swimmer enjoying a new phase of swimming competitively,
coaching and training in Milwaukee with Schroeder YMCA.
Talk about your journey to the Olympic Trials. Where are you at now in training?
I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. I just had strep and tonsillitis. I’m slowly rebounding. The original plan was to hit it hard in January and get a good block under my belt, upping the volume. However, upping the volume is, for me, swimming 5 times a week. If I go over three grand, that’s a long practice. So the goal was 5 times a week, 3-4 grand. Intense, max capacity type training. But being sick put a big wrench into that, and I haven’t been feeling too great this month.
Weight training has been going well. That’s almost the steady foundation for the last two years. I haven’t been swimming a whole lot in terms of volume or frequency, but I do a lot of aerobic lifting and conditioning and cardio. Putting myself into that type of pain. Not spending as much time in the water because I coach full time and I have a lot of other things going on outside the pool.
Is it harder training as you get older?
It’s harder to get motivated. Especially if you’re by yourself. With a group of people, it’s easy, no problem. Because of my coaching schedule, I don’t get to swim with the senior group. We have a solid group of senior boys. A lot of guys getting scholarships. But in the last year, I picked up new groups in coaching, and it’s cut into my group training time. I do more training by myself and with my roommate, who’s a post-grad. Kevin Ewald. He’s been my steady training partner. And Dave Anderson (at Schroeder YMCA) my coach, will coach us. We come in early and work out together. That’s been helpful. It’s hard to get yourself going swimming by yourself. Being sick the last ten days, because I haven’t been able to swim much, I get in the pool and loosen up, but I have to do it by myself. It’s terrible. (laughs). I last about a quarter of the time I planned on, and then I go to the hot tub.
Compare your experience as a pro to competing in college?
College is a job. It’s a job. You’re devoting so much time to it that it consumes your life. I don’t regret it at all. I’m still working off my aerobic base I developed in college. In school, it’s hard to make that any sort of a focus. You’re just trying to survive school and survive life. Where in post grad, swimming is a hobby. It’s fun. You’re working really hard, but you’re doing it on your terms. If things don’t work out, you have only yourself to blame. If you’re enjoying yourself, you are able to experience so much more. I live in Milwaukee now, and I love the city. I’ve been able to enjoy it because I’m only swimming a few times a week. But of course every time I’m in the water, I’m really trying to kill myself. I just don’t do it that often. I have to make it count. You swim 10-11 times a week, you’re just trying to get through. You swim 4-5 times a week, you have to make it count, because what’s the point? You try to have that type of workout, to get better. Whereas in college, it’s just punching your card.
How did you get started with swimming?
My best friend Ross got me into swimming, and I swam for a little team called Country Kids Swim Team. It was in the middle of the country. I grew up in the boonies of Nebraska. It was a two-lane 20-yard pool until I went college.
A two-lane, 20-yard pool?
When you went to college, was it a shock?
It was a big struggle. The first meeting we had, once I got to college, our coach Eric Hansen was like, “We’ll get you acclimated, we’ll start Saturdays next week.” I raised my hand. “Uh, we have practice on Saturday?” Completely serious. Everyone turns their head. Who is this kid? I had never done two-a-days. I swam every morning with my club, 5:45am. The workouts we did in a two-lane, 20-yard pool, my coach, Coach Robin was awesome. I learned so much. Technique, turns, sprint work. We were able to do a great amount of work Six or seven to a lane. We had a total of 30 kids.
How fast were you coming out of high school?
Junior nationals qualifier. 51-point 100 backstroker. We did a lot of turn work. (Laughs.) Man. I was the worst kicker in the world. Any time we would kick, parts of the pool were shallow, and I was just one of those high school idiots trying to cheat everywhere possible. When I got to Wisconsin, I was the slowest kicker on the whole team. I ended up breaking my hand and I kicked for 8 weeks straight. That’s when I really vaulted to the top of the ranks.
When did you first know that you were a good swimmer?
I was for the longest time really oblivious. I just liked swimming, and my friends I swam with. I didn’t care about anything else. I was always goal-oriented, but in terms of considering myself a good swimmer, I never really did, because I’m a swim nerd. I’m looking at rankings and results. The fastest times stuck out, so I couldn’t say [I was good] unless I was the best.
What is your best swimming accomplishment?
I made the 2004 Olympic team in Poland. That was a great accomplishment for me. The experience of going to the Olympics and being at Athens, that was an incredible feeling. However, I swam like garbage. I did some World Cup racing. I love short course. I love 50s. If there was a 50 backstroke [in the Olympics], I would be training seriously until I was 40-years-old. I went to some World Cup racing, and I remember I did this little tour, and I was in Stockholm for a World Cup, enjoying myself. Sightseeing. We walked miles and miles around the city. The next morning, I just missed breaking the world record in the 50 backstroke by a tenth. I was like, “Whoa!” To have that feeling -- trying to take a nap between prelims and finals, knowing you had a legitimate shot at a world record -- was really hard. In finals, I went the same exact time. I haven’t been happier since then.