By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Alyssa Anderson hit the University of Arizona with high expectations after a solid run with the National Junior Team. At Arizona, she was a champion. But, like her sister Haley who won silver in open water, Alyssa made quite a haul in London, bringing home gold. She talks about that, and what it’s like in her water-friendly family, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. A good Christmas Day for the Andersons?
Alyssa: We have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for this holiday season. The holidays are all about being together. Haley and I get to be done with school and be home for a week or more. There is a lot of baking going on – we do go with a lot of sweets – we enjoy that, for sure!
2. You enjoyed the academics at Arizona didn’t you?
Alyssa: I really did, and I just graduated this month, in fact. For our college team, we always talk about ourselves as student-athletes – it’s important to note the “student” comes first. We are quick to point out that we are athletes second. It’s important to have that education, and that was important to me as I was recruited out of high school.
3. What college were you in at Arizona?
Alyssa: The College of Business, which is highly ranked. I was a marketing major. Just taking some of the marketing pre-requisites gave me a taste of what the major was like, and it was much more than I thought or expected. All the professors I met made it just an incredible experience here.
4. Why did you seem so at peace at Trials?
Alyssa: Well, I think I was just in a good place mentally, more so than I ever have been in my swimming career. Having experienced college – the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations – all of that gave me some clarity. I have never been more clear in my mind for swimming, and that helps at Trials. I describe the Olympics as the cherry on top of the biggest sundae (laughs) you could ever get!
5. Did you feel like you came a bit from nowhere to make the team?
Alyssa: I was definitely not anyone’s first thought when they would pick who might be on the team. I just feel very honored and blessed to have that experience.
6. Because you look so different and have your own personalities, people do not always realize that you and Haley are sisters, do they?
Alyssa: It’s really funny because it took people a long time to put the last names together. We really did pave different paths, with Haley at USC and me at Arizona, so a lot of people just didn’t know. I remember Eric Shanteau didn’t know Haley and I were sisters until just before trials.
7. You have another sister, Jordan, and you are just all three very different, aren’t you?
Alyssa: I do, I really do. It’s so fun because I feel like I am still learning about them, and their quirky personalities – what makes them who they are, because that’s what I love most about them – that they are so unique. I credit that to my parents because they have given us such a backbone collectively to our family, and been such role models in their own relationship. They’ve also demonstrated a lot of selflessness, which is important.
8. Were you surprised Haley didn’t pick Arizona after you were there?
Alyssa: Not really. She was looking for the best fit for her. In fact, I think she didn’t even look at Arizona. She was at the point where she wanted to do something completely different. She was ready to take her own path instead of following in my footsteps.
9. Is it funny to compete against her even though you are mainly sprint and she’s known for distance – she rocked the 500 at NCAAs, though you’ve done that too at meets, correct?
Alyssa: It is hard to compete against, especially when we “meet in the middle” in the 500 or even 1000 at dual meets, because she’s a competitor, but also my sister. So that’s a weird dynamic, but we do a good job of leaving it in the pool, and not making it bigger than it is.
10. What she did in the 500 at NCAAs and to turn around and qualify and medal in open water – that was one of the most underreported feats in swimming in the quad, wasn’t it?
Alyssa: I know, it definitely was. She is one of the best freestylers ever. I am so happy that she got the first open water (Olympic) medal for the U.S. women – that is a huge honor. She deserves every bit of that attention. I wish they would have talked more about her, but open water does get overshadowed a little bit. Haley was still fairly new at it, compared to how long other girls have been doing it, which makes what she did even more incredible. You could see her getting better every time she raced – a lot like Connor Jaeger in the mile – where she’d do a personal best each time. It was exciting to watch.
11. Seeing you two hug after you both had medaled at the Olympics – wow, what was that like?
Alyssa: That was the most emotional moment, when she came and gave me a hug afterward. I was so proud. It was so special.
12. Did Haley’s performance in the two qualifiers, here and in Portugal, fire you up for Trials?
Alyssa: That’s what I am (laughs) saying, absolutely! I had a terrible 400 free to start off the meet. But I started improving things in the 200 – a great prelim, and a best time in the semifinal, which put me in the finals to potentially make the team. But I didn’t put any pressure on myself. To answer the question (laughs) though, yes, Haley did fire me up a bit when she made it. My parents had told us they were going to get us all tickets to go watch her swim no matter what, but I thought, “I have to get my own ticket at Olympic Trials.” I didn’t want to go as a spectator.
13. People think that it’s easier to make the team in the 100 or 200 because of the relays, but in reality, a lot more people focus on those events, right?
Alyssa: I think whenever you have six spots, people gravitate toward those events and it makes those events so competitive. You saw that with the fast times. I’m very lucky that I peaked at the right time, and was doing my best times to make the team. I can’t even put into words what it meant and how it felt to make the team. All that hard work and all those years paid off.
14. What was it like at the Games for you and your family?
Alyssa: Oh my gosh, we had so much fun! We brought such a big support system of family and friends. It was pretty special, and while Haley and I were not in two different sports, we did compete at two different times, so everyone stayed for a majority of the Games. It made it a lot more meaningful, and we got to experience so much.
15. So 2012 might not soon be forgotten? Are you getting Haley something Harry Potter-ish?
Alyssa: I think it was a pretty good year for the Andersons! And no, I do not try to engross myself in her Harry Potter obsession (laughs) and be an enabler – I am not an enabler! Seriously though, she is a crack-up with that stuff, and she’s always been a voracious reader. Besides, she doesn’t need anyone to get her Harry Potter stuff – whenever there is something new, she’s already got it by the time we find out it’s coming out!
16. What were Trials like this time around compared to last time for you?
Alyssa: In 2008, I made finals and I had no idea (laughs) how I did that. Obviously I had some good races in Nationals prior to that, and I had won a couple of national titles. I was just so excited to be there, and I got caught up in that environment. I saw Kate Zeigler and all those great swimmers, and I was so young and got so overwhelmed I did not do well in finals – I let nerves take over and I psyched myself out before I raced. I took that and worked on it for the next four years, and learned how to control those nerves.
17. I know you have also followed the news with the tragedy in Connecticut, correct?
Alyssa: It just breaks my heart to see that and think about all those families who will be grieving so hard. They will be missing their loved ones. They are in our thoughts and prayers. Our hearts breaks that they were taken at such a young age, and so unjustly. They are in our thoughts and prayers.
18. Back to swimming – you have grown up so much since we first started talking, what is it like to go home to Granite Bay now?
Alyssa: It’s nice to be back home. The community is definitely growing, and it also has matured – from throughout my high school years to the time I was in college – but it’s so fun to come home and to see those swim friends from high school. But because I am home for such a short time, it’s just all about my family, and all those close friends I have stayed in close contact with.
19. Will you continue swimming?
Alyssa: I have only done a couple of clinics but I like it a lot. I have not made a decision on 2016 right now; I don’t want to make any rash decision. Swimming is such a hard, mental all-in kind of thing, that if you’re not 100 percent committed, you shouldn’t do it. So I am looking at all my options, including those with my marketing degree outside the pool. Swimming is, and always will be, a huge part of my life. It’s been such a wonderful thing for my development as a thinker and someone who can stick it out, reach their best, and achieve goals. It’s one of those things that has, along with my family, made me who I am.
20. Frank Busch as National Team director – what a huge success – but I bet you saw it coming, or at least were not surprised?
Alyssa: I mean I am the biggest Frank Busch advocate so you can’t talk to a bigger Frank Busch supporter than me – in fact I went to Arizona because of Frank Busch. It’s so great he’s in a position to have his voice heard and have him be such a big person in the sport. We know in Tucson how great he is. I definitely give him a lot of credit for getting me to make an Olympic team. Not just from everything he taught me – though that was very important – but for all the talks, the perspective, and how good he was at motivating me. You could see the effect the coaches, led by Coach Busch, had on our team. It was an incredible group of individuals who came together; it was also the most “team” attitude I have ever felt on the National Team. It was a kind of power that was derived from us coming together. There were no missing links, no weak links, and no negativity whatsoever. There was just this positive direction toward a common goal, and that all starts from the top. We had a great leader in Frank Busch, and all the coaches on the staff were on the same page, which makes it easier to have that kind of success. I was lucky and fortunate enough to talk to every single one of those coaches and get to know them better. You get to experience these amazing people for a short time, and it’s a great opportunity to learn, and grow.