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.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Mania, a former University of Wisconsin standout, went to the 2004 Olympics as a member of the Polish Olympic team. He had dual citizenship. But a few years later, Mania decided he wanted to make the U.S. Olympic team. This week in our series of interviews, Mania discusses that decision, as well as training in Milwaukee, Wis., as a post-graduate swimmer, and his advice to other post-graduate swimmers.
When did you switch to the U.S. National Team instead of Poland?
In 2007, I made the U.S. National Team and we went to Japan. Things were looking good. I just moved to Milwaukee. I got a trainer. Doing very good dryland work. Training really hard. Summer of ’08 was Omaha, Neb., where I grew up. I was a nervous wreck [for the 2008 Olympic Trials]. I just didn’t swim well.
Why did you make the switch?
When I was swimming for Poland, there were issues with the Polish Swimming Federation that weren’t working for me. Travel requirements and funding that travel. Going to certain meets to qualify for certain national teams. Even though I had the standards, I had to do the standards in Poland. That, paired with college swimming, resting for Big Tens and NCAAs, was impossible to handle. Where was that money coming from? It’s not cheap to fly to Poland. Of course, it was becoming too difficult. This is going on with lots of other Polish swimmers. Not too many of the best Polish swimmers are training there anymore. A lot in Spain, some in LA.
Are your parents Polish?
My parents were born in Poland, and I was born in the U.S. a few months after they immigrated. We went back frequently as a child. My first language was Polish. [My parents] didn’t know English. Even to this day we only speak Polish at home. Then of course as I watched TV, it came to the point where my parents would speak Polish and I’d respond in English. Actually my Polish has deteriorated, but I have a newfound pride in it now.
Do you get back to Poland now?
All my family is there. I still go back. It’s just my parents and half-brother in the U.S., so that’s it. This summer I went to go visit Poland for my cousin’s wedding. Polish weddings are crazy. They are three days long. That was incredible.
What are your goals for the Olympic Trials, and do they differ from your expectations?
I have realistic expectations. It’d be great to make the team. Right now, based on my volume and my training capacity, I don’t know how realistic that is. You always have to dream. You can never say never. Dave Anderson, my coach at Schroeder YMCA, gave me the best quote ever, from Henry Ford. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re usually right.” He started using that quote, and I just love it. I can never say never. I can never say no. Right now my goal is more like training. To literally train and break myself down and make myself better and improve, and by the Olympic Trials, [I’d like to] really be able to lay down the best race I’ve ever swum.
Have you adjusted diet or done anything different in this journey than you’ve done before?
I used to not pay attention to my diet. Now, I changed what I eat in the mornings. I understand the importance of breakfast. Complex carbs in the morning, and protein. Loading protein after a workout. And constantly having some sort of snack or something like that, smaller meals, multiple times daily. Especially with coaching and working, you get exhausted. I have to have that energy to train.
What keeps you going with the sport?
The people I’ve met. When I go to a swim meet, I look forward to seeing everyone on deck. My coach Dave [Anderson] is always ripping on me, “Get in the water!” Because I spend the first half of warm-ups saying “Hi!” to everyone. The places I go to. I’ve seen the world. You can’t put a price on that.
It was really exciting, swimming in general. I love being in the water. I love training. I get excited for workouts. If you feel that way, why quit? It’s just stupid. I don’t know why you would quit if you enjoy swimming so much. Even though I don’t train as much as I can, I love the sport too much to be a regular schmo and just work.
After the Olympic Trials, what will you do swimming-wise?
That’ll be my last push in terms of real consistency. But I will still always be in the water. I’m involved in [the Schroeder YMCA] masters program, coaching as well. I’ll be in that. I get in the water with them. I’ll still try to do some racing. I might head to Europe in the fall and do some World Cup stuff. 50s and 100 IMs. You don’t have to train a lot for those. I was in grad school, getting my masters in urban planning, but that didn’t work out. Now I’m studying the GMAT to get into business school.
Has coaching helped or hindered your competitive swimming career?
Definitely helped. And it’s more so helped me appreciate what I’m doing. Seeing the kids and their joy for swimming. When they throw down a good workout, it’ll inspire me. Especially when they make certain improvements. I was coaching yesterday, and normally on Thursday nights, we play water polo. The kids were like, “No, we don’t want to play water polo, we want to keep working on turns!” And I was like, “Man, that’s awesome.” Makes you appreciate what you do more.
What advice do you have for post-graduates who are still swimming?
You know, this wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have a supportive network in Milwaukee, the people I’ve met, the coaching staff and people at Schroeder. The biggest thing are those big hubs – those post-grad training hubs. Those are difficult. It’s great to be able to train with a group. But the biggest obstacle for post-grad swimming is affordability. Being able to keep swimming, and then work somehow, and pay rent, and pay your bills – that’s the biggest hurdle. It doesn’t take much. But if you’re able to find a team with a good senior program that will essentially sponsor you in terms of, “Yes you will coach for them, and coach a lot for them,” they’ll help with travel. Hopefully you can meet Masters swimmers who can help you with work or lessons.
Keep your options open. You don’t have to move to LA or Mecklenburg to be a post-graduate swimmer. There are plenty of teams out there looking for one or two professional athletes because they understand the positive impact they can have on those kids.