By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, October 24, 2017
A 2012 Olympian, 2017 World Championships team member, NCAA All-American, four international medals (two golds, two silvers) -- but to start the story of Andrew Gemmell, one would have to go back to 2009, where he first repped the USA in Rome (and won silver), then Worlds in 2011, and Pan Pacs (‘14) and Pan Ams (‘15). Nearly a decade -- nine years in a row, in fact -- of making the U.S. National Team. He explains what that means to him, and what he’s pursuing now, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So you have a Masters in Applied Economics now from Georgetown -- you graduated this year, right, and are you using it?
Andrew: I graduated in August and I work at a consulting firm. We’re a firm that specializes in employment and labor law. We do, among other things, compensation audits -- an example would be if a company is paying women as much as men or equally among races and ethnicities.
2. Sounds interesting -- how is that job going?
Andrew: It’s been good. It’s a small office. It’s in DC. I was lucky to find a good spot to get started.
3. So you are using your Master’s degree already?
Andrew: I’m definitely using my degree. It’s an economic consulting firm. So having that (master’s) allowed me to walk in right away and have some autonomy.
4. How is it possible we have been talking for more than a decade?
Andrew: It goes by really fast so it’s nice to slow it down as you look back at it. But in the moment, you experience some great friendships -- great relationships -- that made those moments mean so much more. I had a good run.
5. How were Worlds this summer -- you still came out of it in the top 20 (17th)?
Andrew: Worlds was a great experience. It’s always great to get to race at that level. You start appreciating how rare those opportunities are. I was really disappointed with my swim. I took some big risks to try to win. If I was aiming for a race to swim a 4th or 5th place, it might’ve been different. But I put myself out there and went for it. I had taken six months off after (open water) trials with everything that was going on (with graduate school). But looking back, it was a lot of fun.
6. This long of a career at the highest level -- I remember me and you sitting with our dates after you swam for the U.S. in London at the 2012 Olympics -- how is that consistency at the highest level for so long even possible?
Andrew: I think you sort of picked up on it right there -- that is one of the things, making nine straight National Teams, that means a lot. It’s a testament to the support I’ve had around me. From my Dad (NCAP Coach Bruce Gemmell) to (Georgia Head Coach and Olympic Coach) Jack (Bauerle) and (Georgia Associate Head Coach) Harvey (Humphries), swimming at Fullerton with the group out there and Coach (Jon) Urbanchek, my teammates at Georgia and NCAP, and my teammates even before that -- all those people helped put me in a position to earn great opportunities and enjoy the sport. They kept me passionate about being my best and getting better. I love that I had a chance to put myself in that position and compete on the world stage.
7. Do you still have all your medals somewhere safe?
Andrew: Actually, they are sitting at home, at my Dad’s place. The medals are nice, but the memories that are attached to each mean so much more. That’s what tells the story, these amazing groups of people. Even when I get a chance to see those medals again, the people from those times are the memories I think about and enjoy the most.
8. How about your Dad coaching Katie and the job he’s done at NCAP with so many great swimmers?
Andrew: Oh, for sure I am proud of him. I have seen how hard he works. I know everything he puts into it. His passion and commitment -- and that he’s still eager to learn at his age -- I won’t say his age! -- and still willing to get better. I was just back at Georgia (for Homecoming) and I ran into an old teammate talking about our time in Delaware, and just how some wouldn’t recognize my Dad from 15 years ago -- in a good way. He’s better at it, and he’s happier. He just loves what he’s doing.
9. You really pushed Katie Ledecky as her teammates at NCAP for the Rio run-up and your Dad says that is a precious memory -- what was it like for you?
Andrew: I had the best seat in the world for her whole quad basically. I could see it from the inside, which allowed me to appreciate it on a micro level with the day-to-day basis. There were a few times where I’d just stop and watch what she was doing. And I got to enjoy it on a macro level, from week to week and month to month, even year to year -- it was so impressive and fun to be part of it.
10. Katie said you made her better -- how did she make you better?
Andrew: She kept me honest -- she kept me more than honest, really, and it was in more than just her incredible times and performance, though those were motivating also. It was her attitude and effort, and the integrity she puts into all of it. She kept it a fun environment, and that makes all the hard work easier.
11. How about Katie’s shorter distance speed, did you see that 200 coming?
Andrew: Katie actually got all the way down to the 100 and was great on those relays. And of course her 200 is just incredible, too. That was a conscious effort from her. She is always looking for a challenge, a way to get better. So that 100 and 200 didn’t spring up by accident; they were a long time coming. It was great to see her succeed, because trying something like that doesn’t always work, but she was so thoughtful and deliberate in her pursuit of it.
12. Going back to how you left the east coast for Georgia, what did you take from that time with Jack and some of the best teammates in the world?
Andrew: The importance of time management and correctly prioritizing different things. In fact, when I went into job interviews, that’s what I talked about. I told them, “I might not have everything on the resume you are looking for, but I can work hard. I can learn fast. I won’t get discouraged.” I knew at Georgia as an undergrad that I wanted to go to grad school, that I had more to learn, and skills to develop. Swimming helps you learn to organize your life and commitments.
13. Did you think you’d end up at Georgetown in that prestigious Applied Econ Master’s program?
Andrew: I had an idea from the time I started college and sort of started down that path -- but it didn’t take me where I planned. You just go with where your passion is and where you are motivated, you stay flexible and grow along the way. So while I had a different idea going in, coming out into the life I have now -- I have no complaints.
14. I had George Mason or George Washington University on my mind -- need another George school?
Andrew: Oh, (laughs) definitely! They were two different experiences. I am glad I got to experience Georgetown and Georgia, because they are two very different places. And because Georgetown is so good at basketball and Georgia at football, I don’t have to (laughs) worry about allegiances! But it really did allow a wide breadth of experiences, and different ideas and ways of thinking -- going to both schools. They are very different -- not that one place is better than the other, because both are great -- but that allowed me to learn from a lot of different people and programs, and for that I am very grateful.
15. You are in an airport while we are talking coming back from Georgia, how cool was it to be back at UGA?
Andrew: Oh, it was great! I definitely stay in touch with Jack and Harvey all the time. Being there this past weekend, watching their Saturday practice and (how they) get up and race. I know a few of the older guys on the team and some post-grads. That’s a really easy team to root for.
16. Who is still there from when you where?
Andrew: Jay (Litherland), Gunnar (Bentz) -- some of the guys who are all seniors, so several of them and many of the post-grads, men and women. That time goes by so fast. Such great memories. So excited to see them all doing so well. That’s not by accident -- Jack and Harvey bring in only good people, so it’s easy to root for them.
17. What was it like being on that Worlds roster with so many Georgia folks on the team?
Andrew: Between guys and girls, I think we had eight. That was really cool to see and be a part of. Everyone who is an alum is so proud of the Worlds team and the Rio Olympic team. It’s great because that group, especially the women (Melanie Margalis, Hali Flickinger, Olivia Smoliga) have such different personalities which balance each other out but individually they are all such great people. And they have something really good going with their post-grad group.
18. Do you ever take time to reflect on your well-earned spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London?
Andrew: I still, even five years later, don’t know if I have a good answer for that. What it means changes as I get older, and it means different things in different contexts. Let me answer it with a moment: We (Olympians) all sign (U.S.) flags, the coaches, staff and team, and one of the Olympic Training Camps we had right after 2012 Trials was in Tennessee. So one of the flags we all signed hangs there (at the University of Tennessee). My father went back to Tennessee for a meet, and he happened to see that flag. Katie and I had signed our names right next to each other -- even though at that time we didn’t know each other yet. What an odd circumstance that she’d later be a training partner with me and swim for my Dad, and there we are side by side on the flag. Those sort of special memories and moments about some of the greatest people I know mean the most, and they are tied of course to swimming.
19. Do you ever have moments where it just dawns on you out of nowhere that you have been on World Championship and Olympic teams?
Andrew: Well, I am not really sure how to answer that. But I have a story from this summer in New Jersey, I was in line at a (dessert) place, wearing a USA Swimming shirt, and the guy next to me was wearing a USA Olympic shirt. He looked at me, and I looked at it. He asked, “Where’d you get that shirt?” And I said, “OH, I competed in 2012.” He said, “What sport?” I said, “Swimming. My name is Andrew Gemmell.” He said, “Oh, Andrew! I am Brendan Hansen’s Dad!” I mean, here we are, in line, and that connection was just incredible. Brendan and I have a bit of an age difference, but we’re both from the northeast. To be able to have those kinds of interactions -- when you least expect it -- just shows how special it is to be a part of this sport, and around these people.
20. Those medals -- those memories -- kind of shows you what a special time of your life swimming was for you?
Andrew: Oh yes, certainly. It’s a great reminder that if you surround yourself with good people and people with similar aspirations, you can go really far. You will probably come up short at times, and it’ll never be easy. You might even come up short in your last race. But if you are with people who make you better, and you are all in, you run with it. You enjoy it. It tests you, and it makes you better. And what you learn about yourself helps you as you move on into life.