By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Drew Kibler thought he had a year to forget, not making the World or World Juniors teams in his specialty individual freestyle events. Instead it turned into a year to remember. He barely missed Worlds but made the World Juniors team in the butterfly and backstroke, and was a huge part of the 4 x 100 medley relay for Team USA. The Texas commit talks about what he took from the summer experience, and how it will help him with the road ahead, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How do you process last year?
Drew: It was a crazy, growing experience. It really started back around my Junior Nationals in 2016 -- Winter Junior Nationals. I improved a lot, got really fast, and I got a lot of attention for it with a couple of records. And our Carmel teams in general got a lot of attention for club and high school. And you know, it was definitely overwhelming. So I had to adapt a little bit.
2. Was it really that humbling, because you still had a great summer in a couple events that maybe nobody saw you coming in?
Drew: Because of that whole experience of not making it (in freestyle) and with all the attention, the summer was rough. I am not sure how visible that was to those watching, but it was mentally tough to overcome the attention and how I performed, and get back to what I needed to do to continue to improve in the sport.
3. And yet a lot of others, maybe even most of the top swimmers, have had that experience -- you are aware of that, right?
Drew: I think a lot of people have talked about Caeleb Dressel having a similar experience, where maybe for awhile he lost some of his love of the sport, and he took several months off before he started the next college season. Hearing about that had a profound effect on me. After talking to coaches, I was able to refocus and got really excited to keep training hard. Our Carmel team is looking better than ever. I was talking to my teammates about how exciting these next (few) weeks will be. It’s really fun, everyone’s working hard, and I am loving it.
4. So you ended up proud of last summer’s effort since you broke through in two more different events even though it didn’t go exactly to your initial plan?
Drew: Actually, I was pretty disappointed after some of my freestyle swims. I started to crack a little bit. I didn’t know how to handle the pressure I put on myself. I put a greater amount of pressure on myself than I ever had.. It was a very intense atmosphere. All those pressures were solely on the freestyles. So for the butterfly, I had no expectations -- and not even any goals. When we decided I’d do it, it was, “Let’s do it, just for fun.” In prelims, I was not thinking about making the Worlds teams, and even in the final I was only thinking about how fast I can go. And butterfly there were so many favorites -- and yet that’s where I got my first individual spot on the (World Juniors) team. The reason I qualified was because it was the most raw, true form of swimming -- having fun. I got up on the block to do my best in that race, no matter who was around me, no matter how fast they went. There was no pressure. So to answer your question, it wasn’t much of a plan as to how it worked out -- but I found a way onto the team, and that helped me through the pressure issues I put on myself.
5. Yet your butterfly was amazing -- for those who didn’t know, it almost seemed like you were a specialist -- where did that come from?
Drew: My butterfly is improving a lot. It was one of my primary focuses this past season. After summer, I thought about it, and butterfly had been my favorite stroke since I was a kid, maybe like 7 or 8 years old. And you know what? I loved watching Michael Phelps doing it. That was the vision of the sport I had in my mind -- I thought (laughs) when I was a little kid that looked like Michael Phelps in the fly! As I grew older, that enjoyment of the fly stuck with me. It’s a complicated stroke and I like that about it as well.
6. And yet, bringing it full circle here, you’re still one of the top young freestyles in the country -- so you still have a lot of plans in that, right?
Drew: Yes, and I do love the freestyle. I owe so much of that to the partnership I have developed with (Carmel Coach) Chris (Plumb). In 2015, when I moved to Carmel, I was a sprinter only. At my former club I did the shortest events offered, and never considered going up over the 100. When I moved here, Chris pulled me aside and we started watching videos. We worked on breathing every cycle to one side -- the sole focus that whole summer, how was I going to get the best technique possible breathing to my one side. That was my focus, an ongoing thing. I owe it to Chris and I started working on technical factors. Get a good catch, a good pull -- and develop the aerobic capability from there. So I think that allowed me to go up to the higher distances, because I do think I am built as a sprinter but the reason I can swim the 500 is because I do so few strokes (per length), which really built up my efficiency, and I think made it better for me to hold speed easier.
7. Why does it work so well with you and Chris? And just a PS, he brought up the how you count your strokes last week, so you two are on the same page!
Drew: That’s a tough question. A lot that goes into that. He’s one of those people where -- when you think about friends or relationships -- he’s not one of those who is always going to tell you the easy thing, or what you want to hear. We have gotten to that point where we don’t have to tell each other what each wants to hear, but get right to what we need to hear -- what needs to be said. That’s what we have, and I think it is crucial for both of us.
8. Hasn’t Carmel turned out to be an even more magical place and experience than perhaps you even imagined or hoped for?
Drew: It is something I am definitely starting to see -- just how special it is. I have a unique perspective that maybe most don’t have because this is my third club. So this has been an amazing team. Carmel really does earn and deserve all the success it gets. We are all there for each other as teammates, being accountable and positive, urging each other on. We’re in the toughest week’s of training, and nobody is saying, “I’ve got this,” we’re all saying, “We can do this together.” That’s pretty great. In the lane next to you, there is always a lot of perseverance.
9. You are probably over talking about this by now, but poison ivy last summer, and how did that affect your swims?
Drew: It was very…(laughs) interesting having that happen. We had moved into a new house with huge woods behind it. I’ve always loved being outside. I was exploring, walking through the woods, hiking through these rivers, and when I came back inside, my parents told me they hoped I didn’t get poison Ivy. I just washed off, and thought the next day, “Well, I’m good.” Then two days later, it popped up everywhere, and just kept getting worse and worse -- on my face, in my throat, my throat closing up, worse than I ever imagined.
10. And again, a lesson learned, and you did an amazing job swimming through it -- just logistically made for a rougher summer?
Drew: Having something like that is a challenge. WIth challenges in general, it’s a good reminder that things are never going to be perfect. That you can only control what you can control, and there will always be other factors that will affect you -- so you manage that. I’d rather have experienced these things now than in 2020 when I need everything that I can control to be perfect. So learning how to face that adversity and overcome it is important. I had huge goals this summer, and I thought if things went perfectly I might even make the Worlds team. But I didn’t. And I’m kind of glad things worked out how they did. I am so much more mentally strong now. I can handle the attention better. This all allowed for great growth for me, especially mentally. The next challenge will catch me off guard, but from these experiences, it won’t be as daunting.
11. How much fun was that group at World Juniors?
Drew: It was one of the craziest, most amazing things I have ever experienced. First of all, the things that (National Junior Team Director) Mitch Dalton does for the Junior Team is amazing. I am so thankful for what he has done. He’s so successful, he’s a friend and leader to us all, and a great guy.
12. Was that from the start?
Drew: So here’s the story of how he kicked off the whole meet with our first meeting. We gather in this room, and he asks, “What’s your favorite Olympic memory?” So Cody Bybee says what probably most of us are thinking, “When Jason Lezak came back and outtouched the French in 2008.” We all agree, and MItch nods, and, lo and behold, Jason Lezak walks through the door with the medal and tells the whole story! That just really fired everybody up so much. That was just one thing, but there there were so many like that.
13. What did representing the U.S. mean on a practical, swimming level?
Drew: To give everything we had to swim outside ourselves and swim for America. And representing America the right way. We all thought that talking with the foreign kids was also really cool. I still talk to some of them. We exchanged phone numbers and Snapchats so we still talk. Ironically, we did most of the talking in the ice bath -- the cold tub to go in after races, and it ended up a place just to talk with and meet people. I met a friend from Greece, we traded caps and I still wear that in practice every day. It was amazing. The friendships that we had were awesome, the amazing swims we had were incredible to witness.
14. Why is that pool in Indy such a perfect place for big swim meets?
Drew: You know, it really does have that quality you want. There’s a special magic about that place. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t swim or hasn’t swum a big meet there. I was very fortunate to grow up here, I have five meets there every year, club meets, and our high school (championships) will be there. It never loses that magic. All those names on the wall -- the Olympians’ names painted on the wall. It’s an older pool and they’ve hosted Olympic Trials. Michael Phelps made his first Olympic Games there. Everybody knows the Nat for all that history.
15. The Junior team in general just had such a great group of personalities -- I don’t think I’ve seen something like it, have you?
Drew: They were awesome. I don’t know if it is always that way, but these swimmers all had these great personalities and were such fun to be around. The worse thing would be to have boring people. But all of these amazing people kept it from being stressful or overwhelming. Coming back from every session on a bus with those people, talking, singing, and laughing makes it all the more fun. That’s why we all started swimming in the first place -- it goes all the way back to the first club meet up to these huge international meets: We love to swim.
16. And you had good roommates?
Drew: The first night we just talked -- Matthew Willenbring was my roommate -- about random stuff for hours, chilling out in our beds, just super fun. And then he’s also going to Texas so we will be teammates there, too. So the bonds that were formed are lifelong. We had people like Reece (Whitley) who will be at Cal and we’ll root for him at NCAAs, and Daniel Roy at Stanford. These are such great swimmers, but they’re even better people, too.
17. How about that medley relay -- how were you all so ready to swim?
Drew: One thing in particular that stands out about the 400 medley relay is those three other guys (Willenbring, Whitley and Bybee) had already had the most amazing swims. I remember for us, it being an incredible race. But before the race in the ready room, we were just all talking about how excited we were to go fast, how it was going to be epic, just huddled together and laughing and staying calm. Most of the other countries were just silence, we were the only ones smiling and laughing. We might have come off as unfocused or nonchalant, but it was really just a tight bond we had, ready to race for each other, and it all worked out in the end -- staying relaxed really paid off.
18. So on the podium, the flag goes up, what’s the feeling?
Drew: I’m starting to get goosebumps right now remembering that. It was kind of surreal because the whole week we talked about being on the podium. That was the only goal for our relay. To think back now on how those guys swam so beyond themselves is incredible. I want to do it over and over again, push past my own boundaries and be there for Team USA. It had a profound effect on me.
19. Backtracking for a sec, going to camp swimming back and fly after having records and being a candidate for all the sprint and middle distance freestyles, what was that like?
Drew: It was kind of interesting because for the two years prior to that I was focused on freestyle and people who knew me, knew me for freestyle, and I had planned on swimming free for the rest of the summer. Then I didn’t make it in the free so the rest of the summer I knew I would be swimming 100 back and 100 fly. I was like, “OK, complete gear shift, complete change, only train butterfly and backstroke now.” I went from having trained freestyle 90 percent of the time to training fly and back for 90 percent of the time. And you know, I think it worked out. I am really happy for how that week at Junior Worlds worked out. I should start balancing out my other stokes more -- not hang up the freestyle or anything, but balance it out. Once I do go to Texas and work with Coach Eddie Reese I know he will figure out what I need at that point. Eddie, I watched an interview with him, and he said, “The body always has to be given new challenges to adapt to -- if you aren’t given something new, you won’t improve.” I have really enjoyed using butterfly and backstroke as new challenges, and I think I have improved because of that.
20. What did you learn about yourself this past year from the challenges and dealing with the attention and everything -- what did it tell you about you?
Drew: The most important thing I learned is how important it is to keep communicating with people around you about how you feel about everything. I was having some confusing emotions about swimming and the pressures I mentioned, but I wasn’t communicating that that well and it came back to bite me a little bit. Moving forward through World Championship Trials and Junior Worlds, I learned the value and importance of that. And I am still reaping the benefits from that now in the short course season. I am exactly aware of what I am feeling, and so are those around me who need to know these things. And because of that, I feel like I am in a much better place, and ready to move forward.