By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, July 12, 2019
Growing up, Haley and Alyssa Anderson were inseparable in and out of the swimming pool.
Barely a year apart in age (Alyssa is one year older), their swimming careers mirrored one another and made competing at the 2012 Olympic Games together a very special dream.
Even though Alyssa retired shortly after winning a relay gold medal in London, Haley kept swimming, making several subsequent Pan Pacific and World Open Water teams, and swam in the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Now coming up on her 28th birthday later this year, Haley said she is excited to compete in her fifth Open Water World Championships which start tomorrow at Yeosu Expo Ocean Park in South Korea.
And she relishes every time she hits the water because she knows her competitive days are numbered.
“I honestly never thought I would swim this long so it (still competing) wasn’t something I had planned from an early age,” she said. “I literally am just taking it year by year. I never dreamed that this is where I would be, 6 years after college still having fun and swimming around the world.”
After finishing as the runner-up in the 10k at Open Water Nationals earlier this spring behind National Champion Ashley Twichell, Anderson is competing this weekend not only for a second individual World title (5K in 2015) but also for a spot on next year’s U.S. Olympic team.
She said she’s trying to approach Worlds like any other race and event as she doesn’t want to stress herself out.
She knows she’s put in the work, and she’s just “enjoying the ride.”
“For open water, there are two chances to qualify for the Olympics – top 10 at World Championships the year before or the second qualifying race just a few months before the Olympics,” Anderson said. “The only chance to get two from your country is for both of them to get top 10 at Worlds.
“I try to not think about outcomes like that (not making top 10 at Worlds). I don’t like to think about all the possible scenarios and outcomes of a race before it happens.”
Having accomplished as much as she has in the water – 2 Olympics, 5 World Championships, 3 Pan Pacific Championships among her many teams and honors – it would be understandable if Anderson makes good on her current plans to stop swimming competitively next summer.
For now, she’s still in the game because she loves the sport and still has goals she wants to accomplish.
And she still loves the thrill of diving into the water and racing against her competition as well as herself.
“There is a lot I still love about swimming,” she said. “It has definitely changed and grown over the years, but I always think back to why I did it when I was young. I love my friends in the sport, I love to travel, and I really just like to get up and race.”
And despite her recent success in open water, Anderson hasn’t given up on her pool events.
Even after qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in open water, she went on to compete at Olympic Trials in several distance freestyle events.
And if she does make the Tokyo Olympic team this weekend in the 10k, Anderson said she will most likely still swim at pool Trials next summer because she loves it that much.
“Last summer, I went a few best times (in pool events),” she said. “It’s funny because people don’t realize you can do both, but I train 99 percent in the pool. I just happen to be a little better in open water so that’s where my focus tends to be.
“But last summer was great because I got to show people that I’m more than just an open water swimmer.”
Over the course of her open water career, Anderson said she has learned a lot about herself and racing with every event she does.
She said success in open water is often knowing yourself and being confident in the decisions you make during a race.
Because she never knows what’s going to happen, she must keep an open mind and be prepared for anything.
You can’t be closed-minded,” she said. “You have to be ok with changing up a race plan and be confident in your choices.’
And what would it mean for her to close out her storied career in Tokyo next summer?
“It would be crazy to qualify for my third (Olympics),” said Anderson, who said she considered retiring after Rio in 2016 but decided against it. “I’ve been a bit sentimental recently and just thinking about everywhere I’ve been and the things I’ve gotten to do along the way. It’s so special and I can’t believe that it’s my life sometimes.
“Being part of Team USA is huge! It really has pushed me to be better knowing I’m wearing the American flag cap. It’s so fun and inspiring to be among so many great and hard-working athletes. It’s great to be a part of something with such a rich and successful history, and we still feel that now.”