By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, November 15, 2019
As a distance swimmer, Andrew Abruzzo rarely gets the opportunity to swim on a relay, let alone a sprint relay.
But after his gold-medal swims in the 400 and 800 freestyle events at Pan American Games this summer in Peru, much to his surprise – and delight – the Georgia sophomore was asked to swim a leg on the mixed 400 free relay during morning prelims.
“I didn’t know until the night before that I was going to swim the relay the next morning. I thought they were joking with me,” he said. “But I was really excited to be asked to swim the relay because it happens so rarely for me. It was a dream come true.”
Abruzzo and his teammates Charlie Swanson, Ali DeLoof and Madison Kennedy – the only true freestyle sprinter in the group – went on to swim the second-fastest qualifying time in the morning.
Later that night, the quartet wildly rooted on their teammates chosen to swim the final, and together they all won gold – Abruzzo’s third of the championships.
“I’m really proud of the gold medals I won in my individual distance events, but sharing relay gold with my teammates made the meet more special than I ever imagined,” he said.
Abruzzo’s gold-medal journey began when he was just a precocious 6-year-old whose parents got him involved with swimming lessons so he would be safe around the water.
He loved being in the water so much, that when he was old enough, he joined his local swim club, Plymouth Whitemarsh Aquatics, and has been hooked ever since.
“I didn’t come from parents who swam, but they definitely saw a need for me and my sisters to know how to swim, for safety if nothing else,” said Abruzzo, the older brother to three younger sisters. “We all ended up swimming at the club level because we all loved being in the water. We still do.”
Abruzzo worked his way up the junior National and international ranks – setting an early tone that he would be a force in the distance freestyle world for years to come.
He won three medals – one gold and two silver – at the 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships, and a year later at 2017 FINA World Junior Championships, Abruzzo swept the distance freestyle events – 400, 800 and 1500 – en route to three gold medals.
In between, he competed in his first Olympic Swim Trials – finishing 13th in the 1500 freestyle – and at 2017 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, where he made the finals in all three of his events.
Abruzzo said he sees these past few seasons of swimming as a “great experience,” learning many things along the way that have made him a better swimmer, a better teammate and, above all else, a better person.
“All of these high-level swim competitions combined with living away from home the past year (at Georgia) and learning to juggle swimming with classes and life as a college student have definitely made me more confident and self-sufficient,” said Abruzzo, who will celebrate his 20th birthday Monday night out to dinner with friends but not much else.
“The past couple of years have taught me that I have a responsibility to myself as well as to my teammates – Georgia and U.S. – so I take my swimming very seriously now – more than I did before. Being part of the Pan Am team this summer – my first senior-level international team – has made me more open to what it means to being a member of USA Swimming.”
Abruzzo said he “loved” his Pan Am experience – living among his teammates in the athletes’ village in Lima, Peru – and going into the meet, his goal was simply to have fun and enjoy the overall experience.
Pan Ams also made him realize – combined with all of his other recent success in the water – that he is right there with the best U.S. distance swimmers and has a real opportunity next summer to make his first Olympic Team.
But he said he refuses to go to Omaha in June next summer having put too much pressure or too many expectations on himself because he knows he performs his best when he is having fun and swimming relaxed.
“I can get pretty nervous before my events, so it’s important for me not to get too wrapped up in the moment – the enormity of the meet – and just focus on how much I love swimming and how much fun it is,” said Abruzzo, a sophomore management major who has future aspirations of going to law school and focusing on corporate law.
“I love to compete – that’s what continues to keep swimming fun for me. It’s what motivates me to be the best swimmer that I can be. If that means I never make an Olympic team but always enjoy my time in the water, then I will have accomplished what I was meant to accomplish.”
He added that something else that keeps swimming “fresh and exciting” is that he is always searching for new ways to enjoy the sport.
Trials next summer will be yet another way for him to make this a reality.
He’s just got to keep smiling.
“Trials in 2016 were largely about learning what to do and how to experience a meet of that magnitude,” he said. “Next year, my expectations will be different, but my preparation and approach will be the same. If I’m not having fun, then I don’t know that I will want to keep swimming. I just try to take things day-by-day and enjoy the moment – not get too wrapped up in everything I can’t control.
“When I’m done swimming, I want to leave happy with what I had and what I did – the relationships and friends I made, the experiences I had, etc. – but I also want to be ready to embrace the next chapter in my life. But, for now, I’m having a blast, and I’m excited to see what I can accomplish next summer in Omaha.”