Michael Raab's two hobbies share almost nothing in common, and now he feels like they can't share him, either. Swimming and music pull Raab in opposite directions, leaving too little time for either and no time for anything else. Soon, Raab said, he'll have to make a choice: Should he pursue the Olympics or a record deal?
He could make the 2008 Olympic team. Last summer, he finished third to Michael Phelps and Tom Malchow at the U.S. trials in the 200-meter butterfly, missing the Olympics by 34 hundredths of a second. With Malchow now retired, some swimming coaches peg Raab, from Rockville, as a favorite in the event. He'll swim for the U.S. team at the world championships in Montreal.
He could put out a record. His energetic, rhythmic guitar playing is the glue that holds together Crash Everest, a Charlottesville rock band. The band already has a handful of shows lined up for August and September, and it hopes to tour soon.
"I can't put everything into both," said Raab, 22. "It's just not possible. I guess I'm at a little bit of a crossroads, and this is a huge year for me to decide things. If I swim past this next year, I'm going to swim to 2008. If I decide that's it, then I'm probably done."
It's a choice he's wrestled with since July 10, 2004, when he lunged for the wall at the Olympic Trials in Long Beach, Calif., and thought, for a fleeting second, that he'd finished second behind Phelps and qualified for the Olympics. The automatic scoreboard, though, showed Malchow defeating him by an almost indistinguishable margin, so Raab dragged himself out of the pool and offered congratulations.
Later that night, Raab went to dinner with his parents, Greg and Linda, and a few other relatives at a nearby hotel. He relived the race and then posed, for the first time, a question that still troubles him. Would it be worthwhile to spend four more years trying to overcome 34 hundredths of a second?
Without an answer, Raab went back to the University of Virginia for his senior year and swam well enough to become an all-American. Family and friends, though, noticed Raab's life had become more well-rounded. He devoted more time to his band and to his major, economics.
"He knows if he was to remain in the sport, he'd be giving up on quite a bit," Greg Raab said. "You really can't get the internship experience, the job experience and the life experience when all you focus on is swimming. That's what you give up."
There's plenty to give up with either choice, because Raab is equally coveted in his opposite roles. He's magnetic as a smiling, all-American swimmer; he's mysterious as an indifferent, cool guitarist.
"If he devotes himself to swimming, there's no doubt he can get a lot better and make an international impact," said Scott Vekeman, a Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club coach who has worked with Raab for more than a decade.
"If we all devote ourselves to the band, I really think we can make it big and make all our dreams come true," said Jon Baird, a guitarist and vocalist for Crash Everest.
At least for another few months, Raab will try, somehow, to devote himself to both. Along with Davis Tarwater, he'll represent the United States in the 200 butterfly at the world championships. He'll go next to the Duel in the Pool, a meet between the U.S. national team and Australia.
If those two meets leave him brimming with confidence, Raab likely will push for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He'd have to improve his flexibility and change his workout routine, because already, he said, his body recovers more slowly than it did when he was 18 or 19.
If, after the two international meets, he still feels unsure about his swimming future, he'll go back to the University of Virginia in August, where he'll play with his band, practice with the Cavaliers swim team and take the two extracurricular classes he needs to graduate.
"I'm going to do some thinking and figure it out," Raab said. "Right now, I'm of the belief that I can't just swim and have that be it. I have to be working on something else, whether it's for a job, graduate school, the band or whatever. Swimming can't be everything. I just want to be able to do things rather than have to always say no."