It’s 9:40 a.m. on a frigid Sunday in February. Andrew Seliskar and the rest of the Nation’s Capital Swim Club senior group that trains at the dilapidated Tyson’s YWCA have been in the water for more than two and a half hours.
Seliskar grabs his water bottle. His chest and face are flushed from a hard final set. The effort wrecked his body. It’s the same effort he gives six practices a week, three hours a day, week in and week out.
It’s the same effort he gives in everything he does.
Seliskar, 17, is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. He’s an exceptional student, even by Jefferson’s lofty standards. He also happens to be an internationally ranked swimmer who has broken four individual national age group records, including one previously held by Michael Phelps.
In two years, Seliskar will be a darkhorse contender to make the U.S. Olympic team. But before then, he will have to weigh his options carefully. Does he throw everything he has into swimming? Academics? Or does he choose the demanding balance between the two?
“I’ve always tried to do it all,” Seliskar said. “It’s why I’m an [individual medley] swimmer. I want to be great at all the strokes, and I guess that’s the mentality I take in life. I think I can do it all.”
Seliskar will most likely have his pick of schools. There is interest from swimming and academic powerhouses Stanford, ranked eighth in the country, and No. 3 California, which won 11 Olympic swimming medals in 2012 alone.
Also in the mix will be No. 1 Florida and sixth-ranked Texas, which boast legendary swim coaches with gold-medal pedigrees. Florida Coach Gregg Troy coached 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte — a medley specialist like Seliskar. Texas Coach Eddie Reese can claim 39 gold medals to his tutelage, and he’s already working on his next project, three-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year Jack Conger. In-state option Virginia (No. 22), his father’s alma mater, will also be a draw with its new coach, Augie Busch.
Seliskar balances a busy practice and travel schedule with four Advanced Placement courses, Russian and an online college course in Oceanography.
“You can’t tell just by talking to him, but he wants to be the best,” said his brother, Stephen, a Jefferson graduate and sophomore standout on the Purdue swim team. “He keeps that to himself.”
Balancing academics and swimming won’t get any easier at the collegiate level, but it’s a challenge Seliskar is ready to accept.
“It’s definitely tough sometimes,” Seliskar said. “If I struggle in one place, I struggle in the other.”
On Saturday, after a full week of classes and with no extra rest in practice, Seliskar will attempt to set the national high school record in the 100-yard breaststroke at Virginia’s 5A state swimming and diving championships in Richmond. He hopes to lead Jefferson to its first state title in 12 years.
Earlier this month, Seliskar’s sizzling performance helped guide Jefferson to the 5A North region championship. The consummate teammate, he swam two of his weaker events because the team needed him to. The top recruit in the class of 2015 won both easily, despite having swam a 15,000-yard practice less than 24 hours before — nearly one and a half times the usual yardage.
“It happened in a flash,” NCAP Coach John Flanagan said. “There is a lot of talent in this area. He was a hard-working kid in a group of hard-working kids. Then all of a sudden he was beating those other kids, and now they can’t touch him.”
As a freshman, Seliskar shattered a 12-year-old state record by nearly two seconds. That summer he finished 18th in the 200-meter individual medley at U.S. Olympic Trials, and a year later he earned his first international gold at the world junior championships in the 200-meter butterfly.
“Andrew came on our radar about the same time he came on everyone’s radar,” U.S. Junior National Team Director Jack Roach said. “He surprised a lot of people, but once you’ve seen him practicing you’re no longer surprised he’s swimming the way he is now.”
At the junior worlds in Dubai he was ill. Flanagan found Seliskar with his head down, ignoring his breakfast, odd for a teenage boy with an insatiable appetite who spends over 25 hours a week training. After a trip to the team doctor, he qualified third for finals in the 200 butterfly. He was noticeably off in the water.
“Ahead of finals I asked him, ‘Scale of 1 to 10?’ He smiled and said, ‘I’m a 12, coach! And he was, because he’s always ready to compete. No complaining. No excuses. That’s just how he is,” Flanagan said. At finals, he put forth a Phelpsian-like surge in the last two laps to claim his first international gold in championship record time.
“He’s going to make a difference in this world, swimming just happens to be part of his development,” added Roach. “It will be his choice if that’s in the pool or not.”