Peter Vanderkaay: Working Towards London
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
One day in the not-so-distant future, Peter Vanderkaay hopes to wear a different kind of suit to work.
At 27, he is realizing he is closer to the end of his stellar swimming career than the beginning, and he's starting to think beyond his years in the pool – preferably into an office setting.
"I don't have anything set in stone, but when I'm done swimming, I'm leaning toward going back to school unless an exciting opportunity presents itself," said Vanderkaay, a multiple Olympic and World Championship gold medalist, all in the relays. "I could see myself in a business-type position."
In the meantime, Vanderkaay is in Brisbane, Australia, with his U.S. World Championship teammates preparing for FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China, beginning next week. Open Water competition begins July 19, with pool events kicking off the 24th.
The meet marks Vanderkaay's fourth appointment to a World Championship team, and he's been preparing differently this year than he has in the past. Around New Year's, he packed up and moved from Ann Arbor, Mich. – the place he’s called home since his freshman year of college – to Gainesville, Fla., to train with the Gator Swim Club.
It was an effort to get out of his comfort zone and mix things up by working with Gregg Troy. Gator Swim Club is also home to many elite swimmers, including World and Olympic Champion Ryan Lochte, someone Vanderkaay admires for his sense of humor and strong work ethic.
Vanderkaay believes the change will definitely pay off once he takes the water in Shanghai, where he will compete in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle events as well as 800 freestyle relay.
"I've definitely seen a lot of things telling me that I'm on the right track," said Vanderkaay, who won his first individual international medal with a bronze in the 200 freestyle at the 2008 Olympics. "I may not have seen the times yet, but I'm confident everything will fall into place. I've been able to do some things in training that I've never done before. I've been happy with my decision because it has forced me to make changes."
When the notion arose to leave Ann Arbor and Club Wolverine for a new training environment and challenge, Vanderkaay said he entertained thoughts of reuniting with his former Michigan coach, Jon Urbanchek, at Fullerton Aquatic Swim Team (FAST) in Fullerton, Calif., but figured he needed an even bigger jolt.
"Jon is one of the most influential persons in my life, and while it would be great to reunite with him, I didn't think it would have been a big enough change for me," Vanderkaay said. "I believe I'm on the right track to swim well in China. I've done a lot of things differently this year, and some of that has reflected in how I've swum in some of the Grand Prix events this season. I think it will pay off in Shanghai."
Part of the change Vanderkaay has undergone involves a difference in his training, although he says it's been nothing he hasn't done before.
He pinpoints more consistency and volume as elements that he hopes will lead to strong swims – and medals – two years removed from the World Championships in Rome, which became famous for the record number of world marks and the "suit" controversy.
"The way that I've been able to gauge my progress has been based on times I've gone in practice, as well as I how I am feeling," said Vanderkaay, who has also mixed up his events at meets this year, including swimming the 400 individual medley in Santa Clara. "Based on all the work I've done, I'm expecting to drop a lot more time in taper than I typically have in the past."
In a career as long as his, Vanderkaay has many fond memories from his many meets and travels, but few stand out as much as 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. The week before the meet, his youngest brother, Dane, qualified, uniting all four Vanderkaay brothers – Christian, Peter, Alex and Dane – together. Christian and Alex have since stopped swimming competitively, making the experience even more special.
When Dane enrolled at Michigan the following fall, it marked the college destination for all the brothers – something equally special to the Vanderkaay family.
"For all of us to share that experience (swimming for the Wolverines) and love for Michigan is really special," said Vanderkaay, who hails from Rochester Hills, Mich. "There was never any big plan for it to work out that way, but it has truly been an awesome journey with them."
And with what could be his final Olympic Trials returning to Omaha next summer, an older and wiser Vanderkaay said he plans to savor every moment leading up to 2012 – and a shot at a third Olympic Games.
"Making another Olympic Team would be another dream come true," said Vanderkaay, who will compete at ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships next month. "I certainly have a different, more experienced perspective, but it never gets old.
"I still enjoy the challenge of working toward a goal, and I love pushing myself physically and mentally. Swimming is such a great and humbling sport. It's definitely been worth the sacrifices because I've learned so much about myself. I've also made some relationships that will last a lifetime."