Peter Vanderkaay’s career was at a crossroad. After winning two medals at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, he could have walked away from swimming as a two-time Olympian. The 28-year-old from Royal Oak, Mich., chose not to, and he proved to be up to the challenge of making his third team, winning the national championship in the 400-meter freestyle at last month’s U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.
Peter Vanderkaay’s career was at a crossroad. After winning two medals at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, he could have walked away from swimming as a two-time Olympian.
The 28-year-old from Royal Oak, Mich., chose not to, and he proved to be up to the challenge of making his third team, winning the national championship in the 400-meter freestyle at last month’s U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.
“It definitely feels good,” Vanderkaay said of making his third team. “I wanted to come in here and get on the team in my first race, and I’m excited about it. It’s funny because I remember Klete Keller, a former teammate, telling me the third one was really hard to make. That was definitely true. I had to gut that swim out.”
Grinding is something the University of Michigan graduate has done his entire career. He won the bronze medal in the 200-meter freestyle in Beijing and was part of the gold medal winning 800 freestyle relay for the second consecutive Olympics. He finished fourth in the 400 freestyle.
But at age 28, he wasn’t sure if his best days were behind him or ahead of him.
“Honestly I didn’t know what I was going to do (at trials), Vanderkaay said. “I thought I would be good, but I thought I would be a little bit faster. I might just need a little more rest from the intense training we have been doing to get down and drop a few more seconds.”
Vanderkaay, who taught in a clinic at West Ottawa in 2009, had trained with Club Wolverine in Ann Arbor for most of his career. He recently moved his training to University of Florida’s Gregg Troy.
“Originally I’ve been training in Michigan for about eight years, and I feel like I needed to change it up. I got out of my comfort zone a little bit, and going down to Florida accomplished that,” Vanderkaay said. “I have a ton of respect for Troy and the Florida program. In fact, he recruited me when I was coming out of high school, so I’ve known Gregg for a while, and it seemed like a good fit for me.”
Troy helped push the experienced Vanderkaay.
“He’s done a good job training,” Troy said. “There is a lot left in the tank. He’s been to two Olympics and hasn’t done what he wanted to do, so his goal in the next one is — makes it tougher getting there. I am pretty happy that he got on the team.”
The move also allowed Vanderkaay to observe Ryan Lochte’s training first-hand, after swimming with Michael Phelps for the past few years in Ann Arbor.
“Now you guys know the real secret (of their success),” Vanderkaay joked. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to train with both of those guys. They’re tremendous guys and excellent teammates and a lot of fun to train with. I’ve been able to learn a lot from both of them. It’s been a great experience, and hopefully I can give something to them that will help them improve as well.”
Vanderkaay has hinted he will retire after London.
“I have some things to work on, and I think I have a lot of improvement that I can make in the next couple of weeks to hopefully compete with those guys,” he said.
The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel