Catonsville swimmer's finishing kick before college competition
By Heather Norris
When Kelly Sanchez signed up her son Andrew, then 5, for the Five Oaks Swim Club swimming team 12 years ago, she had no reason to believe that, a dozen years later, he would be the holder of multiple pool and league records and the recipient of an athletic scholarship to a Division I college swimming program.
As a 5-year-old, Andrew Sanchez couldn't, or wouldn't, complete a single race in his first competitive swimming seasons. In fact, both mother and son say, it was a good day if they could get him in the pool at all.
"I always stopped in the middle," Andrew Sanchez said.
His favorite move, his mother said, was to stand on the starting blocks and watch the other swimmers in the water, then walk off before the gun fired for his event.
To the delight of Kelly and the rest of the Sanchez family, Andrew eventually got over his aversion to the water.
Today, Andrew Sanchez holds 10 swim team records for the Catonsville pool on Frederick Road.
He finished his senior year in the spring at Mount Saint Joseph High School as a National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association All-American, qualifying in the 100-yard freestyle.
He also won individual league championships in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, and was a member of the first-place 200- and 400-yard relay teams during the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference Championship meet in February at McDonogh School.
Next month, he will move into the dorms at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as a member of the school's swim team.
But first, he will spend this summer wrapping up his career as a member of the Five Oaks team.
"I'm sad that this chapter is closing," Kelly Sanchez said. "I am sad to see summer, club and high school swimming come to an end. It has been a great part of our lives for the past 13 years, and I am really going to miss it."
But, she said, she is happy that her son will continue his swimming at a school so close to home.
For Catonsville's Sanchez family, swimming is a family affair. Andrew's father, Adrian, was a swimmer at McDonogh, and his aunt was a member of the dive team for what is now Loyola University Maryland. His older brother, Alex, a rising junior at UMBC, swam throughout high school and now coaches the Five Oaks team. After each race, which they videotape, the family goes home and watches the video while Andrew analyzes things he can work on.
Growing up swimming in different age groups, the brothers said, their dad would relay each brother's race times during meets to the other brother so they knew what time they were racing to beat. The competition between each other, they said, fueled their individual races.
In the fall, Alex said, he will be at UMBC swim meets to cheer his brother on.
"I'm so glad that they became swimmers," Kelly Sanchez said of her sons. Both of the boys, she said, were in the pool before they were a year old.
Growing up, Andrew Sanchez tried other sports, like track and baseball, he said, but everything kept coming back to swimming. Through the long practices and the sore muscles, he said, the thrill of each race made all the hard work worthwhile.
"All that just for a minute race and it's still worth it," he said. Especially when records are involved.
From the time he first decided to complete races rather than turn away from the pool, Alex Sanchez said he had his eye on the wall of club records at the Five Oaks club.
"I was always a half-second off of those," he said.
He broke his first Five Oaks record when he was in the 11/12 age group as part of a relay team. He then broke his first individual record two years later, when he was 13, and swam the fastest 100 freestyle in Five Oaks 13/14 age group history. That, he said, was when he decided to take swimming more seriously.
Since then, he has broken and re-broken dozens more records, both at Five Oaks and at Mount Saint Joseph's, where he set four school records during the 2015 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in February. One of the records he broke belonged to Olympic gold medalist Tommy Hannan in the 50 free.
In June, he competed in the Arena Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara, California, an event that also featured Olympic swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.
Instead of taking the summer easy after graduating from high school, like many incoming college freshmen, Sanchez has spent a lot of time in the pool, training six days a week with the Retriever Aquatic Club, his year-round club team.
With no championship race approaching, he admits he's sometimes tempted to trade in hard workouts for some relaxing summer days, but his competitiveness keeps him going back to the pool. At some club practices, he can see the UMBC team practicing nearby.
"It's just a competitive feeling with all the college swimmers and me that I already have," he said. "You can't skip any days."
Gregory McDivitt, one of Sanchez's coaches at Mt. St. Joe, said he is looking forward to see what Sanchez will accomplish over the next four years.
"He's got an exceptional drive," McDivitt said, adding that part of what makes Sanchez stand out is his ability to perform under pressure. "I'm looking forward to seeing what he is able to do in a Division I program … I think he's got loads of untapped potential."
Although he has since outgrown the Five Oaks program, practicing instead six days a week with the Retriever Aquatic Club at the UMBC pool, he still competes on the Five Oaks team and spends a lot of his off days there. Even though he will age out of the program after this summer, his mom says the family will renew its Five Oaks membership again in 2016. It's a way to both spend time with friends and enjoy a more-casual racing atmosphere, Andrew said.
"I always like swimming here," he said last week at the Five Oaks pool. "It's where I grew up."
His time at Five Oaks has also helped with his coming transition to college, he said. Multiple swimmers on the UMBC team got their start in the Central Maryland Swim League, which includes the Five Oaks team.
"It was just like the first step into being competitive," he said of his time at Five Oaks. "It's where everyone starts."
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