April 4, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
After visualizing what he saw himself doing in the pool, Drew teDuits decided to verbalize his goal to Wisconsin swimming coach Whitney Hite at the NCAA championships last Saturday.
"Whitney, I'm going to go 1:38 tonight,'' he said matter-of-factly.
Hite reacted the way that teDuits thought he would, too. "If you say you're going to do something, he kind of expects you do it,'' said teDuits. "That's how he handles just about anything.''
teDuits had already won a Big Ten title and broken the school record in the 200-yard backstroke previously held by Adam Mania; one of the role models that teDuits looked up to when he was younger.
What else led teDuits to believe that he could add his name to a very short list of Wisconsin men -- Winston Kratz in 1927 and Fred Westphal in 1959 -- who have won NCAA individual swimming titles?
"When I got into the pool to warm up for the finals,'' said teDuits, a sophomore from Fitchburg, "I hopped in Lane 4 in the competition pool where I was going to be swimming.
"I was the first person in that lane and there was a quarter facing heads-up on the bottom of the pool. I thought that was a good sign, good luck, so I picked it up and it gave me a little extra confidence.''
teDuits placed the quarter under his water bottle on the side of the pool. If that was not enough to put him in the mood, he said that he had the "adrenaline pumping'' since the morning preliminaries.
Handling any level of anxiety before a race had been an issue for teDuits during his junior and senior years at Madison Edgewood High School. That was the first time that nerves really affected him.
"With colleges looking at you, it's a little stressful,'' said teDuits, who made recruiting trips to Arizona State, Iowa and Florida (where he met Olympian Ryan Lochte, another early role model).
On choosing Wisconsin, he said, "Growing up in Madison, this is where I loved to be and I just felt like it was the perfect school for me. It's just hard to beat where your heart is.''
But he also had to deal with his anxiety as a UW freshman. "I was injured for a little bit and trying to overcome that,'' he said. "And with Whitney being in his first year, I wanted to impress him.''
He subsequently came up with a checklist. "I remind myself of three things before every race,'' teDuits said. "Breathe. Remember I'm doing this to have fun. Do what I do best, which is pull water.''
That's what he was thinking before he jumped into the water for what would be his fastest race ever -- 1 minute, 38.27 seconds -- and the sixth-fastest 200-yard backstroke of all-time and the No. 3 mark in NCAA history.
Upon further review, teDuits said, "I don't know which is more surprising -- the fact that I won an NCAA championship or I went as fast I did. They both seem kind of surreal.
"The time is almost easier to take in because it's a number that you can visualize. Being a national champion is something I've always dreamed of ...
"But a part of me never really thought it was possible.''
What's even harder to digest is how teDuits has shaved nearly five seconds off his time in a year. He credited Hite for helping him with his stroke rate, efficiency and mechanics, especially underwater.
As it is, Hite's influence runs deep with his UW swimmers. "He has very strong moral character,'' teDuits said. "He wants us to make the right decisions all the time, in and out of the pool.''
Accountability for one's actions is always accented. "You've got to do it every day in the pool,'' teDuits said. "You've got to plug away and push yourself beyond what you think you can do.''
At 19, teDuits, is a good example of that thought process. But how much faster can he get? He believes that he can improve his turns -- a constant point of emphasis for Hite -- and he can get stronger.
A year ago, the Olympics were not a reasonable expectation. They just seemed so distant to teDuits. But everything changed last Saturday night in Indianapolis -- even if he hasn't personally.
"This gives me a whole new perspective that I can maybe (make an Olympic team),'' he said, "if I train hard enough and I want it bad enough and basically if I'm lucky enough also.''
Reason enough to hold on to that quarter.