Oak Ridge Teen Competes at National Swim Meet

Alicia Slinger

Oak Ridge Teen Competes at National Swim Meet

By: Emilie Cooper


December 8th - 10th, Atomic City Aquatic Club watched with anticipation while their teammate, Andrew Chou, competed at the 2022 East Speedo Winter Junior Championships in Greensboro, NC. In a meet with over 1000 athletes competing, he was the only male athlete from the greater Knox County area. 

 photo courtesy of Tara Kneiser

Andrew is a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School. He started swimming at age 8 for ORCA and soon followed his older brother, Ethan, to ACAC where he has swam ever since. He hasn't always been fast, though. "He didn't break out and start to get fast until he turned 12. He went from not making Southeastern cuts when he was 11 to making several Age Group Sectional cuts when he was 12. That was fun," Kathryn Chou.


Quiet, sometimes shy, hard-working, positive and supportive. These are words used to describe Andrew by teammates and coaches. One former teammate and summer league coach, Harper Houk reminisced on what it was like swimming with him when Andrew first joined the senior group on the team. "He would just go for it…. He never complained.…When you're 13 and you have to swim against 17 and 18-year-olds, you have an easy excuse. … [Andrew] would train hard every day, would beat a lot of the older guys and girls, and just wouldn't complain."


The Junior Nationals Meet was a very different experience than previous meets. The fastest swimmers east of the Mississippi were there, including world champion Summer McIntosh. This put things into a new perspective and brought with it a lot of excitement and nerves.


Andrew's first event was the 200 individual medley. He and his coach had been trying to get some really good cycle rates and maintain those during practice, knowing that cycle rate leads to speed. In the 200 IM, this went really well. In the first quarter of the race, the heat was close. In the backstroke portion of the race, Andrew took the lead by a full body length! He maintained that lead through the breaststroke and only gave up a bit of his lead in the final leg, the freestyle. He finished the heat in first, setting a new personal record of 1:51.08, nearly a 5 second improvement!


With the next event, the 400 IM, his nerves got to him. He started strong in the first 200 of the race, but was unable to maintain the needed energy in the last half. He finished the race in 4:05.40, a 2.87 second add on his best time of 4:02.53. 

 Teammates from ACAC take a break back home to watch Andrew's race!

With another race the same day as the 400, Coach Franklin was worried about Andrew's energy. They got some food in him and took some time to refocus. This led to positive results in Andrew's 100 Back. Andrew was able to pull off another personal record by more than 2.5 seconds when he finished the 100 back in just 49.69 seconds. This broke an Atomic City Aquatic Club record that had been held for more than 25 years by B. Owens! 


Andrew's final race was the 200 Back. He was able to finish it just over his previous best time. He added only .08 seconds when he finished the race in 1:49.35. Meanwhile, his team back home took a break from practice to watch the livestream of his swim!


Andrew celebrated his swims with Chick-fil-A and a milkshake!


Coach Chris Franklin emphasized the great learning experience this meet was for Andrew. It showed Andrew how we need to "just stay focused on the process and not the end goal. Being nervous and having that adversely affect us at this last meet, that gives us more learning than only succeeding." Andrew echoed this with the comment that he thought he had learned to "not take it too seriously. Just putting that much stress on yourself is never a good thing…. Be calm and collected." 


Coach Franklin went on to praise Andrew's technique. "I would say he was in the top 5% when it came to backstroke technique at the meet." It wasn’t only Coach Franklin that noticed Andrew's technique, however. Another coach known for success at recently getting swimmers onto national teams randomly walked up and started talking about Andrew and his technique. "That was affirmation. That was good as a coach because I know we're on the right path. We just have to get bigger and stronger and better at certain skills," Coach Franklin.


So what are Andrew's goals now? "At least for right now, they are to push my teammates. It may sound weird, but at this meet and futures, I was alone by myself. I would really prefer to have a teammate with me. It takes a lot of stress off your shoulders because you know that someone else you know is going with you and doing the same thing. So, my friend, Leo [Karnitz]. I want him to make it next time. I'm going to go faster, so he'll go faster," Andrew Chou. 


While Andrew may not have said it exactly, it sounds like Andrew is working towards a trip back to Nationals himself! The nerves from the last trip will not keep him away!


To see Andrew swim, come check out ACAC at their next meet in Knoxville at the TNAQ Invitational, January 6-8, 2023!