A “Pool” Kid

Junior competes at US Open, Looks to State Title

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Photo Courtesy of Thomas Wu

Eyes forward and head out of water, junior Thomas Wu competes at the 5A state championships in February. Wu made it to the finals for the 100yd butterfly and 100yd breaststroke events. “Breaststroke has always been my best and favorite strokes since I started swimming, and I have spent a lot of time and effort working on it,” Wu said. “For the past year or so, I’ve also been trying to expand my horizons and improve my other events. For example, last year I really focused on the 100 butterfly and I improved a lot finishing fourth at the state championships.”

By Estefani Rios, Cedar Park High School

Jumping off the starting board, he heads straight into the chlorine infested pool water. The lack of spectators are replaced by cameras live streaming and the fastest swimmers in the nation surround him. With goggles on, form and technique in check, junior Thomas Wu begins another competition and opportunity to break his set records.

Recently, Wu had the opportunity to compete at the US Open Championships in the 100m breaststroke event on Nov. 13 in San Antonio. This came about after he swam a 55.21 time for the 100yd breaststroke event at an intrasquad meet in October, a faster time than the 55.79 qualifying time.

“[The] U.S Open was a really unique experience that I haven’t gone through before,” Wu said. “I had never been at that pool, and I was the only person on my team that attended the meet. It was still a really cool experience being able to go to an elite competition with some of the fastest guys in the nation and I felt really grateful that I had come so far as to actually attend the meet.”

Being the only person from his team competing and being the youngest in his event was intimidating, according to Wu. Despite his initial nerves and lack of familiarity with the 50m course, Wu broke his personal best time for 100m breaststroke.

“It was a little daunting racing against and watching all of the collegiate and professional athletes there, as they all have a lot more experience than me and are all very fast,” Wu said. “It didn’t affect me that much, however, as I just tried to imagine it as a normal meet and focused on just myself and my own swimming.”

The US Open is a stand-alone competition that serves as a mid-season championship meet. Based on the aggregate placing with all of the times in the nation combined, swimmers who placed first in each event received $1,500, second place received $1,00 and third place received $500.

Thomas Wu poses in front of the US Open swimming pool on Nov.13 in San Antonio. (Photo Courtesy of Thomas Wu)

Surrounded by two siblings who were competitive swimmers, Wu began his swimming career at the age of five with swimming lessons at his neighborhood pool. A year later, he joined the Cedar Park Swimming club team. This decision later prompted him to choose between two sports.

“When I was younger, I actually played soccer too, which is what I enjoy doing more,” Wu said. “Eventually I reached the point where I have to decide between two sports, and by this time I had been improving steadily and enjoyed swimming more. I stopped feeling like I was being forced to swim and I came to appreciate all of the different aspects of the sport.”

With years of experience, Wu has found himself specialized in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Currently, his record time for the 100yd breaststroke is 55.21 and the 100m breaststroke is 1:06.78, which he set at the US Open. For the 200yd breaststroke, his best time is 2:03.34 and for the 200m breaststroke it’s 2:31.32

“Breaststroke has always been my best and favorite strokes since I started swimming, and I have spent a lot of time and effort working on it,” Wu said. “For the past year or so, I’ve also been trying to expand my horizons and improve my other events. For example, last year I really focused on the 100 butterfly and I improved a lot finishing fourth at the state championships.”

Wu attributes some of the success and accomplishments to a period in his life in which he felt burnout and unmotivated at the age of 11.

“I wouldn’t put any effort into training and I couldn’t improve at all,” Wu said. “Eventually, a new club [Waterloo Swimming] team started up and my parents wanted me to move to that team. I think the combination of the new environment and the fear of embarrassing myself in front of my new teammates changed something inside of me and I regained my motivation and my drive. This honestly launched my swimming career, and I think if I have never had that chance of pace, I would not be the swimmer I am today.”

Wu said he also couldn’t have been successful without his high school coaches.

“Coach Josh, coach Sarah and Mr. Sullivan have done so much for the high school swim team and for me and I will be forever grateful to them for creating such an awesome team environment,” Wu said. “The coaches have really cultivated a great team where everyone is super friendly and supportive. Coach Josh has a rule where no swim can go unwatched, which really contributes to that team culture.”

Looking forward, Wu hopes to break a state record and win an individual state title this year. In the future, Wu hopes to continue swimming at the collegiate level and beyond and reach the Olympic level, a dream of his since the age of 10. Currently, he is training to meet the 2021 Olympic Trials; Wu needs to cut 3.49 seconds off his current 100m breaststroke time and 13.43 seconds off his current 200m breaststroke in order to qualify.

“To get [to the] Olympic Trials, I’ll mainly be doing what I have been doing,” Wu said. “I’ll continue training and working on strategies and techniques and focusing more on long course training. The only way to cut down time is to just train and so I will keep going in every day and giving my 100%.”

This story was originally published on Wolfpack on November 27, 2020.