By Beatrice Rosen
Team Santa Monica seems to have perfected the formula for achieving aquatic excellence. This swim team not only sent six swimmers to represent the United States in international competitions in the past year, but also consistently produces the highest number of Junior and Olympic national qualifiers in Southern California, and has the only U.S. Olympic Trial-level swimmers in the South Bay area.
Now, TSM has two swimmers competing on the biggest stages outside of the Olympics: The World University Games and the FINA (FederaciÓn Internationale de NataciÓn) World Championships.
Andi Murez and Jordan Wilimovsky both joined the nonprofit, parent-run organization prior to middle school, and progressed through the well-defined age group program that is designed to develop swimmers physically, mentally and emotionally in a systematic fashion. Team Santa Monica’s approach of gradually increasing degrees of commitment has enabled Murez and Wilimovsky to reach peak performance levels at their physiological prime.
Murez peaked at the right time, as the 21-year-old Venice native came home from the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia, with both a gold and silver medal.
At the biennial and international multisport event, organized for university athletes by the International Sports Federation, Murez swam the second leg in the finals of the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay on July 10. Both the United States and the Russian relay teams were faster than the previous University Games record of 3:40, however Team USA came nearly half of a second away from taking the gold.
Hungry for revenge, Murez and her team triumphed by five hundredths of a second to win the gold in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay on July 13.
“It is such an honor to represent our country and bring back two medals,” said Murez. “It was an awesome experience.”
Yet looking back on her four years competing for the Stanford University women’s swim team from 2009 to 2013, and the previous four years swimming for Venice High School, it is apparent that Murez is no stranger to success. She set four California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) sectional records and was an eight-time CIF sectional champion, and finished her Stanford career with two NCAA titles, three All-American awards, four Pac-12 Championships and two school records under her swim cap.
In addition, Murez racked up five gold and four silver medals at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, where she set an Israeli national record in the process.
“Andi is a pleasure to coach and was a great leader for our team this year by how she approaches her training on a daily basis,” says Greg Meehan, Stanford head women’s swimming coach. “She is very thoughtful about the things she does in the water, and is constantly looking for feedback on ways to be better.”
TSM Head Coach Dave Kelsheimer, who coaches Murez when she trains with the swim club over school breaks, says she is “truly an amazing person and athlete.” Not only is Murez willing to help younger swimmers with tips and praise, but she is also incredibly detail-oriented and “very motivated to get it right,” the coach said.
Northwestern University sophomore Wilimovsky, on the other hand, took a bit more time to hit his stride in the pool.
Kelsheimer says that in the past three years he has been coaching Wilimovsky, “he has gone from a shy, average local swimmer to one of the best in the world.”
The distance freestyle swimmer placed second in the 2012 USA National Open Water Swimming Championships for the 5 kilometer race, is a member of the 2012-13 USA Swimming Open Water Junior National Team, and won the silver medal in the 17-18 age group for the 7.5 kilometer race at last summer’s FINA World Junior Open Water Swimming Championships.
During his freshman year at Northwestern, Wilimovsky became the first Wildcat to ever swim a sub-15-minute mile.
“I enjoy working with Jordan because of his tenacity,” Kelsheimer explains. “He was the kid who was not successful for any reason other than his willingness to work hard. Jordan doubled his focus, training volume and intensity, and has made quantum leaps because of it.”
It was Kelsheimer who brought Wilimovsky’s rapid improvement to the attention of college coaches, including that of Jarod Schroeder, Northwestern’s head men’s swimming coach.
“I don’t think he had as many colleges looking at him because his time drops came later in the year,” Schroeder said. “His club coach was really optimistic about what he thought Jordan was capable of, and thus far, he has been pretty accurate with his assessment.”
Wilimovksy is now training in Barcelona, Spain, with Kelsheimer for the 25 kilometer open water race at the 2013 FINA World Swimming Championships. The race typically lasts about five hours and is considered the marathon of swimming.
He and his fellow Team USA members, such as Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, will take on the world starting Friday, July 19. Although Wilimovsky has never swum the 25 kilometer race before, which takes place on July 27, both Schroeder and Kelsheimer remain optimistic.
“I suspect his body type is perfect for that type of race, and I know he has prepared himself to be successful,” Schroeder explains. “He is pretty strong-willed, as any distance swimmer is, and likes to be challenged.”
Whether he places first or last, Wilimovsky will compete again this summer at the 2013 U.S. Open Swimming Championships in Irvine, from July 30 to Aug. 3. He flies home to Malibu for the competition immediately following his race in Barcelona.
Murez will also be joining Wilimovsky in Irvine for the U.S. Open. To prepare for her events, she is back training with her coaches and teammates at TSM.
After all, the swimming club taught her much more than a good stroke.
“My coaches and teammates taught me so much more that helped me in college, but also prepared me for the rest of my life,” Murez says. “For starters, how to commit to swimming and be dedicated to working hard and always going to practice, setting goals and time management, creating friendships and having trust, and how to lead and set good examples.”
After she finishes up her human biology degree this fall, Murez plans to take the lessons learned from TSM to medical school, where she hopes to become a pediatrician.
Wilimovsky still has three more years at Northwestern to continue excelling in the pool – and coaches believe his success has only just begun.
“Jordan has a training background that has prepared him for his transition into a collegiate program, and that training base is going to be integral in his success later in his swimming career,” Schroeder said.
Yet whatever the future has in store for the two swimmers, one thing will remain the same: their connection to Team Santa Monica.
“TSM helped me grow so much as an individual and remains in my heart as a place filled with great lessons learned and happy memories,” Murez conveys. “I formed so many great relationships from the team.”