By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, June 23, 2017
For many reasons, Brendan Casey loves open water swimming because he loves surfing.
He enjoys how some of the skills overlap – like sighting for a turn or thinking about how he does the exact same thing while navigating the current when he’s surfing back home in California.
“Growing up in Santa Monica, I’ve been around the ocean my whole life,” he said. “In middle school, most kids do Junior Lifeguards, and that was probably my first time doing some type of open water. From there, my club coach started taking us to (Open Water) Nationals, and it just stuck.”
As a student and swimmer at the University of Virginia, Casey said he doesn’t make it back home very often to ride the waves, but when he does, he has his board handy.
He began swimming as a 5-year-old when he saw his other brother, Aaron, surfing. Eight years younger than his brother, Casey said he also wanted to jump some waves like Aaron, but until he became a better swimmer, his parents wouldn’t allow it.
“I saw him swim through high school and college and took inspiration from that,” he said. “We swim similar events, and I’m still trying to catch him in a few.
“I like how the traits that swimming brings out of you make you a better person outside of the sport. The only way to get better is to put in a lot of hard work, which rolls over into school and life beyond swimming.”
After his freshman year in Charlottesville, Casey took a redshirt his sophomore year and spent several months living and practicing in Australia.
It was the first time he experienced training outside of his club or college team, and it showed him how other people train – giving him new perspective about himself and the sport.
“The focus over the year was more open water-based and helped me qualify for the National Team,” he said. “That was the first senior level team I made, and it was a big milestone that gave me confidence heading into this year.”
Last summer, Casey competed at Olympic Trials, and although he didn’t swim as well as he wanted, he said it was great to race against the guys he grew up with and watch good friends make the Olympic team.
The experience gave him extra motivation at Open Water Nationals this spring, and having seen steady progression the last few times he competed there, he said he felt he had a good shot at finishing among the top 2 and earning a spot on the World Championship team.
“Every 10k adds a little more experience and open water knowledge that I can apply to my next race,” he said. “I’ve noticed over my past few races that my feel for where I am and feeds/turns have gotten a lot better.
“I’ve been close to making teams a few times in the past, so I definitely knew it was a possibility to make Worlds. I didn’t really linger on that thought though. It’s a long race, so I just focused on taking it one lap at a time to put myself in the best possible position for the last straight away.”
While he went in with the tentative strategy to hang with the pack the first half and move toward the front on the second half, he knows with open water he couldn’t stick to a rigid strategy because a lot of what happens in the middle of the race is out of his control.
“You’ll get hit and kicked, but that’s part of the sport and you just have to deal with that,” he said. “This race wasn’t as physical or technical as others. There wasn’t that much of a current, and the course was simple, so I was able to stay in a decent spot the whole race.
“I was the third American for most of the last lap and made a push around the last two turns to get second. Once I finished and found out I qualified, I was thrilled. It’s such a great honor to be able to represent the United States internationally and I’m looking forward to the experience.”
Having secured his own passage to Budapest for Worlds, Casey said he has decided not to compete next week at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
With him and Olympic Trials runner-up Jordan Wilimovsky (who won Open Water Nationals) absent from the meet and Connor Jaeger having retired, Casey said he’s looking forward to watching some young, up-and-coming guys jockey for spots on the World team.
“There are a lot of events that are wide open with a lot of the veterans retiring,” he said. “It will be fun to see who steps up in the 1500 with Jaeger retiring and Jordan not competing. My favorite event to watch is the 200 back so that’s another one that I look forward to.
“There just isn’t a lot of time between Nationals and (open water) training camp, so I opted to just train through. It’s my first Worlds, so succeeding there is the main focus for the summer.”
And while he said he enjoys both pool and open water competitions, Casey said he prefers open water more because it’s more interesting as a competitor.
He likes swimming in the pool because he gets the chance to race other strokes besides freestyle, and he likes open water because he enjoys the tactical side and how there is more to it than just swimming back and forth.
At Worlds, he said he’s looking forward to the experience of competing at the highest level, and while he’s done a few World Cups, he knows there will be nothing close to competing against the best in the world.
Except maybe competing at the Tokyo Olympics in three years.
“We are less than a month out now, so a few more weeks of training and some details to fine-tune is all that’s left for preparation,” said Casey, who was just accepted into the McIntire School of Commerce and will be majoring in finance at Virginia. “This is my first big senior-level race, so I’m going in with an open mind. I’m taking it one step at a time to best prepare myself to do well and am enjoying the ride.
“Making the Olympic Team is something that everyone is our sport dreams of, and I’m excited for the next few years.”