Pictured above: Kevin, Mick and Jay Litherland at the 2017 Golden Goggle Awards in Los Angeles.
As kids – whether it was in their mother’s womb or in their early days in the pool – the Litherland triplets were always jockeying for position.
The first time, of course, occurred when they were positioning for birth order in their mother’s home country of Japan. Mick was first, followed by Kevin and lastly Jay, all a minute apart.
“It was a race then, and we’ve been racing against each other ever since,” Kevin said.
The second came when they lived in Miami and started summer league as 6-year-olds – placed in swimming lessons by their mom, Chizuko, because of their energetic, rambunctious nature and as a way to address their asthma they all had since they were born two months premature.
Mick started fast – the first to show promise. A few years later in their early teens, Kevin stepped to the forefront and had the first Junior National cuts before either of his brothers.
Lately, it’s been Jay – the fraternal triplet as Mick and Kevin are identical, although the differences among them are nearly indiscernible – who’s been in the spotlight.
Making the 2016 Olympic, 2017 World Championship and 2018 Pan Pacific Championship teams pushed him to the front of the small family pack.
But don’t count Kevin – a member of the 2017-18 U.S. National Team – out.
He’s ready to gain position on his brother again – but he knows he doesn’t have many meets and opportunities left.
“I considered quitting after NCAAs last year, but I still felt I had more to accomplish,” said Kevin, who will graduate with his brothers this May from the University of Georgia. All three are sociology majors.
“Mick retired after NCAAs, but I was on the National team at the time and wanted to see where I could still take my swimming.”
The following summer proved to be less than auspicious for Kevin. At the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championship, he failed to crack the finals in any of his mid-distance and distance freestyle events. His highest finish was 14th in the 400 free.
Despite the results, Kevin said he never considered quitting even then.
If anything, he said that meet motivated him even more to push himself and see what he might be able to accomplish moving forward.
“Last year proved to be tough for me on a few levels, and that impacted my training and my swimming results,” he said. “Looking back, even though I lost my spot (and funding) on the National Team, I realized swimming was still really important to me. I wanted more.”
Receiving support from Jay also helped Kevin decide to keep swimming. Living together, he said seeing his brother’s continued success on National and international levels has given him extra incentive and inspiration to drive forward.
But that wasn’t always the sentiment Kevin experienced in seeing Jay succeed at a level he aspired to himself.
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m always proud of and happy for jay and is success,” Kevin said. “When he made the Olympic team, Mick and I were the first ones on deck to congratulate him.
“But after that initial excitement, the disappointment and frustration of not making the team also hit me and Mick. Swimming at the Olympics together was something talked about growing up, but only Jay got the chance. It took a little while, but we got over it and cheered Jay on from home during the Olympics.”
Kevin said he has a busy spring schedule on the TYR Pro Swim Series circuit to prepare for Nationals this summer.
He continues to train with his collegiate teammates as part of Georgia’s post-grad swimming program, and having that caliber of athletes to swim against every day in practice has helped him regain the form that propelled him to a ninth-place finish in the 400 free at 2016 Olympic Trials.
And while he swam most of the freestyle events (and a few others) in the past, Kevin said he intends to focus on the mid-distance free races – namely the 400 and 800 – moving forward, so he can give his best effort and focus.
Whatever happens this summer, Kevin said he plans to swim until the next Olympic Trials in 2020 and then he’ll assess where things stand – although right now he’s leaning toward calling it a career.
“I’m committed through this year and next year to Trials, but beyond that, I’m not really sure,” said Kevin, who holds citizenship in Japan (birth country), New Zealand (dad’s home country) and the United States, and now competes only for the United States (as does Jay).
When he does decide he’s done all he can in the sport of swimming, Kevin said he is leaning toward a future in the footsteps of his dad, Andrew, a chef whose job recently took him and Chizuko from Georgia near the boys to California.
Kevin said he and his brothers have always made food with their dad and mom, and he can see a future opportunity teaming up with Mick and Jay to form their own food company.
But for now, he’ll focus on hopefully joining Jay in making good on that Olympic dream they discussed when they shared a room as young swimmers.
“Last year, I went into my races without the best mindset, and that affected my swimming results. But this year, I have a completely different outlook on swimming – a much more positive outlook,” Kevin said.
“When I was thinking about quitting, Jay told me I had to keep swimming, and that support made me realize I still wanted to compete. Now, I’m ready to see what I do these next two years in the sport. And with the next Olympics in our mom’s home country – the country where we were born – swimming there would be a great way to finish my career.”
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