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Olympic hopeful balances time spent in pool and school

“Swimming is what I do, it’s not who I am.” — Michael Andrew

In 2013, at the age of 14, Michael Andrew became the youngest United States swimmer ever to turn professional. Fast forward three years, and the Liberty University Online Academy (LUOA) student has his mind set on the June 26-July 3 United States Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha, Neb., where he has the best shot of qualifying in the 100-meter breaststroke and 100-meter butterfly for the Aug. 5-21 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. (LUOA is an online K-12 Christian homeschooling program.)

“Obviously, the Olympics are what everyone’s shooting for and what I’ll be shooting for,” said Andrew, whose parents moved to the United States from South Africa before he was born. “That’s my goal, God willing. But swimming’s not everything. As a person and as an athlete and a Christian, I am not defined whatsoever by my results in the pool.”

Michael Andrew competes in one of his strongest events, the 100-meter butterfly.
Michael Andrew has the best shot of qualifying for the Aug. 5-21 Summer Olympics in the 100-meter butterfly and breaststroke.

That is a difficult truth to grasp in a sport where everything — including Olympic bids and an Adidas sponsorship (which he signed last year) — is dependent on how fast he swims. But Andrew, who has set over 80 National Age Group records and currently holds 24, is more focused on eternal rather than temporal goals and in pleasing God and growing in his relationship with Him than in earning the world’s applause.

“When I race, my goal is not to go out there and beat everybody around me,” he said. “It’s to use it as worship. I get into the water, and it’s my opportunity to see Jesus, to interact with Him one-on-one. When I race like that, and I actually feel His presence, it’s incredible.”

Similar to his training strategy of intense workouts followed by periods of rest, Liberty’s online curriculum allows Andrew to use his time productively in school and in the pool, striking the right balance between his spiritual growth and intellectual and athletic development. The program is a great fit for him and for others — from actors to triathletes — who compete and perform in highly demanding extracurricular activities.

“Michael doesn’t have to schedule his training around his school schedule; he can schedule his schooling around his training,” said Jay Spencer, LUOA’s vice provost. “It provides a lot of freedom. He can train when it’s most optimal for him and not have to worry about falling behind in his class. The program works really well for military and missionary students, too. As long as you have Internet access, you can go to school with us.”

Spencer said he would not be surprised to see Andrew in Rio, Brazil, for this summer’s Olympic Games, or, if not, in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.

Michael Andrew does not let the sport he competes in define him as a person.
Michael Andrew does not let what he does define who he is.

“He’s consistently breaking all of Michael Phelps’ records,” Spencer said, referring to the winningest Olympic swimmer in U.S. history. Phelps made his Olympic debut at the age of 15 in 2000. “Michael’s (Andrew) got a good eight years ahead of him in the sport.”

And he has the right spiritual perspective, trusting in God to take him there.

“It’s definitely a lifelong dream,” Andrew said, “to be able to go to the Olympics and use my sport as my platform to tell people about my faith and how I’ve been blessed with these gifts.”

Liberty University Online Academy (LUOA) is gaining prominence as a viable alternative to traditional elementary, middle, and high school programs. This year, 4,200 students — from kindergarten through 12th grade — were enrolled in the Christian online homeschooling program. Enrollment is expected to rise to 6,000 next year.

Liberty’s experience as a pioneer in distance learning, increasing enrollment and developing online college courses, has benefitted LUOA. According to Spencer, applications have increased by 24 percent in the past year. He said the university is prepared to accommodate much more growth and is testing a multimedia TV ad campaign regionally and nationally.

Students and parents are drawn to the program for its flexibility. Students say the structure caters to their lifestyle and, like Andrew, allows them to pursue activities that they are passionate about outside the classroom.

Because of its connection to Liberty University, LUOA can allow students to earn college credit while still working on their high school degrees. High school juniors and seniors are eligible to enroll in Liberty’s online college courses and receive both college and high school credits.

Beyond the exceptional educational benefits, the academy wants to make sure its accreditation standards remain high. LUOA is currently accredited by AdvancEd, a national accrediting agency that routinely works with the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) to evaluate and accredit schools. Recently, LUOA received accreditation for its instructional program directly from ACSI, becoming the first completely online K-12 program to be accredited by ACSI.


— Ted Allen and Ron Brown contributed to this story.


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