Gemmell '09 Qualifies for the Olympics

Andrew Gemmell '09, who swam on our varsity team as an 8th grader and won a DISC championship, qualified for the 1,500 freestyle in this summer's Olympics in London. Congratulations, Andrew! Read the article below about his journey to the Olympics.

Reprinted with permission from The News Journal, By Mike Finney, July 22, 2012

No matter how big or small the swim meet, there has always been one constant in Andrew Gemmell’s corner.

It’s not a lucky towel or a pair of goggles, it goes much deeper than that for the London Olympics-bound athlete.

Gemmell’s father, Bruce, has served as Andrew’s primary swimming coach with the Delaware Swim Team since he was around 8 years old.

Together, father and son will travel to the Summer Olympics with dreams of bringing a gold medal home to Delaware. The state has not won an Olympic swimming gold since Dave Johnson earned two at Mexico City in 1968. Other Delaware natives to swim in the Olympics include Steve Gregg, who won silver in Montreal in 1976, and Jenny Bartz, who swam in two events at Munich in 1972.

Gemmell will compete in the 1,500 freestyle qualifying heats in London on Aug. 3. The top eight swimmers will comprise the field in the finals on Aug. 4 at the London Aquatics Centre.

It’s not been easy reaching this level for the 21-year-old native of Wilmington. Nor has it been a breeze for Bruce Gemmell, who has spent more than 40 years as a competitive swimmer and as a coach.

“It’s just a lot of hours, a lot of practices, a lot of early mornings, a lot of road trips, a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of airplanes, a lot of a lot of things,” Bruce Gemmell said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Of course Andrew’s mother, Debra, has also been a large part of his success, but the long hours spent training at the pool or traveling to and from meets have usually been reserved for father and son.

Bruce helps push Andrew to practice when he’s simply too tired to go. Bruce notices the little imperfections in his swimming technique and helps to correct them. They are their own team.

“My dad has been such a huge part of my life, both as a father and a coach,” said Gemmell, a Charter School of Wilmington graduate who now swims at the University of Georgia. “We’ve done a good job of separating the father and the coach, but I’ve spent so much time with him. There have been a lot of long days. He’s been such a huge part of it all, but my whole family has – my mom, too, and so has everyone.”

The Olympics promise to be the culmination of a life-long love affair with the water for the long-distance swimmer.

“I’ve been taking [swimming] lessons since I was 1 or 2,” he said. “My dad was a swimmer and he was sort-of coaching some and he just took me into lessons and I’ve been doing it ever since. He probably started coaching me as my primary coach at around 8 to 10, somewhere in that range.”

Nowadays, those training sessions include 20 hours per week in the water and four to five hours of weight training out of the pool. In all, Gemmell swims 8,000 meters/yards a day, six days a week.

That much training takes dedication and often also takes a team – and Gemmell has found that with his family.
Bruce Gemmell says that it’s not just his son that has grown under his tutelage. He has learned some valuable lessons along the way, too.

“[Andrew] certainly helped me grow up a little bit as a coach as he’s grown up as an athlete,” he said. “He was swimming with some other people up until he was around 8 or 9, people that I worked with in the past. But I don’t work very well with the very young ones, so he was about 8 or 9 before I started working with him on a regular basis.”

Since then, the two have developed an extremely close relationship and bond. The father doesn’t want to push too hard and the son doesn’t want to practice too soft. It’s a delicate balance that has been forged.

“People have always asked me how I’ve handled [the father/son coaching relationship], and I think it’s because we’ve done it for so long that we’ve established the boundaries of our relationship pretty well,” Andrew said. “But I think we’ve done a great job over the years of separating the father and the coach, so it’s really worked well for us.”

Gemmell says his mother is always there to lend a hand of support, no matter how he fares in the swimming pool.

“My mom’s just the most supportive person in the world,” said Gemmell. “My dad’s very involved in the swimming world and all that stuff, and my mom’s just always been there for me no matter what.

“She’s gotten to know over the years if it’s a good swim or a bad swim, but either way it’s always, ‘Good job, I love you and I’m here for you.’ And that support means a lot to me just as much as well.”