Feb. 21, 2012
The following article is part of a series covering the 2012 Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships. The content was produced by journalism students from the University of Maryland.
By Michelle Chan
Annapolis, Md. - Chlorine seeped in the air amid the humidity and sticky excitement, and nothing said it better than the shirt on the old man in the audience: "Gun powder and chlorine... live by one, die by the other... love the smell of both."
As Mac Anthony, 22, a senior at the Naval Academy, went into the 500-yard freestyle heat at the Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships the evening of Thursday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he admitted his life hasn't yet been about gunpowder, but it definitely had its fair share of chlorine.
"Not right now, since I do nothing with guns," Anthony said, though he said he spends a lot of time in the pool.
This was the first night of the championship finals. The crowd of roughly 300 parents, friends and fans was rowdy, as they clapped, danced to the ever-popular nightclub song "Levels" by Avicii, and screamed for their favorite team and swimmers, rising to their feet as close races turned on final laps. Anthony, the defending champion for the men's 500 freestyle, received his fair share of cheering.
Navy men were the defending champions, while Navy women were second only to Colgate according to the 2011-2012 preseason league poll. Navy forged an early lead and by the end of the women's 500-yard freestyle, only the third event of the evening, was well ahead in first place with 108 points.
Just before the second heat for the men's 500-yard freestyle race, the announcer introduced Anthony as a Midshipman who, during the last year, "all he did was win." But Anthony was about to race after a disappointing third-place finish in Thursday morning's preliminaries, where he fell to teammates Justin Vagts and Will Norton.
"I was really disappointed with my prelim swim," Anthony said. "I didn't feel too good in the water."
He said he preferred to have had a good preliminary swim so he could go in "just carrying that momentum over."
Despite admitting that he wanted to beat Vagts in friendly competition, Anthony finished in second place in the men's 500-freestyle race, beating out a lineup of five Midshipmen out of the race's eight contestants, including swimmers from Bucknell, American and Army. Anthony came out of the pool with a cool 4:22.28 time, a little more than a second slower than his morning time. He and Vagts both started fast, making significant leads early on from the rest of the field.
Although Vagts, who finished with a time of 4:21.83, never lost his lead over Anthony, Anthony lessened the gap between the two near the beginning of the last lap. As the crowd cheered, Anthony's mother's voice could be heard above the rest as she recorded his race on her iPad, "Come on, Mac. Push it!" said Donna Anthony.
What got Anthony past the disappointing preliminary results and the pressure of being the defending champion was the remembrance that this was his senior year.
"It was my last 500 free that I'm ever going to swim, so I figured I'd just leave it all out there," Anthony said. "That's really what motivated me, just knowing this was the last one I was ever going to swim."
His mother, Donna Anthony, said this last race was likely "bittersweet" for him, since it would mark the end of his swimming career.
She also said this past year has been tough for him as he struggles to balance his schoolwork and swim practice.
"They all work so, so hard, and it's a challenge to fit in your class work and swim, and put in all the effort into all the areas that they need to put in," Donna Anthony said.
Anthony said remaining focused was his biggest struggle during his senior year.
"I've been swimming a long time, so once I saw that light at the end of the tunnel, it was kind of hard to stay focused all year," Anthony said.
Anthony will begin training soon to become a Navy SEAL once he graduates from the Naval Academy. His mother said this has been another burden for her only son.
"I think he's very torn between putting all his efforts into the swimming and getting ready for the next phase of his life," Donna Anthony said.
"After this meet's over, I'm really going to be excited for what lies ahead but I know I'm going to miss the team," Anthony said.
Contrary to the old man's shirt, gunpowder wasn't in Anthony's life up until now, and chlorine is about to leave.
"Hopefully in the near future once I make it through the initial training, that'll be the way my life is," Anthony said. "But with a lot of less chlorine."