Former Redmen swimming standout Andrew Kilpela closing out career at YMCA nationals

Andrew Kilpela stands alongside the pool at the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Center in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer during a Wisconsin YMCA competition. (Photo courtesy Kilpela family)

MARQUETTE — After putting together a stellar swimming career at Marquette Senior High School, Andrew Kilpela has it all coming to an end on a massive stage this weekend.

He helped lead the Redmen to four straight Upper Peninsula boys finals victories.

Kilpela will swim the 100-yard backstroke and 50 freestyle at the YMCA Short Course Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina. He competed there last year and his times were good enough for him to return this season.

Looking back on 2016, he said it was a great experience.

“It was just so crazy and amazing,” he said. “It’s a huge arena with four pools. There are thousands of athletes there, so there’s like an endless parade.

“Warm-ups are a free-for-all with bumper-to-bumper traffic. You just hop in whenever you have the tiniest opportunity. Everyone is so fast, so it’s pretty crazy.”

Last year at these nationals, Kilpela didn’t get off to the best start but managed to turn things around to finish 80th overall in his backstroke event.

“I was definitely very nervous first time around,” he said. “I’ve never puked before a race and I puked then. That’s how nervous I was. After that, the nerves went away and it was just exciting to requalify next year.”

Kilpela said when he was 7 years old, he started swimming competitively when he became a member of the YMCA of Marquette County Killer Whales program.

Since then, he’s made it to the state competition every year and was one of the stars on the always-strong Redmen squad.

At the U.P. Finals in February, not only did the Redmen dominate the meet, but Kilpela and three teammates set a U.P. record in the 200 free relay, which he said was a great way to end his time with the team.

“It feels so great to be part of a team that won it all four years in a row and to win it again my senior year … was really exciting,” Kilpela said. “Crushing that record by two seconds in the relay was the highlight of my swimming career.”

Kilpela has decided not to keep swimming after nationals and will attend Northern Michigan University in hopes of becoming a dentist. When asked what he’s going to miss about swimming, he said that it will be the closeness of the sport.

“I’ll miss the family aspect,” he said. “I’ll miss my teammates and also the coaches and people who’ve cared deeply about me and everyone who helped me out and supported me every day.”

When Kilpela steps on the platform and looks into the pool this weekend, he has one goal in mind — to finish in the top 20 or 30.

“When you start a race, you just have to think that you’re going to swim fast,” he said. “You have to tell yourself that I’m better than those other guys.”

“You spend so much time training and preparing for this and there are so many things that have to go right for you to do well. When it happens, it’s nice to see all your hard work pay off.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.