Branden Whitehurst, 22, is a St. Croix native who lives and trains in Miami, Fla. He was the territory’s most successful swimmer at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games when he advanced to the finals in four events. At the 2011 Pan American Games, Whitehurst finished second in the men’s 200-meter Individual Medley “B” finals. He holds several USVI records, and this will be his first appearance at the Olympics.
Growing up on an island, I can only assume you have been swimming your whole life?
I started swimming when I was 5 years old, and I got into it because of my older sister, Kerrie. She went on to swim at Florida State and was definitely one of the main reasons I got into the sport.
I started to get competitive when I was about 11, and that was the same time I started to represent the V.I. at CARIFTA and other swim meets in the Caribbean. I swam with the Marlins swim team on St. Croix and then joined the Dolphins right before high school. I swam with them consistently until college.
You are one of just a few USVI athletes in this Olympiad who have competed at the CAC Games, the Pan Am Games and now the Olympics. Talk about what the journey has been like?
The overall process has been great. I’ve competed all over the world, so I can’t complain about that. I’m just very grateful for the USVI Swimming Federation and what they have allowed me to do these last four years. It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.
In the pool, I have definitely improved each time out. The CAC’s were tough. I had a great meet at the World Championships the next summer, and then the Pan Ams were sort of a surprise because I wasn’t in prime shape.
For the Olympics, I want to end my career on a high. I’ve been working for the last three years toward this and I believe I’m peaking at the right time.
Which event will you be swimming in London? What other events do you like to swim?
I will be swimming the 100-meter freestyle at the Olympics. I also like to compete in the 200 IM, 50 free and 200 free. I swam in each of those events at the 2009 World Championships, and I believe I still hold the USVI record for all of them but the 50 free. I would have to go back and check that, though.
Describe your daily training regiment, and has it picked up leading into the Olympics?
This week and last week, I’ve been going hard in the weight room and training very hard in the pool. It will probably taper off next week and the week leading into the Games.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and I’m in the gym by 6 a.m. for an hour workout. We swim from 7 to 9 a.m. and it’s a constant swim, which means there are not a lot of breaks, if any. We get back in the pool from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. again. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, we usually do just one two-hour swim.
Sounds like you work up quite an appetite?
I started a new diet, too. Mostly a lot of protein. Meats, salads, fruit and egg whites. I basically forgot what pizza tastes like.
Which swim meet is more competitive in your opinion: the NCAA National Championships or the Olympic Games? Why?
It’s a toss up. I would say the NCAA’s is the fastest meet in the world. Only because it seems like all the best international swimmers have trained at some point in the U.S. But it’s hard to compare the two meets. It’s long course versus short course and meters versus yards – they are almost two different worlds.
After the Games, I understand you will go into training to become a Navy SEAL. How did you come to that decision?
When I was a kid, I was always running around with my friends in the bush and played cops and robbers and that kind of stuff. Plus, my father was in the Air Force for 15 years. One day, he mentioned the Navy SEALs to me and he may have been joking at the time, but I took it to heart. I found myself thinking about it every day.
For my future, I wanted a physical and mental challenge. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk. As of now, I’m scheduled to go to boot camp on Dec. 8, and after that, I’m hoping to train to become a Navy SEAL.
What are your ultimate goals for these Games?
I’ve been working to hit that 49-second mark in the 100 free for years. I was a half-second off when I was at Auburn University, so I just want to hit that mark. That’s everything I can hope for.
For me, it’s a personal race against the clock. It doesn’t really matter who else is in the pool or whether I finish first or last. I’ve been working hard for the last three years and I really just want to have fun and enjoy myself. But this will be the last meet of my swimming career, so if I can hit 49 seconds, it would be a huge success for me.
For more info: http://www.london2012.com/swimming/event/men-100m-freestyle/index.html