August 21, 2015

SAN ANTONIO (AP) They'll be the first to concede they are ''kind of a weird family.''

They don't mind the label at all.

For Michael Andrew & Co., conformity just isn't their style.

Andrew turned pro when he was 14. He's home-schooled and trains differently than most of his competitors. With his parents by his side every step of the way, he believes he has broken more age-group records than any swimmer in U.S. history, more than 80 in all.

Now 16 and with the Olympics less than a year away, he is firmly focused on making it to Rio. Don't bet against him, even if there are plenty of questions about the path he and his family have chosen.

Michael Phelps is among those taken aback at some of Andrew's choices.

''That's kind of crazy,'' said Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. ''But to each their own.''

Indeed, the Andrew clan - and they always come as a package deal, with Michael joined by father Peter, his coach; mother Tina, his manager; and 14-year-old sister Michaela, who handles the cooking duties - has never worried about fitting in.

Michael trains in a two-lane pool built in the family's backyard in Lawrence, Kansas. His father puts him through a regimen that challenges one of the sport's long-standing tenets: swimmers should do thousands of yards, pushing themselves to the brink of their physical limits, before tapering back so they can be fresh for their important meets.

Andrew trains in short bursts, always at the speed he would use during the actual race for whatever event he is working on. His father believes the method is backed up by science, relying on the theories espoused by one of the revolutionaries of human performance, Dr. Brent Rushall.

''I've never believed in the way people train,'' Peter Andrew said during the recent U.S. national championships in San Antonio, where Michael competed in both the junior and senior competitions.

''If we're training for the 100 free, he's training at the pace he races,'' the father went on. ''If he's training for the 200 free, he's training at that pace. When he doesn't make the pace, we stop. He never goes into fatigue state. That's why he can swim faster all the time. He doesn't need to taper. He's always fresh.''

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said Andrew clearly has the talent and physique (he's already nearly 6-foot-6, and weighs about 190 pounds) to someday become one of the world's top swimmers.

But, like many of the pool deck, Bowman wonders if the Andrew Way is really going to work out for the best in the long term.

''You always worry about too much too soon,'' Bowman said. ''You don't want him to get burned out.''

Peter Andrew knows there are plenty of skeptics questioning whether he and his wife are just another set of parents who got far too involved in their child's life, who are trying to live out their own dreams through him. Peter was a swimmer in his native South Africa, while Tina, also from South Africa, competed on the British version of the made-for-TV competition ''Gladiators.''

The father said there's nothing improper about being such a big part of Michael's life. And, he added, the stereotype of the overbearing parents pushing their single-minded focus on their son couldn't be further from the truth.

''He has a life,'' Peter Andrew said. ''We do a lot of fun stuff. It's not just swim, swim, swim.''

Indeed, Michael comes across as mature beyond his years and extremely well-adjusted. He has plenty of interests outside the pool, beaming when he talks about flying his drone or his desire to get a dirt bike or the deep religious faith passed on by his parents.

''For so many people, it's just eat, sleep and swim,'' Michael said. ''For me, it's eat, sleep, swim, shoot my bow, wakeboard, GoPro, ride bikes, have fun. Then swim again and eat and sleep.''

Peter insists he would never push his son into a pursuit he doesn't want to do. The father points out Michaela, already near 6-feet tall herself, would also be an excellent swimming prospect - except she has no desire to take up the sport. She's more into arts and crafts, and her parents are fine with that.

If Michael wakes up tomorrow and decides on a different direction, his parents would be firmly supportive.

''We believe our kids are a gift we've been given,'' Peter said. ''If this is what he wants to do, we will put all our effort into it. If people think that's strange, that's fine. We love our children. It's not weird to be with your kids and help them to succeed. I'm so blessed. To get be on the deck with my son, to train him, it's fantastic.''

Michael's potential has already earned him a sponsorship deal with Adidas. While the company is more focused on the 2020 Olympics, Andrew believes he has a legitimate shot at making the team for Rio.

Not surprisingly, he's been compared to Phelps, who qualified for his first Olympic team when he was only 15. The other Michael is focused on the 100-meter breaststroke and the 100 butterfly - the latter of which happens to be one of Phelps' specialties.

Only the top two at the U.S. trials get on the Olympic squad.

''If I can drop another second and a half in the next year, I have a pretty good chance of being able to make the team,'' Andrew said. ''If I have a lane, I have a chance.''

If he qualifies for the Olympics, his family will surely be along for the ride.

Michael wouldn't have it any other way.

''I wouldn't be where I am without my parents,'' he said, hardly sounding like the typical teenager. ''I would never push them away. I love them. I love what they do for me.

''Everything we do, we do together.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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