PHS Alum Potts Finds Direction In Triathlon; Now Aims to Soar at Athens Summer Games
By Bill Alden
After completing a stellar swimming career at the University of Michigan, Andy Potts found himself drifting.
Working as a sales representative for a payroll company in Chicago in 2002, the Princeton High alum lacked clear direction for the first time in his life.
"I was a little confused," recalled Potts. "I thought I wanted to get into business but I learned what I didn't want to do. I was a bit of a lost soul, trying to find myself. I realized that athletics was still a passion."
Potts turned to the triathlon and it didn't take long for him to realize that he had found the ideal outlet for his athletic abilities and will. Within months of taking up the sport, he finished 13th in the 2002 Tokyo ITU International Triathlon. Potts turned pro and ended 2003 ranked 90th in the world and ninth in the U.S.
In May, Potts finished 11th in the Triathlon World Championships and earned a spot on the U.S. team for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Athens.
As Potts looks forward to competing in Athens next month at his event which includes a 1,500 meter swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10k run, he attributes his meteoric rise in the triathlon world to a lifelong love of hard work.
"I think it started with my mom and dad," said Potts, 27, whose father is a doctor and whose mother is a teacher.
"They taught me what it means to work hard and make sacrifices. They would tell me that if you work hard, it will result in success. You may not see it immediately but it will pay off."
As a kid growing up in Princeton, Potts focused his efforts on becoming a top swimmer. Competing with the Community Park Bluefish and then moving onto the Eastern Express club, Potts was a nationally ranked swimmer by the time he entered PHS in 1991.
Potts, who only swam for the PHS team in his freshman season, went on to set three N.J. high school records while competing with the Eastern Express and won the national championship in the 800 freestyle in 1995.
After graduating from PHS in 1995, Potts went to the University of Michigan where he quickly established himself as one of the top swimmers in the Big 10. During his career with the Wolverines, Potts won two individual conference titles and earned All-American recognition.
In 1996, Potts barely missed making the U.S. swimming team for the Atlanta Summer Olympics as he placed fourth in the 400-meter individual medley in the Olympic trials.
In reflecting on that disappointment, Potts is philosophical. "My outlook has been that I gave my best," said Potts, who was beaten by Michigan teammates Tom Dolan and Eric Namesnik, the eventual one-two finishers at the Olympics that year in the 400 IM.
"Had either of the top two guys not had their A-game that day, I would've slipped in there. I got to train with them everyday. I was happy with how I did even if I was disappointed with the result."
Rebounding from that near-miss, Potts kept swimming for Michigan through the 1998-99 season and captained the Wolverines in his final college campaign.
At that point, Potts was ready to close the swimming chapter of his athletic life. "I hung up my suit after college," said Potts. "I had accomplished a lot of things I had set out to do even if I hadn't accomplished everything."
While working as a student teacher in finishing up his undergraduate work, Potts decided to diversify his athletic portfolio as he walked on to the track team at Michigan and ended up running for the team at the mile.
"That was something I wanted to do for the challenge," said Potts, who had last competed at track when he ran for the John Witherspoon School in junior high. "I wasn't a big scorer but I made everyone work hard at practice."
Potts' foray into track came in handy when he took up the triathlon. "It's a big balancing act, to train and peak at each event" said Potts, who currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colo. with his wife Lisa but, referring to himself as a "Jersey boy," still calls Princeton home.
"Cycling was the most difficult of the the three events for me, you are using such big muscles. My work ethic came into play. I was just willing to go out on the bike for hours, not taking any ride for granted and making every ride count."
Potts has made every race count as he transformed himself into a world class triathlete in a matter of about a year. "I started two years ago so the learning curve has been steep," said Potts, who first broke into the top ten at a pro triathlon event when he placed ninth at the Baker's Breakfast Cookie triathlon on June 1, 2002 in Bellingham, Wash.
"Each race has been a learning experience for me. You race the the course, you race yourself, and you race the competition. At the beginning, I focused on the first two but the third option has really come into play."
Honing his sights on his U.S. competition, Potts put his frustration at not making the 1996 Olympics behind him by his dazzling performance at the world championships this May.
"It was tops, there is no other day I could compare it to," said Potts, reflecting on that pivotal race in which he clocked a time of 1:42.70.
"Things came together, I had the experience of my life. I had talked with Libby Burrell [the USA Triathlon national coach] and we had designed a couple of race plans. I executed my race plan perfectly. Libby told me afterward she had never seen anyone go out and race exactly how we scripted. It was a performance, not just a race."
The only drawback to that magical day for Potts was the fact that neither his wife nor parents were there to witness his achievement. "The emotions were incredible," remembered Potts. "I was sky-high, I was running around like a madman. I didn't feel like I had finished 11th but that I had won. I kept running around the finish area looking for a friendly face and a shoulder to cry on."
Potts won't face that problem next month in Athens. "They will be at Athens, that will be special," added Potts. "It's great to share it with them, that's the only way to enjoy it."
Currently, Potts is working as hard as he can to ensure that he and his family will have plenty to enjoy in Athens. Training with fellow members of the USA Triathlon team, Potts typically starts his day at 6:45 a.m. with a Power Bar before heading off for a 5,000 meter swim between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.
After breakfast, Potts will typically hit the track to do some 1,000 meter intervals, covering around six miles in a 30-minute work out. In the afternoon, Potts will get on the bicycle and ride for about two hours in the hills around Colorado Springs.
Potts said his weekly totals typically amount to 28,000 meters (or nearly 18 miles) of swimming, 70 miles of running and 200-250 miles of cycling. He supplements that training with gym work that focuses on medicine ball workouts and plyometrics.
Every mile will count as Potts and his fellow competitors face a grueling test in the steamy August heat of Athens. "The Athens course will test everybody's ability to run and ride hard in the heat," predicted Potts. "It's a really hilly bike course with some hills at 20 percent grade. I will have the race the course and the competition."
While competing at Athens will undoubtedly be a major highlight in Potts athletic career, he sees it as a just a step to his ultimate aim. "My goal is to see how far I can go in this," maintained Potts. "I'm trying to be the best triathlete in the world."
No matter how far Potts goes in the
sport, it is clear that taking up the triathlon has given his
life a firm direction.