Paul Powers was in for a surprise in February when he opened an email from Lindsay Mintenko, the USA Swimming National Team Managing Director. It was an opportunity that Powers, a North Hall High grad and University of Michigan freshman swimmer, didn’t see coming.
When he scanned the note, Powers realized he was invited to participate in the World University Games, starting July 3 in Gwangju, South Korea.
Powers, a four-time Big 10 Conference champion in 2015, will leave Sunday for this, his third international competition, accompanied by his mother, Beth, and an aunt who both lived for a time in South Korea as children while their father served in the U.S. Army.
Powers said the World University Games in the second largest international competition, only shy of the Summer Olympics, where he hopes to qualify in 2016. The World University Games is open to athletes, 18-26, who represent a four-year institution, either as an undergraduate or graduate student, in the U.S.
“Going to the World University Games is a real confidence boost for me,” said Powers, who was chosen for the 50 freestyle. “It shows me how much potential I have for next year.”
Powers, completely flattered by the invitation to swim abroad and represent the U.S., had one question lingering in his mind: why did his friend Caeleb Dressel, from the University of Florida, decline the same opportunity?
To get an answer, Powers picked up his phone and sent his friend a text message. Dressel, the 2015 50-yard freestyle national champion, told Powers he was simply ‘deferring’ on the opportunity.
And just like that, Powers, who is a student in the engineering department at Michigan, is set to leave for Asia this weekend. In addition to swimming the 50 freestyle on the long course, Powers was picked by U.S. Men’s swimming coach Mike Bottom, who is also his coach at Michigan, to do the 50 backstroke.
In the relay events, Powers will likely swim a leg in the 400-freestyle relay.
Once Powers finished his freshman year at Michigan in the spring, he returned home to Gainesville, where he took a week away from the pool to unwind physically and prepare mentally for the work ahead.
“Even taking just a week off is so good for your mental status and preparation,” said Powers, who set the high school state records in the 50 and 100 freestyle as a Trojan.
Then in June, the three-time high school All-American headed off to train for two weeks with four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Jason Lezak in Irvine, Calif.
Powers said Lezak’s instruction was most useful in learning how to prepare for the weeks leading up to a competition.
As a Wolverine, Powers said the highlight of his freshman season was taking eighth place in the 50-yard freestyle at the national championships. He said he was one of just five freshmen to swim the 50 freestyle in the ‘A’ finals at the NCAA meet in the past five years.
In 2014-15, Powers was a four-time Big 10 Champion (50-yard freestyle, 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle and 200 medley relay).
He was Big 10 Freshman of the Week three times.
The US will field squads in 21 sports, sending approximately 550 athletes to South Korea for the World University Games. Along with swimming, competition is held in baseball, basketball, golf, rowing, tennis and volleyball, among others.
Past participants for the U.S. in the World University Games include Michael Johnson (track), Charles Barkley and Larry Bird (basketball), Michael Phelps (swimming) and Lisa Leslie (women’s basketball).