West Forsyth alum swims in Olympic trials

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 24, 2021

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By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

Tucker Burhans has proven many times that, as a swimmer, he belongs on the grandest stages of the sport.

Burhans, who graduated from West Forsyth in 2018 after winning the NCHSAA Class 4-A 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke state championships, and will be starting his senior season as a swimmer at North Carolina in the fall, had a chance earlier this month to show exactly just how good he is.

He swam in Wave I of the USA Olympic team trials, or as they’re referred to as, the “wildcard weekend,” from June 4-7 in Omaha, Nebraska. Competing in the 100-meter backstroke, he had a chance to try to reach Wave II from June 13-20, also in Omaha. In order to reach this month’s Wave I qualifying, they used Burhans’ time as a swimmer as a sophomore at North Carolina before COVID-19 even though his, as well the times of many other swimmers were better since last year.

“That’s what we found surprising, especially because there’s this extra year (that the NCAA granted each athlete because of COVID), and ” said Burhans, who is 21. “The meet was just going to be so much bigger. So many people were going to get in because you’re growing, you’re gaining form, people are getting older, and have more time to qualify. And so that’s what we thought, it was going to get faster. But it didn’t.

“And a bunch more people qualified, which ended up making it, I think, better for Wave I because it was still an awesome atmosphere a lot of people there that were just really fired up, and it was a really fast meet.”

The Friday of Wave I, Burhans blazed out with the fourth-best qualifying time of 55.80 in the 100-meter backstroke. That time moved him to the Wave I final that night. He finished in seventh at 55.83, which was 0.50 seconds behind winner Jacob Steele, who swam 55.23. He final time didn’t qualify him for the Wave I qualifying last week in Omaha.

“It was such a cool experience in the morning with a fast time and watching everyone else swim after me,” Burhans said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m fourth going into tonight.’

“There’s a statistic that swimswam(.com) — they said there was only around 20% in Wave I with a best time that swam there. So, it’s really cool to be able to go there and perform like I did.”

The Burhan family, from left: Andrew, Dawn, Tucker, Cameron, and Emma Cate. Tucker competed at the Olympic Trials in Omaha at CHI Health Center of Omaha. Photo courtesy of the Burhan family.

One person who paid close attention to what he was doing is Coach Sandy Thomerson of West Forsyth, who will be coaching her fifth season for the Titans, and coached Burhans his senior season. Thomerson also swam in college at Fairmont State in West Virginia.

“Just to be on that format, one person to actually get to go to that being a previous swimmer myself, I kind of felt my own swimming career through him doing that was amazing,” Thomerson said. “It was extremely special, and his parents are wonderful people, too, so she (Burhans’ mother, Dawn) made sure to send me pictures and messaged after the race.”

Even though Burhans was busy with swimming, he even had a chance to catch up with Thomerson.

“Even Tucker, I sent him a message, and just said, ‘Good luck,'” she said. “I didn’t even think he’d read it, but before his race he just sent back, ‘Thanks, Coach.’

“He didn’t have to do that, but that’s the kind of kid he is.”

Burhans went to Omaha with many of his North Carolina men’s and women’s teammates, and he also was there with his family. In addition to Dawn, his father, Andrew, brother Cameron, who just finished his freshman year at North Carolina, and sister Emma Cate, who will be a senior at West Forsyth, were also in Omaha to see Tucker swim.

“It was an experience — it was really fun, but my family was there, as well,” Burhans said. “So, it was so fun that they were able to be there with me and experience that with me, as well as my teammates.”

Burhans has no regrets about not qualifying for Wave II.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Getting there, and Omaha is such an interesting place because it’s really centered around, at least when I was there, it seemed like it was centered around Olympic Trials and the College World Series. It’s all in the same place right there.”

The experience was even more magnified when he walked in the arena at CHI Health Center Omaha.

“Getting in the building and seeing all the lights and the way the pool’s set up because the way they do it is, they build the pool (on the floor of the arena),” Burhans said. “Getting in there and seeing that — just seeing all the signs that say United States Olympic Team Trials. We got a big board with our last name on it.

“It was so cool, and especially swimming backstroke, you’re looking at the Jumbotron in the middle and all that. So, it was really fun.”

Tucker Burhans competed at the Olympic Trials in Omaha at CHI Health Center of Omaha. Photo courtesy of the Burhan family.

Reaching the A final that night, the experience even became a little sweeter.

“It was so awesome,” Burhans said. “They had all the lights going and they had us walk out in this big tunnel. It was on national TV on NBC Sports. It was such a cool experience.”

Thomerson wasn’t in Omaha, but she followed the meet on TV and online.

“His mom had sent me a picture right away and said about him swimming,” she said. “And I couldn’t find it in e-mobile, so I was texting her, ‘Where can I get it?’

“And I realized Hulu had it with the Olympic Channel. I was actually able to watch his live final race. I didn’t get to watch his prelim race, but when she sent me the message that he was seeded fourth, it was amazing. It was a really good swim.”

Burhans competed in his A final on that Friday night, but he didn’t immediately travel home. He left that Sunday.

“I support(ed) my teammates that were swimming on Saturday and Sunday morning,” he said. “And so I stayed back and I watched prelims and finals on Saturday and prelims on Sunday before I flew out.”

As Burhans is nearing his senior season at North Carolina, he believes the experience at the U.S. Olympic Trials will only make him better when he swims for the Tar Heels.

“As awesome and as cool as it was it really kind of set a standard of, I know what I’m capable of,” he said. “And I can hang with some of the best guys in the nation. That kind of confidence that I can come off this meet with will really help my senior year.”

Even though the NCAA has granted any athlete who wants it another year of eligibility, Burhans believes this season at North Carolina will be his last.

“During high school really the goal is to swim at the collegiate level,” Burhans said. “And once you’re doing that, you’re grinding and putting in the work, and all of the sudden here I am the collegiate level. And it’s such a job. It’s not a job because I do love swimming, but it is a lot of work.

“Working 20 hours a week on top of maintaining academics and what not, and social life, as well. So it is taxing, and I think for the majority of swimmers, especially as of right now there isn’t a real solid professional swimming extension. After college, pretty much that’s when you hang up the goggles and hang up the cap.”

All of this past school year at North Carolina was done through virtual learning because of COVID-19. However, Burhans was able to maintain some semblance of a social life while in Chapel Hill. Burhans lives in an off-campus house with three of his teammates at North Carolina — Jacob Rauch, James Courtney and Coleman Manchester. His girlfriend, Sophie Lindner, who is from Matthews and is also on the swim team, was also in Chapel Hill. Lindner competed in Wave II of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha.

And Burhans also had his younger brother, Cameron, in Chapel Hill.

“I think having that support, especially UNC is only an hour and a half away,” he said. “Sophie and Cameron (Burhans) on-campus, ad my mom, my dad, my sister — my sister’s going to be a senior next year at West, so that’ll be fun. It’ll be exciting next year with her graduating high school, me graduating college and everything.

“It is nice being with family so close. An hour and half is not a bad drive.”

Despite his leaning toward quitting swimming after he graduates next year there is a small possibility that could change.

“Swimming has given me so many opportunities and has been such an important part of my life, and made me into who I am today,” Burhans said. “I appreciate everything swimming’s given me, but I do feel there is a time when I start something new. You know, I’ve been getting up for swimming at 4:30 in the morning since I was 12. And just so grinding all the time.

“I do want to have this new phase of my life and go see what the work life is like and enjoy that time after college.”

This news doesn’t come as much of a surprise to the people closest to Burhans.

“He’s invested so much time and energy in swimming,” Thomerson said. “He’s a smart kid. You know, he’s ready to move on.”

Becoming a professional in the workforce is coming quickly for Burhans. Originally, he said he wanted to be a doctor, but he didn’t like chemistry. So he’s switched to a major in statistics and has gotten into data analytics. His career path in analytics helped him land an internship this summer at Corning in Charlotte as a manufacturing data analyst. In addition, he will be training with Queens University of Charlotte, starting July 1.

“As of right now I think I want to go into data analytics, somewhere in that area, which is so cool,” Burhans said. “It’s such a growing thing right now.”

After his internship this summer, he will go back in August to start his senior year at North Carolina.

“I think he’ll do even better because you learn every race,” Thomerson said. “And the experience he’s gained from being at the Olympic Trials, most people don’t even get to see that. So, I think that will give him even more drive, especially if this his last year truly swimming.”

The Olympics were supposed to have been held last year, but with it being a year later this year for the Olympics next month in Tokyo, the trials for the 2024 Olympics in Paris are just three years away.

“What’s three years, really?” Burhans said. “But making team is, if you’re not training like crazy, or if you’re not in college or not a pro, like putting in at least 20 hours a week or more in the sport, that’s what it’s going to take to make the team because in the events that I swim only the top two in each event make it.

“So, it’s definitely passed my mind of, ‘Oh, well after I graduate it’s only like six more months and that’s when the Olympic Trial qualifying period starts.’ So, maybe I would back and try to see if I can qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2024. But I think more I’m just kind of focused on this next collegiate season and take it from there.”