Juneau’s PJ Foy, shown winning the 2023 100 yard butterfly in 48.27 for Thunder Mountain High School during the ASAA state championships at the Dimond Park Aquatics Center on Nov. 4, 2023, qualified for the 2024 June Olympic Team Trials by swimming a 100 long course meters butterfly in a personal best 53.44 on March 16, 2024, at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington. (Klas Stolpe for the Juneau Empire)

Juneau’s PJ Foy, shown winning the 2023 100 yard butterfly in 48.27 for Thunder Mountain High School during the ASAA state championships at the Dimond Park Aquatics Center on Nov. 4, 2023, qualified for the 2024 June Olympic Team Trials by swimming a 100 long course meters butterfly in a personal best 53.44 on March 16, 2024, at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington. (Klas Stolpe for the Juneau Empire)

Foy ‘flies’ through 100 meters to qualify for Olympic Swim Trials

“To do what nobody else can do, I need to do what nobody else will do”

This story has been updated with additional information.

Thunder Mountain High School senior PJ Foy, 18, joined an elite group of Alaska swimmers by qualifying for the Olympic Team Trials — the first Juneau swimmer to do so — when he hit a personal best of 53.44 seconds in the 100 long course meters butterfly on March 16 at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington, just under the Olympic Team Trials official time standard of 53.59 for the discipline.

“It feels awesome,” said Foy, who was competing as a member of the Glacier Swim Club. “Just the fact that I met my goals.”

Foy said one of his goals was to make the trials, but he didn’t target any of his eight races to do it. “I just wanted a good race really, and trials was a good spot to put a goal.”

Over four days, Foy competed in five, long course meter events and swam eight races. He placed second in the 50 free finals with 23.21 (second in semis 23.39), ninth in the 100 free finals with 52.20 (ninth in semis 52.40), 58th in the 100 back prelims with 1:02.51, 10th in the 100 breast prelims in 1:04.42, and his personal best and an Alaska state record first-place 100 fly of 53.44 (third in semis with 55.05).

“That really wasn’t very many races,” Foy said. “It was a long meet. It really didn’t take away from any races. Like, the first day I just had the 100 free, the next day I just had the 100 back. My coach (GSC’s Scott Griffith) trained me well, prepared me to swim all those events at a meet.”

The 100 fly was on Saturday evening, March 16.

Foy was secretive about his diet throughout the event saying: “I have a certain, let’s just say, a secret recipe I have mastered over the years of swimming, in between prelims and finals…It’s not top secret for parents and coaches, I don’t know, it’s my thing.”

He also has a secret playlist he begins listening to 40 minutes before his swims. “So I can warm into it and really get into that racing mindset…It’s part of my secret recipe, a specific set of songs I listen to. I have a playlist, and it has to play in order. I listen to it until I have to get up on the block. But I can stay in that zone.”

The 2024 Speedo Sectionals event scoreboard for the winning time of Glacier Swim Club’s PJ Foy. (Photo courtesy GSC)

The 2024 Speedo Sectionals event scoreboard for the winning time of Glacier Swim Club’s PJ Foy. (Photo courtesy GSC)

Foy said he knew he could set an Olympic trials mark.

“I knew I had been trained well by my coaches. I knew my mental aspect had been there. It felt like it was the race it was going to happen, but I knew I would have to give it my all.”

On leaving the starting block, Foy said: “I jump off as hard as I can. The start is one place that I feel is one of the most important aspects of a short race like that because you need every little aspect right and that one is something that I feel is too far under-appreciated. If you have a good start then your underwaters are good, your breakout is good and it carries through the whole race.”

Foy said his push off the block is more muscle memory that his coach has drilled in and a lot of the power comes from his dry-land workouts with GSC assistant coach Corinne Bullick.

“I aim for 15 meters underwater,” he said. “To be honest, I have no idea how long that is. I try not to think and just do.”

The race was 50 meters down and 50 back.

Foy went out at 25.46, hit a perfect open turn, and came back in a 27.98.

“There should always be a fade in a race because you get that start that gets you a lot,” he said.

Foy said he paced the race pretty well.

“Most of that race is muscle memory and the mental part is near the end when you are hurting and your body wants to stop,” he said. “From the beginning of the race I told myself I couldn’t stay with the pack because to do what nobody else can do, I need to do what nobody else will do. So I had to push from the beginning and mentally drive myself the whole way.”

His tapering by Griffith leading to the meet had him prepared for the pain.

“The last 25, 15 meters was rough,” Foy said. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t even remember what goes through my head…I’m not present during the race…I think I pay attention to who is around me. I don’t know how to put this. I don’t know, I just love racing, and my thing with the person next to me it gives me so much adrenaline to just push harder and go faster. It is like that for most races for me.”

Glacier Swim Club athletes Lily Francis, Samantha Schwarting, PJ Foy, Emma Fellman and Valerie Piemann at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington. (Photo courtesy GSC)

Glacier Swim Club athletes Lily Francis, Samantha Schwarting, PJ Foy, Emma Fellman and Valerie Piemann at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington. (Photo courtesy GSC)

Next for Foy is the Olympic trials, June 15-23, at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. A pool will be placed inside a football stadium for the trials to accommodate more fans. A faster time will be needed to qualify for the Paris Olympics (July 27-Aug. 4). The world record for the 100 meter butterfly is 49.45 set by American Caeleb Dressel, who will be swimming at the trials. Only the top two swimmers from each event make the cut. Foy is ranked 48th overall in the trials 100 LC Fly.

“It is probably the biggest accomplishment, achievement that I have ever been a part of,” Griffith said. Griffith also had GSC swimmers Emma Fellman, Lily Francis, Valerie Piemann and Samantha Schwarting competing. “He certainly should be celebrated. The cuts have gotten so much faster, it has gotten almost impossible to make the trials…PJ put together the best three-and-a-half months of training that I have ever seen him do…He just has an amazing mental toughness when it comes time to race. As a coach, I have a game plan, we review it and then I kind of stay out of his space…The more he is in his own head the better he is going to perform…The nice thing about it, too, is, right now we might go try to get another cut or two, but we can train for one event, which I have never had that option with a kid where we are training for one event. We have three months now that we can focus on that one event and see what we can do.”

The reality is most young swimmers that make the trials go there, swim well and then have a four-year quad to prep and train and be prepared to make the following Olympics. Going to the trials before college is ideal.

“Anything is possible,” Griffith said. “For an 18-year-old to make the trials is impressive. I think that the Olympics are a longer process than is going to happen in three months. But there is always a chance, if you got a lane you got a chance…but he is ranked top seven 18-and-younger in that event right now.”

While he may be a long shot for the USA Olympic team, Foy has an opportunity to make the 2024 USA Junior Pan Pacific Championship team this August that will compete in Canberra, Australia. The team is filled with 25 males and 25 females, 18-and-younger. If Foy misses this year’s Olympic cut, a strong trials swim could land Foy on the Pan Pac and potentially on to the 2028 Olympics.

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t know,” Foy said of the trials. “My coach has plans, though, and I trust my coach to do what’s best for me. He knows my body more than I ever will…I’m going to be honest, this is more for just the experience right now. I’m just happy that I made the trials and going to the trials is just icing on the cake.”

There is a lot of cake out there as well.

“I don’t think I have any idea how much more I can do,” he said.

Foy will swim for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall, and is considering a major in computer sciences or engineering. Tar Heels head swim coach Mark Gangloff was guiding the women’s team through the NCAA championships last week and the men’s team this week but found time to contact Foy.

“He said ‘congratulations’ and that, because of NCAAs and he was training his kids, that was all I wanted and all I needed. I’m just glad he took time away from his current swimmers to say congratulations to me. That meant a lot.”

Gangloff told the Juneau Empire, “I am very excited to see that PJ has qualified for the Olympic Trials this summer. Since the start of the recruiting process, we have felt that PJ was a premier swimmer with a lot of potential. PJ will have the opportunity to go against the world’s best swimmers at USA Olympic Trials this June which is exactly where he belongs. We are excited for him to come to Chapel Hill this fall. Go Heels!”

Before the trials, Foy will also graduate from TMHS on May 26. When asked if he would wear Speedos under his graduation gown, Foy laughed and said: “I haven’t quite decided what I want to do for that… that would be funny though.”

Foy said the community of the sport is what attracts him.

“I love the people I practice with, and the people that are at the meets I’m at has been one of the my favorite things since I was a kid. I just love swimmers. I feel like we’re a pretty tight group…I couldn’t have done this without my friends, family and coaches. This has been more of a mental struggle than anything I have ever done and they have all helped me through it and pushed me to be the best I can be.”

Other notable Alaskans achieving Olympic swimming standards include:

• 2022 Seward grad Lydia Jacoby, who qualified for the 2020 trials in the 100 breaststroke and was the first Alaska-born swimmer to qualify for and win a medal in the Olympics, winning gold in the event at the Tokyo Games (the 2020 trials and games were held in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic). She swims for the University of Texas.

• 1977 West Anchorage grad Clark Rush, who was the first Alaskan Olympic trials qualifier. He qualified for the 1980 trials in the 100 back and swam at the University of Washington.

• 1985 West Anchorage grad Mia Costello, while a Harvard University sophomore in 1987 qualified for the ’88 US Olympic trials in the 100 and 200 breast.

• 1985 West Valley graduate Andrew Billings qualified for the ’88 trials. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Billings and Costello are married.

• 1998 Service grad Micha Burden qualified for the 2008 trials in the 200, 400 and 800 free. She swam at the University of California Berkeley.

• 1999 Petersburg High School grad Derek Gibb, an Auburn University alum, qualified for the 2000 and 2004 trials in the 50 free and 100 back.

• 2000 Lathrop grad Maria Reeves qualified in the 50 free for the 2000 trials. She attended Northwestern University.

• 2012 East Anchorage grad Samantha Wicks qualified for the 2016 trials in the 100 back. She swam at Boise State University.

• 2020 Eagle River grad John Heaphy, who swam at Arizona State University, qualified for the 2020 trials in the 100 breaststroke.

• 1983 Service grad Andrew Tainter, 1995 Dimond grad Robert Roosa and 1995 Lathrop grad Patty Nash also qualified for an Olympic trials.

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