Peter Vanderkaay was born in Royal Oak, Michigan on February 12, 1984 to parents Robin and Mark. From the beginning, the Vanderkaays were a swimming family; Christian (the oldest son) and younger brothers Alex and Dane all found success as competitive swimmers. The four brothers achieved a rather historic feat they all qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. Peter, however, is the only Vanderkaay to become an Olympian.
Age group and high school swimming
Vanderkaay grew up in Rochester, Michigan. He swam for the Oakland Live Y’ers (OLY) swim team throughout his age group career. But Vanderkaay was not a standout swimmer in his younger years. He failed to qualify for the Michigan age group state meet as a 12-year-old. In his freshman year of high school he did not swim fast enough to qualify for Michigan’s high school state meet. However, a seven-inch growth spurt at age 14, combined with his incredible work ethic, resulted in Vanderkaay becoming a high school super star in his junior and senior years.
He represented Rochester Adams High School while continuing to train with coach Jeff Cooper at OLY and he was Michigan High School State Champion in the 500 free (2001 and 2002) and the 200 free (2001). Vanderkaay graduated from Adams High School in 2002 and joined his older brother Christian at the University of Michigan. (Younger brothers Alex and Dane would also swim for Michigan.) During college Vanderkaay continued to train with Cooper and OLY when he was back home for breaks.
University of Michigan
At Michigan, Vanderkaay continued to grow as a swimmer. He attended Michigan from 2002 to 2006 and he dominated the Big Ten conference each year. As a freshman he won the 500 free and was part of the winning 800 free relay. After that break-out freshman year performance, Vanderkaay earned a spot on the 2003 United States’ World University Games squad. At those Games in Daegu, South Korea, he took home a silver medal as part of the 800 free relay and two bronze medals in the 800 free and the 1500 free. Back at Michigan he was Big Ten champion in the 400 IM, 500 free, 1,650 free, and was again part of the winning 800 free relay in both his sophomore and junior years. Finally, as a senior, he won the 200 free, 500 free, 1,650 free, and was once again part of the winning 800 free relay at Big Tens.
Vanderkaay also excelled on the collegiate national level. In 2004, as a sophomore, he won the 400 free, 1,500 free, and was a member of the winning 800 free relay at the NCAA Division 1 national championships (which were swum in short course meters). Then in both 2005 and 2006 Vanderkaay was national champion in the 500 free. He was an All-American in each year of college.
Vanderkaay qualified for his first Olympic team during his collegiate years. He won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as part of the United States’ 800 free relay.
World Championships success
His success on the international level continued to grow throughout college and beyond–at the 2005, 2007, and 2009 World Championships he won gold medals as a member of the 800 free relay teams. The 2007 World Champion 800 free relay team set a world record of 7:03.24.
2008 saw Vanderkaay qualify for his second Olympic team. At the Beijing Games, he and the rest of the United States’ 800-meter free relay continued their sovereignty of the event with another gold medal and another World Record of 6:58.56. The Americans became the first 800 free relay team to break the seven-minute mark. Vanderkaay took home an individual bronze medal in the 200-meter free.
The life-long Michigander made a major change in 2010 when he moved to Florida to train with Gator Swim Club and coach Gregg Troy. This decision proved to be fruitful for Vanderkaay; at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, China, he took home a gold medal as part of the 800 free relay.
After so many years of consistent training and myriad successes on the international level, Vanderkaay was ready for his third Olympic Games. Representing the Oakland Live Y’ers at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Vanderkaay won the 400-meter free and thus qualified for the Olympic Games in London. At those Games, Vanderkaay took home a bronze in the 400-meter free. Those Olympics were made even more special for Vanderkaay due to the fact that his longtime OLY coach Jeff Cooper was in London to cheer him on.
Vanderkaay retired from swimming after those Olympic Games in London, but he did not abandon the sport. He and the rest of the Vanderkaay family are major supporters of the Detroit Swims Initiative, a YMCA-based organization that offers a learn-to-swim program for inner-city kids.
Originally developed by Christina Wright.