Olympic swimmer and Los Angeles native Andrea “Andi” Murez swims to win, but winning is not the only thing she cares about.
During qualifying races for the Summer Games in Israel — where she made aliyah in 2014 and became a citizen — her times were good enough for her to represent the country in four events. But she nearly relinquished one of those to a fellow athlete, according to her father, Jim Murez.
“At one point, it was a question of whether or not one of the other girls can be on the swim team … [Andi] was ready to give up her position on the team in that particular event so that the other girl could be able to go, even though Andrea had a much faster time,” he said.
In the end, the other swimmer qualified for a different event, so there was no need to step aside. That means Murez, 24, will begin her Olympic schedule in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 6 with the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay, followed by the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle.
The swimmer said she has managed so far not to be overwhelmed by the arduous preparation required for the world stage on which she will be competing.
“My motivation comes from the fun of racing, my previous success, and from the inspiring people around me,” Murez told the Journal via email while training in Sao Paulo a week before the Olympics’ opening ceremony. “It’s hard swimming so many hours, so you have to keep it fun. Being able to laugh at the rough practices and struggles with teammates is really important for me.”
Swimming runs in Murez’s family. Her father, the manager of the Venice Farmers Market, swam competitively until the end of his first year in college. And her grandfather Joe Murez, who taught her how to swim, competed for Hakoah Vienna sports club in Vienna before World War II.
As for Murez’s only sibling, older brother Zachary, 27, he swam throughout high school and college — and pushed his sister to the limit, too.
“She was always competing with Zak,” Jim Murez said. “She was always trying to keep up with him, and being 2 1/2 years younger at that age is a huge difference, so she was always one step behind him.”
Swimming did not always come naturally for Murez. Initially, she was afraid of swimming pools and until the age of 4 she would not let anyone play with her in the water. Eventually, she felt more comfortable to the point where swimming instructors suggested she swim for a junior team, her parents told the Journal.
“When she was 12, it went from ‘Do we have to go swimming today?’ to ‘Come on, Mom, I don’t want to be late,’ ” her mother, Melanie, said.
Murez attended Venice High School, swam during her four years at Stanford University and made it to the U.S. Olympic trials in 2008 and 2012. In 2009 and 2013, she competed at the Maccabiah Games, Israel’s version of the Olympics and one of the largest sporting events in the world.
“I had an amazing time … and felt connected to Israel enough to decide to join the [national] team in the fall of 2014,” she said. “When I was done competing for Stanford, professional swimming seemed like the best next step because I still loved competing.”
Murez, who studied human biology in college and intends to eventually pursue a career in biology, moved to the Israeli coastal city of Netanya and stayed at the Wingate Institute, a sports training facility, with the rest of the Israeli swimmers. That helped her quickly develop relationships with her teammates and coaches, she said.
“It seemed like the best opportunity for me to swim post-college,” she said. “Before moving, I had only briefly met a few people, but once I moved, everyone was very nice and helped me get settled.”
Olympic swimmer Andrea Murez
As an Olympic hopeful, her training regimen has been intense. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, she swims for four hours each day and goes to the gym for an hour. Wednesdays consist of Pilates and almost 2 1/2 hours of swimming. On Fridays, she just swims for two hours in the morning.
When the rest of the swimmers returned to their families for Shabbat, Murez always was invited to one of their houses. (The team supplied her with a private Hebrew tutor to expedite her grasp of the language, which she could not speak previously.)
In December, Israel hosted the European Short Course Swimming Championships, and Murez represented the country in competition for the first time. She made it to the finals in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle races and became the Israeli national record holder in both. This past May, she competed in the European Aquatics Championships in London, placing fifth in the 100-meter freestyle.
As much as Murez enjoys swimming, the fact that the sport has exposed her to new and different people has been an added perk.
“One of the best parts of swimming is traveling for training camps and competitions and meeting new people,” she said. “During my time with the Israeli national team, I’ve been to so many countries and seen so many cultures. It’s been very eye-opening and has made me realize how much I love traveling and want to continue to explore the world.”
With the Olympics rapidly approaching, Murez said she is only mildly concerned about the Zika virus and has taken precautions by wearing long clothing and using spray repellants. She looks forward to staying at the Olympic Village, meeting new people and catching up with old teammates who are also participating.
Aside from her own races, Murez said, she also is excited about attending other Olympic events and watching her teammates.
“I hope to watch a lot of other events, but I know space fills up in the athlete stands,” she said. “I want to watch my Israeli teammates compete and also see beach volleyball and gymnastics.”
In advance of the Games, she said she was feeling calm — for now.
“[I’m] mostly excited,” she said. “It’s really fun being in the village. I think the nerves will come right before the race.”
And overall, Murez said, she is particularly proud to embrace an Israeli swim cap as she prepares to race for gold.
“It’s such an honor to be representing Israel at the Olympics,” she said. “It’s a small country but a very special place and I feel so much support.”