On Sunday morning, Panama City Swim Team members Michael Duderstadt and Jonathan Ratliff boarded an airplane to Irvine, California. There, the two will compete in the U.S. Open, a prestigious swim meet with qualifying times that equal times for the Olympic Trials. While Duder, a future Auburn Tiger, has some experience with swimming at an elite level, for rising high school senior Jonathan, it's new territory. But just like in times past, these two have each others backs.
"There's a lot of nerves right now, but I think they'll all go away when I start to race," said Duder on Saturday before his last practice before the Open.
"I'm so excited, it's going to be a great opportunity to swim fast," said Ratliff. "There's a lot of fast people out there."
Two swimmers with two levels of experience when it comes to big time meets, but one brotherly bond that motivates them to be better.
"I always told Duder, we're brothers you and me," Ratliff said. "He'd smirk or something but, it really is like that, it's a brother relationship."
"I think I take him under my wing a little bit," said Duder. "It's good to have a training partner like him, and know that you're not by yourself."
For the past four years, the two have been beside each other every step of the way, leading Mosley High School to back to back Class 2A State Runner-up finishes in boys swimming, and even capturing a gold medal in the 200 medley relay.
"Every year that's gone by, being on relays together, and traveling to championship meets together, they've become two really good friends," said PCST head coach Jonathan Kaplan. "That makes it easier to go on a trip like this, because you can rely on each other and help each other get through the tough times."
"Ultimately, it's going to be me pushing myself, or him pushing himself when he goes to Auburn," said Ratliff. "The motivation has to come from you if you want to do that. It's a great goal to set, hey Duder did this, I want to do this."
"You know, it'll be a great experience for him as he goes into his last year of high school, just like it was for me going to the Olympic Trials last year," said Duder. "It's going to be a blast for both of us. I'm looking forward to it."
Ratliff starts the U.S. Open off for the two on Tuesday when he takes the pool for the 200 fly. Duder swims on Wednesday in the 200 breast, and takes the pool Friday for the 100.