Gateway: Sports

Despite different bloodlines, Gig Harbor’s Andren siblings excel in the pool

Gig Harbor High school swim team members and sisters Ursula, left, and Katya Andren, along with brother Max, are all looking forward to the start of the 2015-16 season.
Gig Harbor High school swim team members and sisters Ursula, left, and Katya Andren, along with brother Max, are all looking forward to the start of the 2015-16 season. Staff photographer

Most wouldn’t guess Gig Harbor High’s Andren siblings aren’t biologically related.

But the youngest Andrens — Katya and Max — were adopted from a Russian orphanage when they were 4 years old. The other two Andren siblings — Alexandra, 23, and Ursula, 16 — are biological.

They may come from different backgrounds, but one thing they all have in common is their love of swimming. Ursula, a junior, is perhaps the team’s best swimmer. Katya and Max, sophomores, were named “best newcomers” for their respective teams. All three have different birth parents, but Ursula said they don’t think about it often.

“It’s just like every other family,” she said. “There really is no difference. They’re just like blood.”

Neal and Olga Andren were living in Germany at the time when they decided to adopt. The Andrens were a military family — Neal served as a prosthodontist in the United States Army, where he retired as a colonel.

“My parents are extremely selfless,” Ursula said. “They’ve always been selfless since they were younger, they were adventurers. That’s probably why they decided to go to Russia and adopt children. They always wanted to travel the world, and they always did. My parents wanted to expand the family and they had such big hearts that they decided to adopt two children. They’re beautiful and wonderful and I love them.”

Katya doesn’t remember much from her childhood in Russia, but is happy to be with a family that loves and cares for her.

“I remember I got adopted — that was about it,” she said. “I’m really grateful for it. It’s changed my life a lot.”

Katya loves to play sports — whether it’s doing something in the water or playing basketball. Max enjoys fishing and paddle boarding. They were all raised in the water. Neal surfed when he was younger and imparted his love of the water to both his biological and adopted children. They’ve all taken it to it skillfully and swim for Tacoma Swim Club in addition to swimming for the Tides.

“Our family, we’re all water babies,” Ursula said. “My parents wanted us to be in a sport so we could be well-balanced children, so we could balance academics and sports. We ended picking swimming because it’s really good for you. We never thought it was going to get as serious as it did. When it did, we just kind of accepted it. We all love it.”

Ursula is shooting for a time around 1 minute, 3.5 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke. The school record, set in 2013 by Gig Harbor graduate Carolyn McCann, is 1:01.33.

“Of course, (beating her time is) going to be a goal of mine,” Ursula said. “That’s always going to be a goal of mine to have and maybe one day I will. Right now, I’m just focusing on being my best self and striving for the best time I can get.”

As for Katya, she’s just focusing on continuing to drop time in the backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley and qualify for districts. While they’ll never be blood-related, Ursula is just as proud of her siblings.

“They’re probably the hardest working kids out there,” she said. “They’re extremely genuine and they love swimming.”

Jon Manley: 253-358-4151