Chase Kalisz

Swimmer Chase Kalisz is establishing himself at a national level in the pool. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / June 13, 2013)

Not many people get the chance to train with their idol — especially when their idol is Michael Phelps.

However, Bel Air native Chase Kalisz did exactly that. From 2010 to 2012, Kalisz swam side by side with the most decorated Olympian ever as his teammate at North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

Now, Phelps is no longer in the sport. Kalisz, 19, is on the brink of his best opportunity yet to break out and make his own name on the international stage.

And one of his biggest supporters is the man who he long looked up to.

“Chase has a great shot to really be America’s next great 400 IM swimmer,” Phelps said.

This week, Kalisz will swim in the Phillips 66 National Championships & World Championships Trials in Indianapolis. He is seeded in the top three in the 400-meter individual medley, an event in which he holds the world’s sixth-best time this year (4 minutes, 11.85 seconds).

If he finishes in the top two in the final, which he is favored to do, he will advance to the FINA World Aquatic Championships in Barcelona, Spain, next month, a meet he has never qualified for.

It seems like a lot of pressure for someone who is following in the wake of greatness.

But he has learned from the best. He is ready for the moment.

“Michael’s always been my role model,” Kalisz said. “Getting to swim with him, getting to know him as a person and having him as a friend, and to hear him say that about me, it means a lot.”

Training partner and friend

Kalisz still remembers the moment he realized he had elite potential.

It was late 2010, and just after he finished a practice with his coach, Scott Armstrong, at Mount Washington’s Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center, NBAC CEO and head coach Bob Bowman pulled him aside.

Bowman asked Kalisz to join his exclusive training group — the one that included an Olympic champion in Phelps and a future one in Allison Schmitt.

It was an opportunity Kalisz he could have never said no to.

Though he had to work around his school schedule to accommodate practice and travel — he was still a student at Fallston at the time — being asked to swim with NBAC’s top tier was validation that he could be among the best.

“Bob’s helped lay the groundwork for all the great swimmers here,” he said. “And so he helped change my mindset to where I wanted to go farther than being just a college swimmer. Swimming with Michael definitely helped, too.”

Kalisz also wanted to beat Phelps in anything he could. When he started in Bowman’s training group, Phelps had just returned from a break from swimming.

It was the first time Kalisz, an unproven teenager, was ready to swim next to his idol, someone he watched on TV as he fought for eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.

So when he had the chance to race the rusty then-16-time Olympic medalist in a 400 IM training session, it was close for about 100 meters. Then Kalisz took off.