Bending down, hands on knees,
"Go, Lucas," he yelled.
Only a few meters remained in the freestyle preliminary. As Lucas dug two more strokes, reaching for the wall, Nick spun around to look at the clock.
"How was his time?"
Sports have always been a common ground for the McCrory boys. They grew up in North Carolina riding bikes and shooting hoops in the yard, competing like siblings often do.
But when Nick started diving, working his way into the elite ranks and eventually winning a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, his brother got left behind. Lucas wondered whether sports still held a place for him.
A place for a natural-born athlete who, through childhood, became more and more affected by dwarfism.
"It was frustrating," Lucas said. "There was a little bit of jealousy."
So last week was a big deal for the McCrorys, with Nick watching from poolside as Lucas raced for the U.S. Paralympic team at the
"I was always hoping I could make it to Nick's level," Lucas said. "I didn't know if it would happen."
His first international meet ended with unexpected success — a silver and three bronzes. And maybe something better.
Height isn't the only thing that separates them.
The 23-year-old Nick has always been more talkative, more gregarious in social settings. At 20, Lucas tends to be quiet.
Everyone agrees that, from the start, the younger sibling was the better all-around athlete, able to shoot a basketball and dribble a soccer ball more adroitly.
Their parents, Doug and Ana, recall taking them to play tennis. Nick would grow frustrated at launching balls over the fence while Lucas worked at honing his stroke.
"Even at 5 years old, Lucas had great hand-eye coordination," Ana said during a break in the competition in Pasadena. "He was amazing."
Standing nearby, Nick muttered: "Thanks, mom. We've got it."
In those childhood years, Lucas' form of dwarfism — called hypochondroplasia — was not a significant factor. It wasn't until midway through elementary school that other kids kept growing while he stayed the same.
"I knew it was going to happen," he recalled. "I don't think I realized what it would be like."
By then, Nick had begun focusing on diving. He won his first junior national championship in 2006 and finished a promising fourth at the U.S. Olympic trials two years later.
Ana said she wouldn't have blamed Lucas for being envious: "I would have been if it was my older sister."
Keeping his occasional pangs of jealousy hidden, Lucas watched endless video with Nick, the two of them dissecting every twist and somersault from Nick's competitions. The whole family traveled to big meets.
"Lucas was always so supportive," Nick said. "The prelim events can be really long, sitting in the sun for three hours while I'm diving once every 40 minutes — not an easy thing for a kid."
At one point, Lucas gave diving a try but it did not suit his nature. He wasn't as detail-oriented as his older brother, wasn't as much of a risk-taker when it came to learning inward and backward dives.
"I didn't have the guts," he said.
Finally, someone suggested competitive swimming.
The path to elite Paralympic competition required patience. His relatively short limbs made him slower in the water and coaches at his first swim clubs lumped him with much younger kids in practice.
"If we didn't find a good team," Ana said, "he was going to quit."
They eventually happened upon a
"He works hard and he listens," said Tom Franke, coach of the U.S. team at last week's meet. "From that standpoint, he's a joy to work with."
Swimmers with dwarfism must pay special attention to flexibility and fluidity. They must find more propulsion in their legs to compensate for that limited reach.
Standing about 5 feet tall, Lucas faces a particular challenge in the S7 category, which includes much taller swimmers with conditions such as cerebral palsy.
"He has to overcome that with his attitude," Franke said. "And with his heart."
For the last few years, Nick has followed his brother's blossoming career from afar as he trains in Indiana and travels to a full schedule of international events. His parents have provided updates, so he knows about the obstacles that Lucas continues to face.
Guilford College, the small North Carolina school where Lucas plans to major in exercise sciences, has no men's swim team. When the junior asked to practice with the women's team, athletic department officials informed him that would violate
So two or three times each week, he makes the one-hour drive home to train with his YMCA club.
"It's hard for anyone, being different, but he's handled it so well," Nick said. "He's always been so positive."
The family celebrated when Lucas made the U.S. Paralympics "emerging" list last year. Now, with the national team bringing him to the 2014 Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships, Nick made sure to come along.
The brothers talked about Nick's experiences on the big stage. His first national title at this very pool. His first world championships, when a case of the jitters left him in 20th place.
"I've definitely learned from him," Lucas said. "Maintaining your composure is a big thing."
The meet started well as Lucas swam fast in that 400-meter prelim, then won silver in the final that night. Over the next three days, he added bronzes in the 50 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 400 34-point relay.
But fast times were only part of the story for the boys, who found themselves in a familiar spot. With a twist.
"Lucas has gone everywhere with me," Nick said. "Now I get to be here for him."