Most high school swimmers latch onto an event or two early in their career and that becomes their bread-and-butter.
For Richard Kovalcik
, versatility in the pool has helped him become a well-rounded swimmer at Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.)
. In the last two seasons, Kovalcik has competed in eight swimming events ranging from sprints (50-yard freestyle) to intermediate distances (200 individual medley) to distance (500 freestyle).
"He can swim all four strokes legally and because of his strengths, he can do the endurance of the 500 and the 200," Sunrise Mountain swimming and diving coach Cris Dilworth said.
Being a versatile swimmer is important to Kovalcik.
"I like swimming the variety just because whenever you hang out at the pool with your friends or something, let's race, blah, blah, blah," Kovalcik said. "Or let's say your coach needs you for a certain event or a swimmer gets injured, you can just jump in."
Kovalcik is coming off a solid junior season in which he did well in two events at Arizona districts.
"It went really great," Kovalcik said. "I started off beginning of the year and I didn't know what I wanted to swim, so just for kicks my coach threw me in the 500 free and I wanted to see how that would go and I got a pretty good time in that."
Since his sophomore year, Kovalcik has trimmed off big chunks of time in the 500-yard freestyle.
"I saw a lot of improvement, so I was really happy with that," Kovalcik said. "I started off in the 500 with like an 8:45, so I took forever. This year, I think I got it down to 7-flat, so between the two years it was about a minute, 45 seconds drop."Learn More: Semper Fidelis Athlete of the Month presented by the Marines
Said Dilworth: "Most kids underestimate how much energy they're going to expend in the 500 and they reserve way too much. When they finish, they go, ‘I had a lot left.' Just trusting our pacing for him and tell him, ‘You have to go out a little faster and hold,' your time will drop."
At districts this year, Kovalcik clocked a personal-best time of 7:05.37 in the 500. However, it was the 200 individual medley where Kovalcik swam the best. On the opening day of the two-day postseason event, Kovalcik won his 200 IM heat to advance to the following day. He then cut off 20 seconds from a meet eight weeks earlier to place ninth (2:41.05), just missing out on the championship heat.
Sunrise Mountain has had a successful swimming and diving program for a number of years. Kovalcik is trying to be a big part of that. He's a well-respected member by his teammates, getting voted captain as a sophomore and junior.
"I thought it was a really good experience to really get immersed in the team and build up those bonds early on," said Kovalcik about being a captain as a sophomore.
"He's a servant leader," Dilworth said. "He puts the other kids first and he's not selfish. He's cooperative and respectful."
The 16-year-old is also the vice president of the Sunrise Mountain Swim & Dive Club. He has a big say in how the program is managed.
Kovalcik enjoys swimming – he's on the club team SunWest Swimming -- but one of his passions is getting to the gym and lifting weights. He dedicates four days a week to lifting weights and other physical activities and spends Fridays and Saturdays in the pool.
"He was physically strong as a freshman, but his technique was really poor," Dilworth said. "His technique has improved immensely; his endurance has improved and he's gotten even stronger."
Next year as a senior might be Kovalcik's last as a swimmer. He's looking to attend a military college where he can zoom in on his academics.
"I'm looking at a lot of colleges right now and one, they're all super expensive and two, I have to choose between like sports or academics," Kovalcik said. "If I go to one of the military colleges, I don't have to worry about budget and I also get to use both sports and academics in my life."
Kovalcik carries a 3.94 grade point average — he was given an 89 in a class as a freshman, which eliminated his flawless GPA. During the semester that just wrapped up, Kovalcik's entire schedule was either Advanced Placement or honors courses.
"It's a bit of work, but it's good for me," Kovalcik said.
Kovalcik knows getting into a military school requires students who are dedicated to the books. At the top of Kovalcik's college list is West Point, but he's certainly keeping his options open to the other branches of service. He's thinking about going after a degree in nuclear engineering.
Outside of school, Kovalcik enjoys volunteering. His mom manages a Phoenix-area hospital, so for about five to 10 hours per month, he stops by to help out in whatever fashion he is needed.
Kovalcik also teaches swimming lessons through the Phelps Foundation, which promotes water safety. As one of the top instructors last summer, Kovalcik was chosen to teach a two-week camp through the foundation for Boys & Girls Club participants.
"It's super rewarding because you get to watch them grow and develop," Kovalcik said. "It helps with my background as a swimmer, I can implement certain drills and I know what everything means and I know how to critique it and how to aid them."
In everything that he does, Kovalcik is always worried about others first. It's a mentality that should get him far in life.
"He works really hard," Dilworth said. "Just a good, quality kid that does his workouts and leads by example."
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