When McHenry graduate Jon Lesniak went to Wisconsin-Green Bay, he had to re-learn how to swim.
Not literally of course. Lesniak was a state-qualifying swimmer for the Warriors and was on a state-qualifying water polo team his senior year. But being ready to swim at the collegiate level did require Lesniak to improve significantly from where he was at in high school.
“It took me two years to get where I (needed to be),” Lesniak said. “My stroke wasn’t very good. My endurance and practice skills were not near where they needed to be.”
After swimming for the Phoenix for four years, where he was won a Horizon League championship in the 100-yard breaststroke in 2012, Lesniak is now looking at kicking his swimming up still another notch.
Lesniak is training to qualify for the Arena Grand Prix series, a U.S.A. Swimming program that gives the nation’s best swimmers the opportunity to face top-flight competition at six events, beginning Nov. 14 in Minneapolis. Swimmers can earn prize money totaling $150,000 for the six events and the Universal Sports Network will broadcast from each Arena Grand Prix Series meet.
“It’s kind of the equivalent to the Olympic trials,” Lesniak said.
Lesniak has a busy schedule in addition to his training. He is working for Northwestern Mutual, is an assistant coach for his college team, where he also helps recruit, and he helps coach a club team. He puts in two hours in the pool before work and then coaches team practices after that.
“If I have any time after that, I’ll swim for another hour,” Lesniak said. “It’s something you have to make sacrifices for.”
Lesniak excelled at three sports in high school, playing football in the fall before the two water sports started. While participating in two other sports possibly hurt his swimming in the short term, it paid big dividends in the long term.
"The good thing about being a three-sport athlete is you get a team blend,” Lesniak said. “Playing football and water polo, I knew how to relate to different types of kids.”
Football also exposed Lesniak to some colleges during the recruitment process.
“Playing football opened up a lot of doors for me. I was very blessed to be a gifted athlete,” Lesniak said. “It made me more rounded and helped me not to get burned out on swimming.”
Lesniak has seen first-hand how committing to one sport at an early age can cause burnout when an athlete reaches college. Playing football and water polo in high school, two sports he loved, Lesniak was able to fully commit to swimming at college and now to hopefully reach the Grand Prix.
“Now I can focus in to how good of swimmer I can be,” Lesniak said.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com.