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The Family that Swims Together

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Written by
Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by
Michael Matti

I always liked the water and swimming and playing. Every puddle was mine," says Bellevue Club member Wojciech Wyzga with a laugh. 

It’s a bit of an understatement. Wojciech (pronounced voy-check) liked playing in the water so much that he made the Polish National Swim Team at 10 years old and was breaking national records at 11. From then on, he dedicated himself to swimming.

“Up to fourth grade, I was doing once-a-day practices and then twice-a-days. And we did some dry land before the workout, which was swimming for about two hours each. It was a lot of swimming,” he says. “We were averaging 120 kilometers in a week, about eight kilometers per practice.”

All that hard work paid off and Wojciech solidified his position as a 200-meter butterfly specialist. After high school graduation, a group of Polish athletic sponsors chose Wojciech and one other swimmer to head to the United States for training in Mission Viejo, California.

Wojciech succeeded in the program, performing well in the national and international racing circuits. He also made the Polish Olympic Team with plans to compete in the 1988 Games in Seoul. But just before leaving, Wojciech faced a life-threatening health complication. He was experiencing severe swelling and pain in his right arm. He couldn’t swim. He couldn’t even lift his arm, he says.

“I was going to go to the 88 Olympics when I found out I had a blood clot in a subclavicular vein. My first rib and my clavicle were pinching the vein, and there was a lot of scarring,” Wojciech says. “I was in the E.R. for 10 days. There was no way I was going.

“So they did surgery, dissolved the clot and there have been no complications since. But it was scary at the time; I didn’t know what would happen. At one time, they said they’d remove the first rib. But I said, ‘No thank you. I want to swim again.’ ”

A year later Wojciech swam his best time at the European championships, earning fourth place in the 200-meter butterfly. He also continued to compete at an elite level for the University of Arizona, where he went to school. But he never made it back to the Olympics. Instead, he passed along the swimming torch. After meeting wife, Malgorzata, around the same time as his surgery, they had three girls, Aneta, 15, Olivia, 11, and Sofia, 8. All of them picked up the sport.

“Swimming means a lot to me because my dad was an Olympian for Poland, and I want to be just like him. I want to be an Olympian,” Sofia says, who also likes the butterfly stroke. She is currently swimming on the Bronze division of the Bellevue Club Swim Team (BCST). “I want to keep swimming because I want to go fast. On my swim team, I’m in the top two. I’m like second because someone else is the same speed as me.”

And she has a strong chance to succeed with some pretty good role models in her two older sisters. Aneta, who just graduated from ninth grade at Bellevue High School, is swimming in the National Training Group for BCST. She has been making wakes at state and sectional meets consistently since she was 12, and she went to Junior Nationals in December as part of the 800-meter relay team, which placed in the top 16. She says it’s too early to know whether she will swim in college, but she knows she has passion for the sport.

“I don’t ever want to stop swimming,” Aneta says. “I’d like to swim my whole life, and eventually want to do Masters.”

Olivia, who swims on the Orange division of BCST and wants to specialize in backstroke, says making friends and being able to eat whatever she wants are great perks to swimming year-round. But she’s also learning valuable lessons that she can take with her into the future, whether swimming is involved or not.

“Swimming is hard. It’s sometimes physically hard, but it’s really mentally challenging to keep going. But you just do not give up, stick with it,” Olivia says.

Wojciech says he is proud of his girls and pushes them to be the best swimmers they can be. As for his own Masters’ swimming career, he recently jumped back into the pool to start competing for the Bellevue Club Masters program.

“I actually stopped swimming for 30 years. I just started swimming again two years ago,” Wojciech says. “It was tougher than I thought getting back into it; it took two, three months. I went to my first meet and did really well. The speed was there, but not the endurance. Now I have endurance but not speed. It’s a balance.”

No matter the age or skill level, Wojciech says he reminds himself and the girls, “It’s all about discipline and hard work.” And, of course, fun.  

 

Who the Wyzgas are Watching

With the summer Olympics
coming up, the girls gave us a preview of the top three U.S. swimmers they are cheering for during the Games: “Michael Phelps,” the girls say in unison.

“I like Katie Ledecky because she always wins and goes faster than everyone,” Olivia says.

“Missy Franklin.”

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