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Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2019
Laurentian Swim Club back in the spotlight
by Randy Pascal

Most Sudburians who have called the Nickel City home for the past 25 years or so can easily recall the Laurentian Swim Club. Once the home of Olympic Gold Medallist Alex Baumann and countless other prominent provincial and national swimmers, the local swim club was a veritable swimming factory through much of the seventies and eighties.

And while the sport may be undergoing some fundamental changes across the country, Richard Buwaj is intent on restoring the glory of years gone by on the University-based swim team. In 1975, at a time when Jeno "Doc" Tihanyi was still developing the earliest framework of success in Sudbury, Buwaj was busy in his native Polland, having graduated from the Academy of Physical Education. At this time, he began working with the "school of championships", concentrating with the sport of swimming.

In 1980, he would help Poland send one swimmer to the Moscow Olympics, earning a bronze medal (Agnieszka Czopek) in the Womens 400m individual medley, a huge accomplishment for a country that enjoyed almost no previous success in aquatics. By 1985, Buwaj had moved to Canada where he worked closely with Tihanyi. "It really opened my eyes, coaching in Canada", said Buwaj. "Mostly in the area of motivation of swimmers and trying to focus on individual development of training."

After a few more short stints at York University and back in Europe, Buwaj would ultimately find his way to Northern Ontario a second time. On this occasion, Sault Ste Marie would be the destination of choice where Buwaj would take on the head coaching duties with the Sault Ste Marie Aquatic Club in 1993. "I was very lucky with the talent coming through when I with SSMAC" admits Buwaj, who rose to prominence primarily on the success of Jennifer Fratesi.

Twice during his tenure in the Sault would Buwaj be recognized as Swim Ontario's coach of the year. But it was time to move on and in 2003, Buwaj returned to Sudbury to take the helm of the Laurentian swim team, convinced he could re-establish the club on the Canadian swimming map. "I believed in following my philosophy, with the support of Jeno, that we could achieve results" said Buwaj, who targetted the number one position in the Region as a reasonable mid-term goal.

And deliver he has, with Laurentian now counting a total of 87 swimmers among their ranks versus the 57 that existed a few short years ago. "I think it's important that we no just worry about Olympic swimmers but also on skill development for all athletes. You have to open the door to recreational atletes in order to build swimming down the road" notes Buwaj.

Thankfully, it's not a road he's travelling alone. "We have an unbelievable group of parents working with the club" says Buwaj, who adds that SLSC Secretary Patti Commito is the heart of the club. "There is nothing she won't do for this club - she has an unbelievable passsion" states Buwaj.

And while Buwaj believed the process to achieving the region's number one ranking might take 6-7 years, success has been forthcoming even more quickly than he could have imagined. "The thing is that we are still a very young club" says Buwaj. "You will hear more about this group five or six years from now." The roster includes three swimmers who enjoyed a very successful December training camp in Florida over the holidays. Kailey Commito, Kaitlyn O'Neil and Molly Green joined a handful of the university swimmers who were on hand preparing for the second half of the short-course season.

"We're trying to focus on growing from our roots" says Buwaj, who has been ecstatic with the support of the post-secondary institution that lends its name to the club. "Ron Larwood has been extremely helpful in providing an air of co-operation with the university." Although the life of a swim coach these days can be somewhat nomadic, Buwaj would be more than pleased to stay at Laurentian until he retires. "I would love nothing more than to make this team a club that the whole country is talking about." Just like in days gone by.

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