Jordan Wilimovsky’s Long-Distance Relationship

Photo by Griffin Scott

Guest Feature by Brooke Wanser

EVANSTON – With flowing blond hair and blue eyes, Northwestern University junior Jordan Wilimovsky meshes with his Malibu upbringing. But at Northwestern, especially on the swim team, he stands out for more than his California-surfer appearance.

Wilimovsky, 20, walks about campus (or, occasionally, glides past on his Razor scooter) with an unassuming air. Students may see him in jeans and a hoodie, blending in with the hordes of ordinary undergraduates rushing to class. But underneath the humble exterior lies the heart and work ethic of an extraordinary champion.

His stellar showings in the 1500-meter freestyle and open water 10K at this summer’s National Championships earned him a spot on the national team for his second year. “I didn’t get to swim a 1500 tapered last year,” Wilimovsky admits, “so it was cool to be rested for the meet.”

At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Wilimovsky is much shorter than his competitors, most of whom are 6 feet and taller. “I don’t think there’s any advantage (to being shorter),” he says with a chuckle.

Northwestern swimming Head Coach Jarod Schroeder agreed with his initial assessment of Wilimovsky as a recruit: “When I first saw him, well, he’s a little guy. . . I went, oh man, I’m not sure.” But seeing him in the water convinced Schroeder. “He has a long stroke for his size. It was eye-opening for us.”

Extra work to overcome any height deficit has turned him into a force in the water. His practice schedule deviates considerably from his teammates’ daily grind. Wilimovsky does dryland exercises and core work instead of lifting weights, and he spends an additional six hours in the pool each week. The program sounds daunting, but Wilimovsky knew it was what he needed.

“Jarod talked to me after training trip freshman year and asked me if I wanted to add in some voluntary workouts,” Wilimovsky says. “At first it was tough, but I got used to it.”

Wilimovsky’s background in swimming is not as storied as most athletes of his level, who grew up swimming competitively at young ages. He was a late bloomer, starting at age 10, and only so he could get fast enough to make the cut to be a Junior Beach Lifeguard. He laughs when he recalling how slow that time standard was (1:45 for a 100-yard freestyle).

It wasn’t instant success from the get-go. But the arrival of a new club coach, Dave Kelsheimer, when Wilimovsky was 16 seemed to be the determining factor in his eventual rise.

“He was definitely not a strong swimmer,” Kelsheimer says. “I gave the team a talk about the change in the program and how the best athletes in the world train eight to 10 times a week. Jordan’s response was ‘Let’s go 12 times a week.’”

Wilimovsky’s thoughtful personality has played a vital role in his success. After a recent practice, he got out of the pool to head off for drug-testing, but not before asking Schroeder about recruiting, inquiring about a specific swimmer.

“Jordan has really bought into the team concept over the past few years,” Schroeder says.

As an individual, he isn’t loud or boastful. He rarely complains. But around his teammates, he smiles and jokes like every other college student. He, along with other members of the men’s swim team, wears a Hawaiian shirt every Friday. The pet cat at the home he shares with teammates, Woodhouse, is often found hanging around Wilimovsky’s room.

His low-profile attitude can be seen post-race often in the pool.

“The only time I’ve ever seen him happy after a race is when he qualified for the 500 free at (a California Interscholastic Federation meet),” says 17-year-old-brother Alec. “He smiled. I never see him smile.”

His mom, Wendy, describes him as an intense competitor. “He used to play soccer and do karate, and he was the same way. He’s very serious about any sport he does.”

Schroeder noticed an evolution in Wilimovsky’s behavior since his arrival at Northwestern. “He’s matured quite a bit. He’s confident when he gets up and swims, but he’s not cocky.”

What about his potential for the 2016 Olympics? “Hopefully high!” Wilimovsky says. “I just have to make sure I get my hand on the wall before the other guys.”

The campaign for his ascent onto the international stage is underway; Wilimovsky plans to take a redshirt season his senior year. He will stay home in Malibu to train with his club team, and return to finish his degree at Northwestern the following year.

“He’s very committed and competitive, he wants to win,” his mother says. “Could I see him going to Rio? Probably.”