By Jamie Kolar, Swimming World College Intern.
American records are hard to come by, but not for Leslie Cichocki. In one weekend, at the Maverick Roundup meet, Leslie smashed eight Paralympic American records. She broke the 50 free (27.32), 100 free (59.21), 200 free (2:06.69), 500 free (5:43.41), 50 back (32.81), 100 back (1:06.43), 200 back (2:25.36) and 200 IM (2:28.43) records in the Paralympic S-14 division.
In 2016 Cichocki became the first intellectually disabled swimmer to represent team USA at the Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro. She recently moved back to her hometown of Chicago, Illinois and has started the journey to Tokyo 2020 with her new club, West Swim Club. Swimming World caught up with Cichocki and her coach, Scott Erdman, to check in on training and her goals for the future.
Swimming World: You just moved to Chicago full time and transferred clubs, what inspired the move?
Leslie: I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life. I trained at another facility because they offered more training times and had a 50m pool. I came back because I felt I was no longer making improvements.
SW: What events led up to these eight American Records?
Leslie: I swam on the US Paralympic team. I was a part of the 2015 Para Pan American team where I placed first in the 100m back. In 2016 I was the first intellectually impaired swimmer to represent USA at the Rio Paralympic games where I placed seventh in the 100m back.
SW: Any changes in training that have seem to have made the biggest difference for you?
Leslie: My coaching staff takes the time to help me fix my stroke and to push me when needed. I have an intellectual disability which makes it more difficult for me to understand directions. I am thankful that the coaches take the time and extra effort and believe in my abilities.
SW: What is the next step? What are you goals for the rest of the year?
Leslie: I will be competing at the INAS (International Federation for Intellectual Impairment Sports) World Swimming Championship where I hope to drop more time and medal.
SW: As a coach, how does it feel to watch one of your swimmer break eight American records?
Scott: It was amazing to watch and extremely gratifying, for myself to some extent, but more so for Leslie. Since coming to the team she has put in a tremendous amount of time and hard work and has been a role model for how a swimmer/athlete should operate. When swimmers like that have great achievements, that brings me to the pinnacle of coaching happiness.
SW: What gives Leslie the special ability to break all those records in one weekend?
Scott: I think a couple factors went into Leslie having the special ability to break all eight records in one week. First, she is extremely athletic. At times, some of the high school boy swimmers she was training with would have trouble completing sets that she was able to complete. But the other main ingredient that I have already mentioned is her untiring work ethic. From the beginning of the season, Leslie did not miss one workout that she was able to be at. She swam doubles two days a week and when she couldn’t make practice she asked for sets so she could swim remotely. There was also only one time she missed one repeat and apologized to me about it after (when clearly no apology was necessary). That is the type of drive that makes the great ones great.
SW: What is it like to coach Leslie? What sets her apart from the other swimmers you have coached?
Scott: It is honestly just a pleasure to coach Leslie. She wants to be good and does whatever you ask of her. She makes the journey an easier one because she brings her A-game every day. I think the thing that makes her different than a lot of swimmers that I have coached is that she does follow through on what she says she is going to do. She is not just all talk about putting the work in and doesn’t allow any distractions to get in her way.
SW: Leslie is still new to the team, where do you see her going with this sport in the next few years?
Scott: Well I think she has one thing in mind – Tokyo!! After her experience in Rio and other International competitions, she is zeroed in on preparing to tryout for the US team again for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At this current rate, I certainly think she has a really good chance. There are many things we are working to improve and so hopefully she will be peaking for the 2020 US Paralympic Trials.
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