Mlynarski’s singular focus paying off
Niles North's Karol Mlynarski (left) waits on the blocks for the start of the 200-yard freestyle during his swim meet on Dec. 7 against Niles West. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:36AM
When Niles North senior Karol Mlynarski came to this country from Poland five years ago, his mother Sylwia decided her son was going to resume at least one of the activities he had participated in back home.
Mlynarski had played guitar and been part of both a folk dancing troupe and a swim team. Mlynarski said he quickly decided that swimming would be his main activity. The other two would have to wait.
“The moment I started swimming (in the United States), I focused on that alone,” he said. “It’s a lot different than what I was used to in Poland. The practices were a lot more challenging and time consuming, especially with doubles. I was thinking about playing an instrument, but that just kind of faded away.”
Mlynarski, now a senior, has become one of the top high school swimmers in the state. He is considered one of the favorites to win the 200-yard freestyle at the state meet in late February after coming in fifth in that event last year.
In late October, Mlynarski committed to swim at Cornell, where he hopes to major in mechanical, electrical or environmental engineering. Mlynarski said he chose the Ivy League school over Northwestern in part because the hills around its campus in Ithaca, N.Y., remind him of his hometown of Sanok, Poland.
Mlynarski said he left Poland, in part, because his mom thought the United State would afford him more opportunities.
“Since we had a lot of family here and it was easy because we could get settled and wouldn’t be on our own,” Mlynarski said. “I think it was mostly just opportunities. She had a good job offer and I was excited to see another side of the world.”
Sylwia is an esthetician, licensed professionals who also are called skin care therapists.
Mlynarski did not speak any English when he moved to Chicago just before seventh grade. However, he said the language came fairly easy to him and he was out of English as a Second Language classes within two years.
Though he did have experience in the pool, Mlynarski said his swim club back in Poland had been small in numbers and had only competed in occasional meets.
Soon after arriving in the area, Mlynarski joined the swim program at the Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles. A year later, and after a five-inch growth spurt, he began working with current Niles North coach Seth Orlove, then a coach in the program.
“When he first came into club swimming he was rough around the edges,” Orlove said. “But he was pretty tall for his age and he had the right build. He had a background in competitive swimming and you want to harness that ability, help him get to the next level and understand what he is capable of doing. I think we’ve been trying to do that the last four years.”
Mlynarski, who is now 6-foot-4, finished 37th in the state in the 100 free as a freshman, 13th in the 200 free and 30th in the 100 backstroke as a sophomore and then had two top-10 finishes last year, coming in eighth in the 100 free in addition to his top-five performance in the 200 free. He also has participated in several relays at state.
Mlynarski now finds himself as the leading returnee in the state in the 200 free. He swam a career-best time 1 minute, 40.83 seconds, in the prelims of the 200 free at state last winter, and said he’d be satisfied with a 2-second drop in that race this season. However, Mlynarski said he’s shooting for the 200-free state record of 1:37.24 set by Neuqua Valley’s Kevin Overholt in 2009.
Should Mlynarski come up a little short, it’d be hard to fault his effort.
“Karol is incredibly talented and he has a very strong work ethic,” Niles North teammate Aaron Brown said. “You can see how hard he works in the weight room and pool and how hard he works to keep up with his schoolwork. He really wants to succeed in the pool and the classroom. It’s really great he can do both things.”