Most athletes spend their time honing abilities to perform one sport well.
NMU freshman and Wildcat swimmer Elyse Sawka spends her summers honing abilities in three distinct sports.
The Chicago-area native is a triathlete, and one of the best in the country for her age group. She competes on the USA Junior National team and represented her country at the Junior World Triathlon Championships last summer.
In order to compete on an elite level, Elyse has had to adhere to strict training guidelines and a rigorous workout regimen. Both have taught her lessons she’s able to bring to the NMU varsity swimming team.
Elyse has brought dedication and discipline, learned through triathlon training to Northern. NMU swim team head coach Bob Laughna believes Elyse’s focus has positively impacted the team’s overall attitude.
“All the swimmers notice that,” Laughna said. “They become focused as well.”
Elyse brings to the team an incredible ability to push herself, something her old triathlon coach Marcelo Oliver remembers vividly.
“Once, at Triathlon Nationals, she fell off her bike. Some would quit right there or just take it easy on the rest of the race,” Oliver said. “Not Elyse, she just goes at it harder.”
Elyse has brought her grit and drive, and applied it to the Wildcat swim team.
Laughna said he sees that drive in the pool as well.
“She pushes the other swimmers,” Laughna said.
Despite being an underclassman, she will often motivate the other swimmers during practices.
“They respect her, and they get along very well,” he added.
Swim and bike and run
Elyse began her triathlon career in 2003 when Oliver, her swim coach at the time, recruited her and several teammates to race for his team.
The group raced in the Chicago Triathlon, and Elyse was hooked.
Shortly after her performance in the Triathlon, Elyse was recruited by Multisport Madness, of Aurora, Ill.
She continued to excel, and eventually earned a spot on the Junior National Triathlon team. This past summer, she qualified for the Junior World championship.
Elyse’s workout load to prepare for racing at such a level was enormous. She wasn’t able to race on the high school swim team her junior or senior years of because of triathlon time conflicts.
“The lifestyle was pretty much train, eat, train, sleep, train, school, train,” said Suzanne Sawka, Elyse’s mother. “She realized early on that procrastinating would make things more difficult.”
It was not uncommon for Elyse to do two full workouts a day.
“I would do swimming, biking, and running every day,” Elyse said. “A lot of times, I would swim for two to three hours in the morning, then at night I would do a [combination] of cycling and running.”
Elyse did have a coach to give her workout plans, but she was responsible for working out on her own and setting her goals.
“I’ve always been very competitive, even throughout high school,” Elyse said. “I want to really do my best, and I set very high standards for myself. I really want to make those goals.”
When asked why she is willing to go so far, Elyse answer was simple: “‘Cause I love it,” she said.
She admitted, however, that she often questioned her motivations during training.
“It’s very grueling and sometimes I just go home and collapse because I’m so tired from working out,” she said. “It’s become a part of me. I can’t imagine myself not doing it anymore. When I race, I’m just in the zone and I love doing it so much.”
Elyse’s sacrifices and dedication paid off for her last summer at USA Triathlon’s Tuscaloosa Triathlon in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Elyse placed well enough to earn herself a spot on the U.S. team at the Triathlon World Championships in June, held in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Elyse lists the World competition as the best memory of her triathlon career.
“It was intimidating at first,” Elyse said. “It was kind of scary just because you saw a lot of the pros there, and maybe who you would want to be later.”
Her mother was pleased with her daughter’s finish.
“It was pretty cool to see my daughter cross the finish line in uniform representing a USA team,” Elyse’s mother, Suzanne, said.
After the world competition, Elyse closed out her season with a triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa, a race that could have qualified her for the Olympic Trials. She did not perform as strongly as she was hoping, due largely to an ankle injury she suffered at the World Championship.
Since she came to NMU to race for the varsity swim team, Elyse has been unable to continue her training. However, she hopes that she will be able to continue training after the swimming season ends and participate in races next summer.
She also hopes to complete an Ironman triathlon before she turns 25.
Elyse’s next competition in Marquette is Nov. 22 when the NMU swim team returns for a home meet at the PEIF pool.