Amsterdam athlete sets sights on triathalon competition

It’s usually enough for most athletes to concentrate on just one sport per season. However some Amsterdam High School athletes have pushed themselves to do more. In 2014, then Amsterdam sophomores Emma Patrei and Giuliana Pritchard played both softball and ran track and field during the same season. Last season Patrei made it two straight years, this time as part of both varsity softball and varsity track and field teams. In the 2016 school school year, two more AHS athletes became two-sport athletes in the same season when junior Kayla Dzikowicz and sophomore Lauren Santiago spent time in the pool with the Amsterdam girls varsity swim team, and ran for the varsity cross country team. But, Kayla Dzikowicz’s case is even more unique. In addition to being back in the pool and on course with the high school teams, Dzikowicz is also active in cycling, making that three sports in the same season. Her story is even more interesting in that to do all this, she overcame an injured shoulder and a lengthy recovery to keep her future goals intact.

In September 2015, Dzikowicz was at the Lynch Literacy Academy pool to watch the season opener of the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity swim team. She was still unable to participate and would miss the entire 2015 high school swimming season due to shoulder surgery in the spring of 2015 to repair a torn labrum. Dzikowicz approached Amsterdam varsity girls swim coach Nancy Spagnola, and when Spagnola asked her if she wanted to return to the team, Dzikowicz responded; “Yes, I want to come back.”

The recovery would be a long process. Dzikowicz’s surgery was performed at the Albany Bone and Joint Center in March 2015 and she spent the first two months following the surgery with her arm in a cast often resting it on a pillow. She couldn’t start running for four months, and swimming wasn’t possible for six to eight months. With her swimming career on hold, Dzikowicz joined the Amsterdam girls varsity cross country team coached by Stu Palczak. Dzikowicz posted her best time in 2015 against Foothills Council south division champion Broadalbin-Perth when she ran a time of 26 minutes, 43 seconds at the Bob’s Trees course in Galway. Dzikowicz also ran in the Foothills Council championships in October 2015 putting up a 27:58.20 time, and qualified for sectionals at Saratoga Springs State Park where she trekked the 4908 meter course with a time of 27:58.50.

“Running was a great way to get back in shape,” Dzikowicz said. “Running is my weakness. I run to get better.”

Dzikowicz returned to the cross country team as a high school junior in 2016. Her times consistently improved during the season and Dzikowicz ran a 27:16.64 at the Foothills Council championships in late October, knocking 42 seconds off last years’ time at the Saratoga Springs course. But, 2016 brought another challenge for Dzikowicz as she returned to the AHS girls varsity swim team as well as continuing her progress with the cross country team.

“I like both sports,” Dzikowicz said when asked why she continued to participate in two sports in the same season.

But, would the coaches be on board with Dzikowicz’s decision to be a two sport athlete in the same season. Dzikowicz had already expressed her desire to return to swimming once she was able, and Coach Spagnola said that she could come back, however the commitment it takes to balance academics, and participation in two sports is not an easy task and it might have been a little surprising to some.

“Coach Palczak was apprehensive at first,” Dzikowicz said. “But he knows I’m a hard worker.”

And that hard work and dedication has paid off. Dzikowicz qualified for sectionals in both sports during the fall 2016 season and when it came time to chose one, she wanted to participate in both. Reality set in on November 4, 2016 as both the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 championships in cross country and swimming were scheduled on the same day. The start times conflicted and Dzikowicz elected to swim at Shenendehowa High School where she had qualified in multiple events. After her session was complete, Dzikowicz made it to the Saratoga State Park course in time to support her younger brother Trevor, who ran in his race with the AHS varsity boys team. Dzikowicz showed she is dedicated to her teammates as well.

“It’s very difficult for an athlete to participate in two sports,” Amsterdam girls cross country coach Stu Palczak said. “The athlete has to be on top of things in school and get training in. Not every athlete can be successful. So far, Kayla has handled it very well.”

When asked bout concerns about her recent shoulder surgery Palczak responded; “To me she’s completely recovered.”

Dzikowicz credited her USA Swim coach Mike Schanthal for helping her get back in shape for competitive swimming. Schanthal has been coaching Dzikowicz for the past six years with the non profit Amsterdam Sea Rams swim club, a competitive swim team that Dzikowicz has been a member of over the past ten years, since 2007 when she was seven years old.

“It helped me to be back with coach Mike (Schanthal),” Dzikowicz said. “When I first got back to training I was taking everything easy. We started with a lot of drills, trying to make sure my stroke was good so I didn’t re-injure the shoulder.”

Schanthal is a member of the American Swimming Coaches Association and is the coach of the Amsterdam Sea Rams blue group, a top level group for experienced swimmers that practice four to five times per week. Schanthal recently received the 2016 Coach of the Year award from Adirondack Swimming.

“Kayla wasn’t able to swim until late 2015,” Schanthal said. “She had limitations until December 2015. I think her recovery is reasonable. She has never said to me that her shoulder has bothered her and I ask her periodically. It sounds like she’s fully recovered.”

When it came time for the start of the 2016 high school swim season Dzikowicz was true to form and went on to qualify for sectionals in several events including the 50 yard freestyle, 200 yard freestyle, 200 yard individual medley, and the 100 yard breaststroke where she made the event finals and finished 13th with a time of one minute, 19.28 seconds (1:19.28). Dzikowicz earned four points for the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity swim team at the NYSPHSAA Section 2 Division 2 championships at Shenendehowa in early November, and went on to factor into 44 of the teams 58 point total earning AHS a tenth place finish. Dzikowicz also teamed up with Lauren Santiago, Tessa Conti, and Anastasia Montalvo for an eighth place finish in the 200 yard freestyle relay, and she teamed with Santiago, Montalvo, and Kelly Kilgallen for a ninth place finish in the 400 yard freestyle relay. Dzikowicz’s teammates Paige Bertuch, Amelia Barkevich, Julianna Buseno, and Azia Aldi also picked up points with a strong finish in the 200 yard medley relay. Dzikowicz also set a personal best in the 200 yard individual medley with a time of 2:35.29, good for 17th place. Schanthal, who also coaches Mayfield’s Kylie Cotugno, was at sectionals to see his students perform.

“Kayla is dedicated,” Schanthal said. “I give her the work out programs and she goes out and does it.”

Even when the high school swim season ends, Dzikowicz is still busy with the Sea Rams, whose season runs from October through March with competitive meets on weekends. The Sea Rams are part of the Central Valley and Suburban Leagues and host USA Swim meets that Dzikowicz participates in.

However, swimming and cross country aren’t the only sports that have caught Dzikowicz’s interest. The AHS junior has also been part of a cross country mountain biking team called Helping Riders Realize Talent (HRRT) for the past six years. The team, coached by Heather Rizzi participates in five meets during the season that runs from March through June. HRRT is part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).

Dzikowicz participated in the Triathlon High School Championships at Clemson University Campus Beach in Clemson, South Carolina on April, 22, 2016 as part of the HRRT High School Triathlon Team from the Capital Region. She finished 51st out 66 competitors in the female division with an overall time of one hour, 24 minutes, and 34.70 seconds (1:24:34.70). The course was broken down into three segments: 750 meter swimming, 20 kilometer biking, and a 5 kilometer run. Dzikowicz has been active in cycling since 2010, and is planning to continue her involvement with triathlons in college. The event at Clemson was the inaugural event for high school athletes hosted by USA Triathlon.

Currently there are 13 colleges in the country that sponsor varsity triathlon teams and offer scholarships, among them are NCAA Division 1 schools in Arizona State University and East Tennessee State University. One college that Dzikowicz mentioned as a possibility was Daemen College of Amherst, NY, an NCAA Division 2 school that has a womens triathlon team.

In addition to being a three sport athlete, Kayla Dzikowicz finds time for other activities as a high school junior. She’s also a member of the Amsterdam High School Marching Rams band, and on the academic side has added three college level courses to her schedule. Dzikowicz’s college resume certainly will have plenty of merit when her high school days are done, but for now she’s happy to be back in the pool and doing something she enjoys.

“I love swimming,” Dzikowicz said. “It’s awesome being able to swim again. I’m back with my Sea Rams teammates and that’s the best part. They’re like my second family.”

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.