Swimming with the Banana Slugs01/28/2021 10:00AM ● By Luis Arjona
By: Luis Arjona Photos by: Aaron Garcia
Dean Kondziolka is a decorated swimmer with years of unrivaled experience under his swim cap. Originally from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Kondziolka began swimming at the age of 9, and the sport became a gateway to see the world. Having seven Canadian National Champion titles and claim to the 50-meter sprint along with the 100-meter freestyle, Kondziolka soon was a serious threat in the swimming circuit. He swam for the University of California–Berkeley from 1991 to 1992. He then transferred to the University of Lethbridge, which provided the training changes needed for Kondziolka to improve and compete internationally. Transferring allowed him to win bronze at the 1993 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Kobe, Japan.
Now, we are happy to have Kondziolka in the Coastal Bend. Kondziolka, like several migratory species, desired warmer weather with a beautiful view. Anyone having lived above the 49th parallel knows the ennui that comes with shorter winter days. With the climate affecting his behavior, attitude, and energy, Kondziolka took a chance on Corpus Christi to serve as his panacea.
After some time in the Coastal Bend, Kondziolka created the High Performance Aquatic Club in 2017. A relatively new venture, it’s been holding up well throughout its infancy and the turbulence of 2020. But this independently run club is working to create the next generation of swimmers through the leadership of Kondziolka.
Open to anyone from 6 years old to 19, the High Performance Aquatic Club boasts a distinctive mascot: The Banana Slugs, inspired by the shirt John Travolta wears in Pulp Fiction. "I wanted something people would remember and to have fun with it," Kondziolka says. "If I can remember that t-shirt from the ’90s, then it is sure to stick with you."
Throughout 2020, several obstacles created strains for sports at every level – but Kondziolka mentioned that there was not a single case traced back to swimming pools during the pandemic's apex. During restrictions and closures, the team got creative, conducting workouts off Ocean Drive and doing plyometric work on the sea wall's steps and conditioning around the area. To get swim work in, Kondziolka simulated swimming pool standards out by Emerald Beach Hotel. The markers in the water allowed the Banana Slugs to not skip a beat by training in the Gulf.
The mentality, knowledge, and passion Kondziolka brings are generating renewed vigor. He coached a handful of times privately in Canada while taking a step back from the swim circuit after the 1996 Olympic trials, but did not become a dedicated coach until he started High Performance Aquatic Club. The Coastal Bend is lucky to have such an unrivaled talent giving back to the community. Kondziolka uses swimming to teach work ethic and provide a positive experience. "I would like for people to know that they can have a gratifying sport that doesn't require a ball."
Nonetheless, when discussing his athletes, he expresses his gratitude for having a group of loyal and dedicated swimmers. He makes sure to underscore the importance of their work ethic, and shares the mindset of a champion with his swimmers; to always be present and make sure they aim for excellence. After all, to be the best, one must learn from the best. The next generation of swimmers has that opportunity now available to them in the Coastal Bend.