On March 22 at the NCAA championships, Marcin Tarczynski was basking in glory. Led by his 200 IM individual title, Tarczynski propelled Cal to the NCAA title in back-to-back years.
The crowd at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash. fervently cheered Tarczynski. But when he turned around to look at the crowd, all of them were strangers. None of his family members from Poland showed up.
And that’s the way he like it.
“I haven’t told my parents to come here because I feel like I am so busy here, and I wouldn’t be able to spend time with them,” Tarczynski says. “I have been away from home ever since I was young.”
All his life, Tarczynski had two spheres of thought in his mind: The swimming side and the personal side.
He has been accustomed to the divide between family and swimming. Swimming is his dream, and many times over, it forced him to relinquish the family bond for the pool.
Since his high school years, Tarczynski carried a mindset of professionalism to his swimming career. The individual nature of swimming has made him callused from mixing together his two lives.
Tarczynski wanted to shield his family from the cutthroat environment of international swimming. So, Tarczynski drew a fine line between them.
“Professional swimming is more about individuals, not as much as team, and there is less support,” Tarczynski says. “People are not as close.”
Since his childhood days in Warsaw, Poland, Tarczynski displayed his athletic prowess to his family. It didn’t take long for them to realize that Marcin was a gifted swimmer.
At a very young age, he began competing in the Junior Euro Swim championships and the National Poland championships. As a teenager, he was already dedicating most of his time to training.
“Swimming is not like most team sports, where athletes take longer time to mature and develop,” Cal men’s swimming coach David Durden says. “Swimmers can hit a peak at the age of 15 and their skills supersede their age.”
Unlike homegrown stars in the United States, teenage athletes in Europe dedicate themselves solely to their sport. In many cases, they leave their homes and family behind at a young age to acquire the best training possible for their career.
During his high school years, his parents decided that he would move to a swimming facility in Madrid, Spain for the best trainers and environment possible.
Even though he had to depart due his swimming aspirations, he soon suffered from homesickness. Despite Madrid and Warsaw being less than 3,000 miles apart, for Tarczynski, it felt more like 300,000 miles.
“When I moved to Spain, I would go home every month,” Tarczynski says. “I got very homesick, and it was a crazy transition to make.”
While dedicating himself solely to training, he had to deal with a new environment and break the language barrier. Without the protection of his family, he had to mature in a hurry and assimilate himself into the rigid, dog-eat-dog world of competitive swimming.
At such a tender age, he had to learn to be independent and deal with recurring thoughts of homesickness. He is still close and and talks to his family back home regularly, but he had to learn how to deal with their physical absence.
There were countless swimmers from foreign lands living in Spain like him, and they called themselves “men of visitors”. They all left their families in Portugal, Poland, United States and other countries to pursue the same dream.
Even though he trained in Spain, Tarczynski still had to travel around the world to compete. He participated in countless tournaments and meets in a myriad of different countries to compete against the best swimmers worldwide.
“I have travelled to South Africa, United States, London for the Olympics and almost every single country in Europe for the sake of swimming,” Tarczynski says. “It was a difficult transition having to pick up on languages.”
In the summer of 2010 in Spain, Tarczynski trained under coach Bart Kizierowski, a Cal alumnus. Kizierowski introduced Tarczynski to the idea of coming to America.
For Tarczynski, Kizierowski was the inspiration and informant into collegiate swimming programs and experience in America. After years of spending in the world of competitive swimming, Tarczynski was attracted to the collegiate life of balancing athletics and academics and emphasizing the team spirit.
With the craving of finding a swimming community to call his own, Tarczynski committed to Durden’s program that summer. The team did everything from the start to make Tarczynski, the swimming nomad, feel at home in Berkeley
“I was moved by the fact that right when I got off the plane, my teammates called to pick me up (from the airport),” Tarczynski says. “My life is more structured in Berkeley. The friendly attitude translated into the whole team, and the team spirit here at Cal is something I have never seen.”
Now as junior, Tarczynski slowly developed into a leader amongst his teammates. He leads by action, not by words — he has been an exemplary workhorse that is always last out of the pool after practice.
He is driven by his own self-discoveries and his dedication to swimming. After living years away from his homeland, Tarczynski has become an independent person always determined to go beyond even his ultimate goals.
This past summer in London, Tarczynski reached his lifelong goal of becoming an Olympian for the Polish national men’s swimming team. Despite not reaching the finals, Tarczynski reminisces the experiences with fondness.
His bildungsroman journey from Poland to Spain to Berkeley were all to one day reach the Olympics. By separating his swimming career from his family and sacrificing years of his childhood, he followed a path that was callous but rewarding.
When his professional swimming career is over, Tarczynski hopes to settle down in the United States and pursue a career as a doctor.
While swimming split Tarczynski from his family for extended periods, it has given him new opportunities.
After years of roaming around the world making a name for himself, he has finally found a home away from home.
Hunter He covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]