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Swabik Doesn’t Let COVID-19 Derail Decathlon Dreams

John Swabik, left, and Steve Sipior reset the mats after an attempted pole vault at Swabik’s Sherman home late last week. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

SHERMAN — Steve Sipior has trained hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes over the years as Jamestown’s track and field coach.

Never has he seen an athlete build a pole vault pit in his backyard.

Until last summer, Sipior had never trained Sherman’s John Swabik.

“Each coach is lucky if they get one kid who has dedicated so much,” Sipor said late last week while at Swabik’s home. “I don’t even think a dedicated kid would build a pole vault pit in their yard. He knows what he wants. It’s refreshing to see someone who has a goal to work toward.”

One of the most well-rounded athletes in the area, Swabik burst onto the track and field scene in the spring of 2019 with the Clymer/Sherman/Panama Wolfpack. As a sophomore that year, he won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division II pentathlon title with 3,411 points.

John Swabik, left, and Steve Sipior review the video of one of Swabik’s vaults during a practice session last week at Swabik’s Sherman home. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

That summer, as a member of the Chautauqua Striders, Swabik took it five events further when he competed in the decathlon. At the USA Track & Field Youth Outdoor Championships, then 16 years old he dominated the small field at Durham County Stadium to the tune of 5,660 points.

In the process, Swabik qualified for the Hershey National Junior Olympic Championships at Sacramento State University and there he earned the silver medal in the Boys 15-16 Division with 6,029 points.

Not a bad resume for a kid who hadn’t begun his junior year for the Wildcats.

Things only got better from there.

Swabik was an integral piece of Clymer/Sherman/Panama’s football team, which won its second straight NYSPHSAA Class D championship last fall.

The son of Michelle and John Swabik hoped to build upon his success from there, leading Sherman’s basketball team to a Section VI Class D championship before COVID-19 changed the world as we know it.

“If coronavirus hadn’t happened, I was on pace to have a ring in all three sports that year,” Swabik said last week. “That hurt, for sure.”

Swabik and his Wildcats teammates lost their shot at a state title when NYSPHSAA canceled the final three rounds of the playoffs.

“I would have rather lost a game instead of wondering what we could’ve done,” Swabik said. ” … We scouted that team. We were pumped. We were matching up well.”

The soon-to-be senior also lost his opportunity to repeat as a state champion in track and field when spring sports were canceled one week into the season.

“I was amazed when I came up here with how comfortable he was,” Sipior said. “I thought he was going to be starting off way behind … and he’s actually ahead of where he was last year.”

Swabik was left to train for sports and/or events even though nobody knew when they might happen again.

He’s had plenty of help along the way. In addition to Sipior, Less Utegg, Sheldon Battle, Dave Reinhardt, Tom Priester and Moses Dennis have all physically trained or given Swabik advice along the way.

“There are 10 events so if you have a guy for every one or two events, that’s a lot of people,” Swabik said. “It’s always good to have help. The more opinions the better.”

There were plenty of open fields for Swabik to use for running or hurdling events, but some other events required some work.

The family acquired college-sized shotputs and discuses. Swabik’s father helped fashion a high-jump apparatus out of some materials laying around the house.

But the pole vault was the hard one.

Luckily, a local school came through with some old equipment that no longer passed for regulation. The Swabiks then drove over three hours to find additional padding to make it safe.

“This idea has been brewing since last year. We never made it happen because pole vault pits are so expensive,” Swabik said. “We ended up scoring some mats, put a little time into it and it worked out great.”

The final product can be seen in the yard by the Swabiks’ Park Street home.

Sometimes the runway gets a little wet and they have to use some kitty litter to dry it out, but judging by the fact the elastic practice bar is set at Swabik’s personal-best height from last summer, the training is paying off.

“When Michelle said they had a built a pit, there was no way I couldn’t come and help out,” Sipior said. ” … He’s insanely strong. He’s got the body awareness of a diver or gymnast. He’s a sprinter and he’s a distance runner. The versatility he has … he can do anything.”

Football is Swabik’s first love.

Competing for a state basketball title with his childhood friends would be a dream.

But track and field — namely the decathlon — will likely take Swabik the furthest in life, from a free education to maybe even some day competing on the international stage.

“Every coach wonders how a kid ends up that athletic,” Sipior said. “When (John) came out, God decided he wanted to make a decathlete.”

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