July 17, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

It’s difficult to keep Incarnate Word University swimmer Aliaksandr Yatsko out the water, and with so much success in the pool it’s easy to figure out why.

Yatsko, a rising junior at UIW, began swimming at the age of four in his hometown of Minsk, Belarus, and developed into a successful distance swimmer over the years.  He spent two years training at Belarus’ Republic Olympic College, and then was invited to be a member of the nation’s international team after placing in the final of the 400 meters at the European Junior Championships.

“I spent two years with them, but there was really no opportunity for a future or to develop myself,” said Yatsko.  “My dad said why don’t you try something overseas?”

Yatsko began researching schools abroad and eventually found an opportunity at Incarnate Word, which began sponsoring a varsity men’s swimming team two years ago. 

“Belarus isn’t a very developed country, so unless you’re extraordinarily talented or your parents are rich it’s hard to advance in swimming – I didn’t have either of those, so this was a great opportunity,” said Yatsko. 

Although he had visited many countries, he had never been to the United States before enrolling at UIW, but was intrigued by being able to contribute to the team from the beginning, and was attracted to the mild weather in San Antonio, Texas.

“At first it was a bit scary because I didn’t know anybody,” said Yatsko.  “I’ve been to many countries, but not overseas.  It took awhile to adjust and find friends.  I didn’t really have a problem with English, but it was still something new for me.”

In addition to the cultural adjustments, there were also differences in how practices were run and there is much more of a team atmosphere in collegiate swimming.

“Back home, you pretty much are just training for yourself,” said Yatsko.  “You represent the country in some European Championships and the World Cup.  Here, it doesn’t matter whether you’re first or second you work for the team and contribute your best.”

Yatsko has seemed to adjust easily to the changes, and has won back-to-back Division II 500 yard freestyle championships in his first two seasons with the Cardinals.  He has been named the school’s Male Athlete of the Year two straight times, and last season he placed third in the 200 freestyle, fifth in the 1,000 freestyle and fifth in the 1,650 freestyle at nationals.

In fact, in his two seasons at UIW, Yatsko has never lost a race when he has competed in the 500 yard freestyle.  He won seven events at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships, and earned the league’s Male Swimmer of the Year award.

Yatsko is enjoying being a student as well, and carries a 3.29 GPA as a computer information systems major. 

“Over here, you have to be on the move with school,” said Yatsko.  “I like the combination of everything.  If I do well at swimming, I want to do well at school and vice versa.  It inspires me, and I constantly am improving not only in swimming results, but in the classroom.  That’s the big difference in the systems between the two countries – giving 100 percent to everything.”

During the summer, Yatsko keeps himself busy training, lifeguarding and serving as a summer league swim coach in San Antonio – never far from the pool.

“It’s really hard for me to stay out of the water for a couple days,” said Yatsko.  “I just have to get in at least once a day and feel the water.”