Ursuline’s Tomko finds success despite being solo athlete

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

John Tomko played Horton the Elephant, who spoke those aforementioned words, in Ursuline High School’s production of “Seussical, The Musical” last May.

The Ursuline senior stands 5 feet, 7 inches, not particularly tall for a state-caliber swimmer. By the way, Tomko is the Irish’s only swimmer.

“The first two years were more about adapting to the whole swimming alone situation,” Tomko said. “I really never experienced that at all throughout grade school. Coming into high school, freshman and sophomore year, were more about adjusting.

“Coming into my junior year, I was dissolutioned with the whole sport of swimming because of swimming alone and not necessarily making it to state freshman and sophomore year like I wanted to.”

Tomko, who competes in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, spent his first two seasons miffed about his season ending at the Division II district at Cleveland State University. The state meet at the C.T. Branin Natatorium seemed like something unattainable.

He was close to making state his sophomore year, finishing 14th in both events, but an at-large berth to state wasn’t meant to be.

“I think both of us has tunnel vision on the 500,” Tomko’s coach, Craig Yaniglos, said. “What happened is his 200 time really improved his sophomore year. That tripped me on to the fact that we need not to train so specifically. I did some different things in the training process, which helped him tremendously. He viewed the 500 as his nemesis. Now, because of the way we altered the training, he really loves the 500.

“He said, ‘I’m going to go out there and have fun with this.’ It used to be he’d get so nervous in the 500 that it would drive him insane. He looks at everything differently because he’s prepared better via the training we’ve done. Anything I throw at him, he smashes everything and has fun with everything because he feels so much more prepared through the training.”

Last season, Tomko broke through and made it to Canton. He finished 14th in the Division II 200 and 17th in the 500.

“He’s always tapered really well,” Yaniglos said. “By the end of the season, we’ve got our goals set. If he has the times we’re talking about, he’ll definitely be top eight in both.”

So far, Tomko’s best times are 1:47.21 in the 200 and 4:52.89 in the 500. His 500 times have come down this season and his best time was at the Canton Christmas Invitational last month.

“I think I find this year, more than ever, more people to motivate me more with the Hubbard Swim Club,” Tomko said. “Most of them are not high school swimmers. Most of them are in seventh, eighth grade. It’s a few people I swim with and they motivate me very well. I think I’ve grown more comfortable, more than ever before. That’s contributed to my success, especially making it to state last year.”

He is successful, despite being an individual swimmer.

“Yes, it can be intimidating sometimes, but if anything I feed off of the intimidation – knowing they aren’t looking at me as their high competition,” Tomko said. “I’m not very well known. They don’t look at Ursuline and say ‘That’s a really fast swimming school.’ We’ve got to watch this kid. They see people from Hawken and they know that’s a fast swimming school. He’s going to go fast. I kind of have an upperhand almost. I’m not well known. I’m more under the radar. I like coming out of the woodwork and pouncing. Knowing I can get into events, not necessarily in the top 10, but be able to pass up people that are seeded ahead of me. I always perform better in that way.

“Being under the radar, it can be more intimidating having giant teams to face, but individual it motivates me to show Ursuline’s not a swimming school, but I am a swimmer – a good swimmer. You don’t have to be from a big school with a lot of teamwork and whatnot, just to be a fast swimmer.”

And, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”