Where Dreams Come True

October 10, 2000|By SHARON ROBB Staff Writer

CORAL SPRINGS — Two years ago, Vlad Polyakov wanted to quit swimming.

The St. Thomas junior was living in Moscow with his parents, going to school and training at the Red Army Club, one of Russia's top sports clubs.

"It was always my dream to be a champion and swim in the Olympics some day," Polyakov said.

The Kazakhstan-born swimmer was a quick study. He started in a recreation program at age 10. The second day he was put in the national program for elite swimmers. In two weeks, he had learned every stroke. His first event was the 1,500-meter freestyle.

"That's the Russian system, working really hard at these big distances, always putting in big mileage at a young age," Polyakov said. "The coach kept telling my parents she was going to make me a champion. But I was training so hard I was getting tired and losing energy. After a while I was exhausted. I couldn't stand on my feet after practice."

Galina Polyakov was concerned her son was being overtrained and would burn out before he had the chance to accomplish his goals. She sent him to the United States for a vacation in June 1999.

"At the time I left Russia I was sick mentally, I didn't want to go through another hard practice," Polyakov said. "I was so dead I was thinking about quitting swimming."

While visiting friends in South Florida, Polyakov met Michael Goldenberg, a former Russian water polo player and now a top-ranked water polo official and coach. Goldenberg took him to the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex and introduced him to four-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg, who said he was welcome to train with his swimmers before he went home. "I loved it ... it was so different from Russia," Polyakov said.

After finishing eighth in the Russian junior nationals and being forced to train in a rigorous training camp, Polyakov returned to the United States for good. He enrolled at Taravella last fall as a sophomore and sat out the season with a foot injury. He transferred to St. Thomas in the spring.

Polyakov, 16, trains with Lohberg and the Coral Springs Swim Team. He is the county's fastest high school breaststroker and is favored to win the state title at next month's state meet.

"The boy is a tiger in practice," St. Thomas coach Alex Pussieldi said. "He is a great swimmer. He learns everything so fast."

His parents and younger sister, a tennis player, remain in Moscow. Polyakov lives with Goldenberg, his wife, Irina, and their two children. They are his legal guardians.

"It's like having a third child," Goldenberg said. "Why not? He needed someplace to stay and it just happened Vlad's parents are friends with someone I know. He is a swimmer with a good future."

Polyakov, an honor student, learned to speak English in one year. His father bought him a used car after he learned how to drive in one week. While he misses his family, he says there is a reason he moved to the United States.

"I am learning every day," Polyakov said. "It's so different here I cannot describe. This is paradise. ... There is so much opportunity. I am so very lucky. Dreams come true in this country."

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