In a twist of irony for an accomplished swimmer at Southview, RJ Kondalski’s entrance into the sport began with a distaste for the color orange.
When Kondalski started swimming at age 7, the noncompetitive race at Highland Meadows came with an orange participation ribbon. A small collection began to grow, after which Kondalski went to his mother, Kim, and told her he was sick of the orange ribbon — he wanted to be more competitive.
The family obliged, signing him up for additional training the Sylvania Tsunami Swim Club, and RJ made good use of it.
“When he went back to Highland Meadows the next summer, he won just about everything he was in,” Kim said. “I think that’s when he really turned the corner.”
More than anything, persistence has been the secret for RJ. Bit by bit, he steadily improved with each year, and he now exits high school as a nationally recognized backstroker who is headed to Ohio State.
Earlier this year, RJ finished second (21.96 seconds) in the 50-yard backstroke at the National Club Swimming Association junior nationals to go with a pair of silver medals — one individual and one relay — from the state championship meet during the high school season.
The high finish at the club level earned RJ a spot on the NCSA’s junior national team and an April trip to Ireland to represent the United States at the Irish Open Swimming Championships.
The international trip offered a measure of validation for RJ, who found himself alongside the top swimmers in his age group.
“I was actually really nervous because I was with people I’ve looked up to in my age group, and I was like, ‘Dang, these people are really fast,’” he said. “I didn’t know if I would ever be able to swim on the same level as them, and I got there and realized they were just like me.”
After a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke at the 2017 state championships, RJ was courted by several major programs, including OSU, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh, among others. He chose the Buckeyes in part because of OSU’s dental school, which he sees a possible career path after college.
The Buckeyes were interested because of RJ’s consistent growth and potential to become faster with added training.
“Ohio State liked the fact he was doing baby steps,” said Kris Moellenberg, who has coached RJ for more than a decade. “He didn’t blow it out his freshman year and stay the same for the next three. It’s been a slow progression.”
Moellenberg said RJ is well-rounded enough to have been a state competitor in almost every event, but his future at the college level lies with backstroke.
After all the practices, early morning wake-up calls, and weightlifting sessions, backstroke became a calling, and eventually the ticket that led to a major Division I swimming program.
“I gradually grew to like backstroke more and more, and I continually improved,” RJ said. “It just came naturally and felt like something I was made to do. It’s like it chose me instead of me choosing it.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.