I’ve always considered myself lucky to find what I fell in love with at such a young age,” says American swimmer Ivan Puskovitch. When he says “young,” he means it: his mother introduced him to the water when he was only a few weeks old, floating him around in their backyard pool. By the age of five, Puskovitch had joined the swim team. “I had such a knack for it. I picked up everything quicker. The instructor was just moving me through the ranks. Even when it was mommy and kid classes, me and my mom would be on our own because I was just picking it up so much faster than the other kids,” Puskovitch explains.
Puskovitch continued to stay ahead of the curve and, he says, “By seven or eight, I knew swimming was what I wanted to do.” At ten, Puskovitch broke a national age group record and when he explains that moment, it’s hard not to feel excited and hear the roar of an elated local crowd: “I touched the wall and I was spinning—dizzy! I see the time and it clicks. No one was expecting it. Everyone was going crazy! I only knew about the record one month before and I thought about it every day. It was surreal. It was the biggest natural high.” For Puskovitch, it would become more than a record-breaking moment. “That was the moment where me, my mum, and my coach decided something could happen here. He’s got the potential, he’s got the motivation, he’s got the desire to do it.”
From one strength to another, after the pool season ended, Puskovitch’s mother asked if he wanted to try a regional open water race the next day. “I was apprehensive,” Puskovitch remembers, “but I fell in love with it. I felt like I was in my element. To jump into my first open water race and win by over a minute, that just felt amazing. I didn’t lose an open water race from ten until I was fifteen, when I went to open water nationals.” Puskovitch is still proud of that winning streak but even when it was broken, he didn’t consider that he had really lost. Competing against older national team swimmers, some of them ten or twelve years his senior, Puskovitch’s performance still qualified him for junior world championships and his first national team. “It wasn’t defeating not to win,” he affirms. “I knew I was younger and there were ways to be a winner without touching the wall first.”
Puskovitch continued to race open water events, traveling across the US and overseas. Seeing his idols race (including THEMAGIC5 open water champion Jordan Wilimovsky) and racking up races and wins, Puskovitch continued to be inspired by both what he saw and experienced and only continued to improve. “I’ve been doing ten kilometers a day since I was nine. A lot of people didn’t agree with it, they thought it was wrong, but I liked it. When I broke that record, I decided I was going to pour myself into it.
Now a swimmer and student at the University of Southern California, Puskovitch’s dedication to his sport has his dream within reach. “My long term goal is still to be a pro swimmer. After college, I don’t want that to be the end of it. I love it; I want to be able to support myself and compete,” he says. “I’ve never doubted swimming. I feel like I was born to have a place in the sport.”