NORWALK — In praising the trajectory of one of her life-long teammate’s swimming career, Stephanie Czulewicz said of her sister Lauren, “She is so much better than everyone else that they move her up. She wanted to follow in my footsteps basically.”
Stephanie’s words were followed with a smile and chuckle, which is almost always the case. But don’t let the delivery mask the sincerity.
For one, Lauren admits to looking up to her sister, older by just one year. More importantly, Stephanie has been blazing a trail of distinctions and Lauren is quite literally following in her footsteps, or rather ripples.
That has been the case on the club, high school and college teams for which they have competed together, and was never more evident than last February, when the sisters were key contributors to Central Connecticut State University winning its first Northeast Conference championship in the sport since 2009.
Stephanie, as a sophomore, finished third in each of her three events, setting personal best times, while Lauren, a freshman, had a third-place finish and was in the pool for the final event, the 400 free relay in which the Blue Devils shattered the meet record.
“I couldn’t believe we won,” Lauren said. “When we touched the wall and knew we had won it was so awesome.”
Central coach Bill Ball said the championship would not have been attained without the accomplishments of the two Norwalk High School graduates, who started in the water at early ages and have excelled ever since.
“Both were integral to our success and I think they will be again next year,” Ball said. “If they perform like that again, we’ll have an excellent shot at repeating.”
In accounting for the Czulewicz’s strengths, he touched on a shared quality the girls agreed is a source of pride.
“Their work ethic is unbelievable,” Ball said. “Their parents have instilled a work ethic in the two of them; they strive to be good and they are not afraid to work to accomplish that. Both do a fantastic job for us. Stephanie stepped her game up in her second year and Lauren I think will do the same next year. When they get used to the training, and especially the weight training, which is something they didn’t do as club kids.”
Stephanie competes in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 backstroke, while Lauren’s events are the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle, as well as free relays.
“It’s probably a good thing that we don’t compete in the same events,” Stephanie said.
Lauren said their looks are just one other similarity to their swimming ability.
“I’m totally type A and she is totally type B,” Lauren said. “She is more outgoing.”
In a recent interview, Stephanie was usually first to answer shared questions.
“I feel since I’m older I have to take the lead,” Stephanie said. “We are with each other every day, which is great. I like being with her all the time. We only fight about typical sister stuff, like gas money, clothes and the car.”
Ball said he noticed a change in Stephanie this past season after a year of strength work. He said Lauren will likely experience the same growth this coming season.
“It is a big transition when you add a weight program,” he said. “It’s a pretty intense, high level that we do at Central that other schools don’t do. It has been a major plus for us.”
Stephanie, who is passionate about lifting and working out and would like to eventually become a strength and conditioning coach at the college level,” said the work she put in out of the water helped her in it.
“It really helped me get stronger,” Stephanie said. “When I was a freshman I was just getting introduced to weight training. As a sophomore I was more used to it, if that makes any sense, and I really thought it would help us in the pool so I worked really hard at that. And it did. It worked for the whole team. I’m lifting more now offseason and doing more cross training and dry-land work.”
Lauren has a double major in marketing and accounting. She hasn’t decided on a career path, but has an interesting spin on her current and future plans swimming.
“I love it, I love competing,” Lauren said. “But the day I graduate I’m not touching a pool with lines on the bottom again.”
That is three years away. Ball said if the sisters continue on their current course, the name Czulewicz will forever be associated with swimming at Central.
“I think Stephanie has a shot if she continues to improve the way she did this year to break our school record in the 400 IM and win the championship in that,” Ball said. “And Lauren is just a great sprinter. We are going to be counting on them a lot again.”