Henry Koloc, Oscar Ruff, Owen Howell, and Christian Dantey are some of the top racers and role models on the Foxes swimming team. However, they also share a story that was set into motion long before they got to high school. The foursome first met as kids when they spent their summers on the swim team at the local Community Swim Club, but surely it never crossed their minds then how long those friendships would last, nor how much they would impact their lives, even beyond the pool.
Henry, now a senior bound for Princeton University in the fall, recalls how they first connected.
“I remember meeting Owen for the first time in a breaststroke crescendo relay, and we hit it off behind the block,” says the co-captain of the Foxes boys team. “I remember hearing about Christian as a 10-year-old who was dominating the pool, and I had to get to know him. I met Oscar through (the) Community (Swim Club) as well. But regardless of how we met, our real connection started during our endless practices and relays for the next eight years.”
Owen, now a junior, also has a unique recollection of that slice of time.
“The Community Swim Club coach had all of the little kids play a partner game, and me and Christian were the last two without a partner,” says Owen. “We’ve been best friends to this day.”
Being anyone’s last choice would never happen to them today. Both athletes are quite accomplished – Christian is the reigning WPIAL Class 3A champion in the 200 freestyle and has automatically qualified for all eight solo events for this season’s tournament. At a recent home meet versus rival North Allegheny, Owen broke a Fox Chapel Area High School pool record in the 200 IM. Owen, Henry, and Oscar all are early automatic qualifiers in at least one event for the upcoming championships, which will be held in March.
A Dream Team
During their preteen years, and as their swimming prowess intensified, the foursome were teamed up by a coach at Community to swim the 200 medley relay event together. They became such a dominant force that they were nicknamed “The Dream Team.”
When explaining the moniker, Oscar, a senior, recalls a story that’s now humorous to the group.
“Following a victory one summer, we were told that we had just set a new record for the largest swim league in our area,” says Oscar. “We got our pictures taken, and posts were made on the team’s social media. A full month later, our coach pulled us aside and broke some bad news – there was a mistake with the timesheet, and we hadn’t actually broken the record. Thinking back on the moment, we can’t help but laugh now.”
Once the boys entered high school, the opportunity rarely arose for them to swim that event together again, but with Henry and Oscar headed to college in the fall, Foxes swimming head coach Matt Mauclair says he’d like to recreate that childhood lineup at some point this season. The guys are excited about that possibility, but it will be a bittersweet, sentimental end of an era.
Support & Motivation
Years from now, the quartet won’t remember every race they won or lost, or every medal they earned. What they will remember is how it felt to always have a blanket of support around them, and how none of them sacrificed their friendships for individual ambitions.
Christian, a junior, says he can’t remember a time when Henry, Owen, and Oscar have not been part of his life, or formative influences in making him the person he is today.
“Through our friendship, I’ve learned that trying to overcome adversity by yourself can make things harder than they have to be,” says Christian. “Asking a friend for help, or even just venting to a teammate, can help you tremendously.”
He continues to explain what he has learned from his buddies.
“These men possess so many strengths. Owen, who leads by example, is undoubtedly one of the best leaders on our team. Oscar is one of the strongest people I know. He has been through so much adversity, yet he still shows up at practices and gives it his all. Finally, there’s Henry, who is, by far, the smartest person I know. Even with all of his accolades and achievements, he still manages to stay humble.”
Oscar details some of the challenges he’s faced and how a little help from his friends has made a big difference in his mindset and well-being.
“At the end of sophomore year, I ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis,” says Oscar. “With this condition, I can’t digest fats as a normal person should. This leads to problems getting calories and energy in my system, making practices much more difficult. Although this was difficult, I never felt truly alone because of the support from all my friends on the swim team, specifically Henry, Christian, and Owen. Through their understanding of my situation, I can stay motivated in the pool and push to get faster. I know they will always have my back, and I trust them with anything.”
Henry adds, “I think the most important part of our friendship is that we’ve always been there for each other, especially in moments when things went wrong, and we got through them together. Competition has never gotten in the way of our bond because we celebrate each other’s victories and stay strong through each other’s losses. Supporting each other is what has kept our friendship so strong. I couldn’t ask for better motivators in and out of the pool.”
He cites an instance when his friends made a big difference in him pushing him through a tough practice.
“One time we had to complete a set of 40 x 200s and, as you can imagine, no one was thrilled about that,” Henry says. “But I was able to rely on my three friends for all two hours of pain. We were able to not only encourage each other, but also keep each other accountable.”
Witnessing that positivity and their resulting success has influenced the entire team, including their coach.
“The four guys have been working so hard and have been just phenomenal,” says coach Mauclair of the group’s efforts this season. “It’s very refreshing to see the bond with these athletes, not only on the playing field, but in life. The common love is swimming; however, each of these young men has a uniqueness to them that carries outside of swimming. They might go in different directions after high school, but their friendship will carry with them for a lifetime.”
When reflecting on how these friendships have impacted his life, Henry says, “Even though I’m going off to college next year, I’m never going to forget the power of growing up with people who treat their friends’ goals like their own. I’m going to take the friendly competition that these boys have shown me to every experience at college.”
The group is still hoping to celebrate one last hurrah this summer by returning to Community Swim Club as lifeguards. It’s something they’ve done together for the past few years and, at least symbolically, there would be nothing more memorable than to close this chapter than returning to the place where their life-changing journey began so many years ago.