NORWALK, Conn. – Stephanie Czulewicz and Mallory Ham became teammates on the Norwalk Zeus Swim Team nearly a decade ago. Now, the longtime friends are co-captains of the Norwalk-Brien McMahon co-op team and are savoring their final season together.
Their bond goes deeper than any swimming pool. They are swimming soul sisters, girls who have shared ups and downs, wins and losses, tears of joy and sorrow. They attend different schools but are otherwise inseparable.
“We pretty much do everything together,’’ said Ham, who attends Brien McMahon. “We shop together. We go to the movies together. We sit on the couch together. She’s probably at my house more than she’s at her own.”
Both girls laughed when they recalled their first meeting. “I came over from another team; it was her second year with Zeus,’’ said Czulewicz, who attends Norwalk High. “She told me she was mad, because I was in the same lane as her.”
“I said, ‘OK, I’m not letting this girl go in front of me,’’’ Ham said. “By the end of warmups, she was ahead of me and lapping me. I was so mad at her.”
But the two quickly became friends. “The first time we hung out was after a swim meet,’’ Czulewicz said. “We went back to her house and had a little pizza party to celebrate the meet.”
Since then, the girls have shared the roller-coaster of emotions that comes with growing up. They endured together the anguish last year when the high school swim program was threatened by budget cuts. Ham was one of the leaders in fighting the cuts. “We’ve definitely been through a lot, but here we are today,’’ said Czulewicz, who finished sixth last year in the 500 freestyle at the Class LL championships.
Ham and Czulewicz have drawn their teammates into their circle, and that unity is apparent during competitions. Watching a Norwalk swim meet is akin to having nearly 30 sisters screaming for each other at all times.
“It’s a family atmosphere with this team,’’ coach Rebecca Rubin said. “We all work together and try our best. That’s their job — to foster that unity. They really strive to represent what we’re all about, and I think they’ve done a great job at that.”
Ham and Czulewicz also realize the hourglass is running out on their time as teammates. In weeks, the high school season will be over. They will remain teammates with Zeus, which is based more on individual achievement. Their work as team captains will be done.
Ham and Czulewicz promise to remain tight even after they head their separate ways to colleges.
“It doesn’t feel real,’’ Ham said. “It doesn’t feel like our senior meet is going to be in three weeks. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t imagine myself leaving her in nine months.”