Through The Eyes

An Oakland Athletics site

The Other Side Of The World

By Marko Khotynetskyi

From the very beginning, my mom has been my biggest supporter. She was the one who encouraged me to start swimming, and the one who has helped me navigate to where I am now.

It’s incredible how much you realize you rely on your mom when you move away from home, let alone the other side of the world.

Thankfully, because of technology, it doesn’t matter where I am, I can still keep in touch with her. But it still isn’t easy. I only get to see her about three times a year, which can be hard.

But when you want to be great at something, that’s the price you pay. My mom and I both understand what’s necessary to get yourself to the next level. And, I’m currently leaping at the opportunities.

Although, if you were to look at nine-year-old me, you never would’ve expected I was much of an athlete.

Getting Active

Becoming a swimmer was somewhat unexpected. Growing up, I wasn’t very active and, honestly, kind of on the bigger end. 

My mom started to notice, so she suggested I pick a sport.

Soccer or swimming?

Running up and down the field for 90 minutes? Nah. I’ll try swimming.

It was a struggle at first. I just wasn’t used to the activity. Even after I started to show signs of potential and they put me with some better swimmers, I was getting picked on by some of the kids who had been doing it for a long time.

I went as far as faking sickness because I didn’t want to go. My mom wasn’t having it. Like most moms, she could see right through my excuses. 

I’m paying for these lessons, so you’re going!

I’m glad she pushed me the way she did because it helped turn me into a swimmer with real potential.

 So, when the call of a new opportunity came around, I had to make a difficult transition that would affect us both.

Moving Out

As I continued to progress, my coach suggested that if I wanted to become even better, I should attend this academy in Kyiv.

Kyiv was a few hours away from my home. So to attend, it meant I had to move away from my mom and live in the dormitories.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’m super close to my mom and, at the time, couldn’t imagine not being near her. And it wasn’t just her that I’d miss. It would also impact my grandma, my aunt, and my two cousins (who are like brothers). Moving away meant not seeing them for long periods of time.

It was a lot to ask of an 8th grader.

But after a lot of thought, my mom and I decided that going to the academy was the best decision for me. I’d go and continue to train because it gave me more opportunities, not just in the pool, but in life.

And, as it turns out, I really enjoyed my time there. Not only did I make some amazing friends, but I also started to get recognized for my achievements.

It’s because of those friends that my next door opened.

Heading Overseas

As I neared the end of my time at the academy, I began to realize that the Olympic dream, the one we pushed and trained for at the academy, may not be what I wanted. While I’m sure that the glory that comes with it is terrific, it just wasn’t something I wanted to pursue.

Still, I knew I could use my swimming ability as a way to get ahead.

One of my teammates, Danylo, had heard that there was an opportunity to earn U.S. college scholarships just by being a great swimmer.

Danylo got in touch with Oakland and went over there to study and compete. After his first year, he encouraged me to do the same. He put in a good word for me, and the recruiting process was set in motion.

Of course, my mom struggled with the idea. Going to Kyiv was one thing. Going to the other side of the world was another. But she knew deep down that this gave me a chance to earn an education and continue to swim as well.

And well, the rest is history.

So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Michigan. It seems that people here as a whole are just generally more friendly than they are in Ukraine. 

I’ve also seen some great success here in my first year. I was awarded Oakland’s student-athlete of the month in January after earning 14 first-place finishes and named the league’s swimmer of the week three times. 

To close out my freshman year, I even earned Swimmer of the Meet, Freshman of the Year, and Athlete of the Year Honors at the Horizon League Championships, which marked the 42nd consecutive conference title on the men’s side.

It’s also been comforting to have people I know here. Danylo is a teammate, so I get to see him every day. 

It’s important to have people I can trust and people who know what it’s like to be so far away from family.

Still, not seeing my mom is the hardest part for me. And, I know she misses me dearly too. But I call every day. Sometimes twice. Even when I know I can’t make it to the phone, I’ll text her and let her know I’m okay and that I love her.

Even millions of miles away, she’s still there supporting me and helping me get through the day.

That’s what moms are for.