WAYNE – At first, Aaron Khodarkovsky wanted to be like his brother. Then he wanted to go faster.
The junior from Wayne Hills took down his sibling’s school record and ended a long title drought in one special Saturday. Khodarkovsky was a double-winner at the Passaic County Swimming Championships, getting first-place times in the 200 and 500 freestyles. Khodarkovsky said he was inspired years ago by watching his older brother Michael Sungurov, coincidentally the team’s last winner in 2013. But the roles were reversed Saturday at Passaic Tech and Khodarkovsky made sure his brother was watching.
“When I saw him win, I was like that has to be me,” Khodarkovsky recalled. “I can’t let my brother best me. I see all his records on the Wayne Hills record board and say that I have to beat him. I beat his 500 free time today.”
Khodarkovsky’s lineage suggests that he was bound for the water. His mother Jane Sungurov grew up in Moscow and was one the top distance swimmers in Russia, earning a scholarship at Northeastern. But Sungurov encouraged her son to be open to different sports instead of specializing in one. So Khodarkovsky tried basketball as a young kid and played football and volleyball during his freshman year. It was only three years ago when he decided to become a year-round swimmer. He believes his experiences have helped him in the water, even if it makes him an outlier among his peers.
“I realized that I have the build for a swimmer,” Khodarkovsky said. “Football wouldn’t work out later on since I’m pretty slim. I work the hardest in swimming so I figured that maybe this is the right way to go.”
What makes Khodarkovsky’s day even more impressive is that he isn’t a long-distance swimmer by trade. He did the backstroke for the last two years and often swims the 200 IM. It’s possible that Khodarkovsky would have been favored in either of those races Saturday, but instead he went for a different challenge. With perennial champion Evan Custance now at Delaware, the distance freestyles were suddenly in play.
“He really wanted to achieve it,” coach Jacqueline Bayliss said. “He put his mind to it, working hard in the offseason every day in the pool. That commitment is what sets him apart.”
Khodarkovsky wasn’t alone in his celebration. Wayne Hills picked up another title with a surprise win from Marc Sim in the breaststroke. The senior was determined to go out a winner after never finishing higher than third in the event. His breakthrough finally came Saturday with a school-record 1:02.67 time and a victory over defending-champion Aman Nitro of Passaic Tech.
“Last year, I promised myself that I have to win,” Sim said. “I have to win my senior year. Before I was talking to the first-seed Aman Nitro. I was like, ‘Let’s just put on a show.’ I think we delivered the show.”
For Wayne Hills, those wins delivered a statement that it isn’t to be taken lightly. The Patriots haven’t been a key player in recent years, but jumped from 192 points in 2018 to 277 points on Saturday. After a period of instability on the coaching front, the program looks to be on the right path in the fourth year under Bayliss.
“We’re finally putting Wayne Hills on the map again,” Khodarkovsky said. “The past few years, we haven’t been that strong so to see some success as a team is so uplifting.”