It was December when Russian Olympic hopeful Maxim Mulokov finished a swim camp in Arizona and made an impromptu decision to stay in the United States.
Mulokov emailed coaches around the country, hoping for someone to take a chance on him.
It was Lois Daigneault, head coach of Santa Fe Aquatic Club and the head coach of Macedonian Olympic team in 1996, who answered.
She arranged to see the 23-year-old Moscow native while at a meet in Texas, which led to the two of them spending the next couple weeks feeling each other out.
They are now well into their first month of training and Mulokov has had unexpected welcomes from a variety of Santa Feans since he arrived.
“He met this Russian gal that was working at the airport and she sat there and talked to him for three hours until my flight came in,” Daigneault said. “And she introduced him to all her friends in Santa Fe.”
Then, Daigneault added, a host family immediately took him in and others stepped up to pay for his food and training.
Mulokov, who is is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, began swimming when he was seven years old. His forte is the 200-yard freestyle, with his best time coming at 1 minute, 51 seconds.
Mulokov will try to qualify this weekend at the Phoenix Winter Invitational in Arizona in order to compete in the United States.
He will swim the 50, 100 and 200 at the event. If Mukolov doesn’t qualify in Phoenix, he will need to swim in New Mexico’s state championship in March to qualify for sectional competition.
Mulokov received a couple of offers from other coaches, but he was interested in Daigneault because he felt he would be more comfortable with a woman as a coach.
So, in between taking English classes at the Santa Fe Community College, Daigneault has him practicing about 21/2 hours every night, as well as Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and hitting the weights three times a week.
She said he will need to shave at least four seconds off his best time in the next three years to make the top two and qualify for the “A” standard for the Russian Olympic team.
Yet, every dream has obstacles to overcome. Daigneault learned that Mulokov has a heart condition and is on medication for it.
“He has a little bit of a heart issue that I’m trying to figure out, as well, in that his heart rate goes really high so when I do heart rate stuff at practice it’s really high,” she said. “I’m a little concerned that it’s a little too high for the amount of work we’re doing so I’ve got him going to a doctor and a hospital and a cardiologist.”
Daigneault is also leaning on Mulokov to become a leader for the Aquatic Club, especially since his presence gives her younger swimmers inspiration in their training.
“[It’s] more exposure for my kids to see what it takes to be at that level,” Daigneault said. “It does actually happen. What I’m telling you you need to do, you absolutely need to do, because if you don’t have those role models you don’t really understand what it takes.”
Mulokov definitely feels the weight of that responsibility, as well as representing Santa Fe internationally, but said he feels freed from the hectic life of Moscow, which makes him more relaxed.
Add that to his appreciation of the mountains and the weather, it seems as if it is, indeed, a perfect match.