Mahoning Valley Support Drives Aulizia to Olympic Trials

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Last weekend, Callen Aulizia propelled himself through the pool at the U.S. Naval Academy, trying to achieve a boyhood dream.

Midshipmen teammate and sophomore Eli Williams was also in the water with Aulizia, who is a junior, for the 50-meter freestyle swim. The two hurried to finish under the 23.19 seconds needed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., on June 7.

They both made it, much to the delight of their teammates.

“We ended up both getting the time in the race and the energy on the pool deck was insane,” said Aulizia, a 2018 Boardman High School graduate. “Everybody was running around, high-fiving, hugs, everything. It was great.”

His time in the race: 23.11 seconds. A blink of an eye slower and he’d have missed the cutoff.

When Aulizia was 13, he had a long discussion with former Boardman High School swimming coach Terry O’Halloran about his athletic aspirations. The Olympic  trials entered the conversation. “It would be awesome if I could swim against the best of the best,” Aulizia says. “For it to come full circle, it’s mind boggling.”

Aulizia first became a competitive swimmer at age 7, competing for Trumbull Country Club. He later moved on to the Warren Harding Aquatics Team and Penguin Swimming clubs.

The Warren native went through the parochial school system, but decided his swimming career would be in better hands in Boardman, where he earned three top-six state finishes in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I 50-meter freestyle his sophomore through  senior years.

“I drove every day to swim for Coach O,” says Aulizia. O’Halloran’s son, Tyler, competed in the U.S. Trials in the mid-2000s. 

“It paid dividends,” Aulizia says. “He knows so much and that team is something else. It’s a great place to be.”

Other high school swimmers at Boardman swam against the freshman Aulizia to test his skills, eventually finding out the 6-foot swimmer was not suited for longer events such as the 200 freestyle. He excelled at a sprint-type event such as the 50 freestyle. He was adept at the ebbs and flows of the quick-natured swim with fast-twitch muscles and natural ability, O’Halloran says.

“His secret was that he was able to turn it on and get going when the pressure was on and the stakes were really, really high,” he adds. “You never knew exactly when it was going to happen. He didn’t have complete control over himself, but you know as he matured. Obviously, he could get to it a little bit more often in terms of getting that spark.”

Aulizia’s progress did not go unnoticed by current Boardman swim coach and former long-time assistant coach Carlo Cordon.

Having the mental fortitude to juggle the rigors of a Division I program, duties at the academy and school work is not for everyone, Cordon adds. 

“Coming out of our program, those kids go through a little adjustment phase anyway only because our workload compared to what they’re doing is like night and day,” he says.

Aulizia is not the first Boardman graduate to attend and swim for this military institution. 2013 graduate Ryan Bailey – an OHSAA Division I state champion in the 100-meter butterfly – was named 2016-17 Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Bailey’s influence eventually convinced Aulizia to come to the Annapolis, Md., academy. The 2013 Boardman graduate is now a nuclear submarine officer in the Navy.

“I’m so grateful for him,” Aulizia says. “He definitely had a big impact.”

At the Naval Academy, Aulizia is studying robotics and control engineering. He has a five-year commitment to the Navy after graduation.

Aulizia’s day normally begins with swimming practice at 5:30 a.m. and ends anywhere from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. One-hour classes are wedged between a couple more sessions in the natatorium, along with any cadet-mandated duties and nightly studying.

“It is difficult,” Aulizia says. “I can’t tell you I’m absolutely relaxed over here. That’s not it at all. There’s one thing I look back on almost every day. If I went to another school, what would my swimming career look like?”

Training continues the next couple weeks in preparation for the trials in Nebraska. He’s trying to lower his times — an achievable goal for the Boardman native who clocked 20.1 in the 50 freestyle during the 2019-20 season. The time of 22.71 has to be achieved to advance to the second wave of competition June 19 and 20. From there, the top two in each event advance to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

As he continues his quest, Aulizia remembers his youth and high school swimming instructors.

“It’s humbling because they’re the ones who actually got me to this place,” Aulizia says.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.