Some people search a lifetime for their dream job. Jim Rusnak found his merely six years after leaving the halls of academia.
With degrees in English and German and a lifetime of swimming experience under his belt, Rusnak ’95 began his journey by taking a sports writer position with the Times of Northwest Indiana. At the same time, he also managed to hold down a swim coach position at Hobart High School.
Then after the sixth year he was afforded the opportunity to meld the two together to form the perfect marriage between his passion for writing and love of swimming.
Rusnak was hired as the USA Swimming publications coordinator, a job he has held joyously for the past three-and-a-half years.
"Most people don’t get this opportunity, so I am very, very lucky," the former presidential scholar said.
USA Swimming, the national governing body for swimming, is located at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Working in such an awe-inspiring environment gives Rusnak all the pep he needs.
"You come in here and everywhere you look there are the Olympic rings and every once in a while you get glimpses of some of the athletes you see on TV in other sports and it’s motivating because everybody here seems to be working towards a certain level of excellence," he said. "You don’t want to come in here and let them down."
Rusnak’s post includes being editor-in-chief of Splash Magazine and content editor for the USA Swimming web site (usaswimming.org).
Splash Magazine is a media property and public relations vehicle for USA Swimming, which has an over 250,000 member circulation. Rusnak is responsible for coming up with the end product, from conception and ideas of the different articles to the completion. He plans out an editorial calendar a few months in advance of the coming year designed to include big competitions from the USA Swimming standpoint and relevant articles to accompany. He then assigns stories to his half dozen freelance reporters to cover and provides guidance along the way.
"We have a really big audience, so it’s a huge challenge to try to figure out what kind of articles would appeal to the broadest range of people," Rusnak said. "That is our goal, to make sure we don’t leave anyone out and we can hit everyone and write articles that people can relate to, swimmers can relate to, coaches can relate to, parents can look at and take something away from and at the same time make our sport look as good as possible because that is what it is all about with our publication."
With the national team being USA Swimming’s crown jewel, Rusnak has continued to implement a steady flow of information and articles on the members and their accomplishments but has also began to incorporate more about the sport and opportunities for non-elite swimmers.
"What we like to do is have a central theme and then break it down so there is some practical application for swimmers out there at the grass roots level," the former Bachelor editor-in-chief and swimming beat writer said. "Then maybe go on and tie the national team into the central theme some way."
One issue dealt with how national team swimmers balanced their hard training with their scholastic work, while another focused on college swimming and the opportunities available to aspiring athletes. Rusnak can relate to both from his days at Wabash.
Rusnak was a swimmer at Wabash but he wasn’t lured there to swim, he was snagged by how the school presented itself as a challenge.
"I am not one of those people who back down from a challenge, so when they presented it as a challenge I said that is where I am going to school," the magna cum laude graduate said. "I knew it was the place for me."
The biggest challenge Rusnak had to face came not in the classroom but in the swimming pool. After being burnt out from swimming in high school, Rusnak didn’t figure he would join the swim team. However, with persuasion from other swimmers and former swim coach Gail Pebworth, Rusnak decided to give it a try.
"The first semester of Wabash I didn’t do as well because my attitude wasn’t in it," he said. "Then I decided to make a change in attitude and coach Pebworth was instrumental in teaching me how to make a change in attitude. You don’t have to think about it you just decide you’re going to go this direction and that’s what you do."
Rusnak was never the best on the team but he found a lot of joy in swimming. The determination and attitude change helped him discover any time he needed to make an improvement he had the ability.
"The experience on the swim team really helped me realize I could do that and has pushed me on to where I am today."
Though coach Pebworth is gone, Rusnak remains tied to the Wabash swim program knowing full well how valuable such an experience can be for young men.
"Jim has been instrumental to me over the last three years," current swim coach Peter Casares said. "He had continually e-mailed me hearty congratulations, offered support and suggestion, and inspired me to sustain an environment that will produce alumni with as strong a connection to the college and swimming program. He truly has been my ‘real-life’ example of everything right about a swimming and diving program being part of a college education."
Hunckler is a free-lance writer based in Bloomington, Ind.
Above right and on homepage: Rusnak photographed near poolside during the World Swimming Trials at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis in April.
Lower left: Wabash swim coach Peter Casares.