Swimmer overcomes ‘rough seas’


Sean Hastings | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern senior Steve FIshman swims the men’s 200-yard backstroke against Western at the Padovan Pool on Oct. 28. Fishman took first with a time of 1:58.25.

Adam Shay, Swim Reporter


From being unable to speak English until age five to financial disadvantages, losing a friend and then facing two career-threatening injuries in college, senior swimmer Steve Fishman has overcome these devastating setbacks.

Fishman’s parents arrived in America on July 11, 1994, from Riga, Latvia, and at the time of their departure, Latvia had only been considered part of Eastern Europe for two and a half years. Prior to their departure, Latvia was part of the USSR until it dissolved in late December of 1991.

Fishman was born on Nov. 2, 1995, in the Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Right away, Fishman and his family experienced financial problems since they were immigrants, that created setbacks.

“A setback was being foreign in general because you’re not accustomed to American customs,” Fishman said. “I didn’t speak English until I was five.”

When he was enrolled in kindergarten and first grade, Fisman said his schools pushed him off to the side and told him to comeback in a year after he learned English, making it a challenge to fit into the educational system.

After he started to learn English, he still struggled with a speech impediment and  to this day Fishman said he slurs and mumbles his words from time to time.

On top of learning how to speak English fluently, Fishman did not have the luxury of wealth as a child. His parents were still becoming accustomed to an American lifestyle and making ends meet with what they had.

Coming to America, Fishman’s parents went through many firsts, like buying their first house and cars. With that being said, American families have had second and third generations of college students and years of saving up. This was not the case for Fishman and his family.

“They’ve gone through financial aid already and have it figured out,” Fishman said. “Whereas my parents and I saved up so we could eat every month, so we could survive based off their salaries.”

Fishman is the youngest child with two older sisters. When his family moved to Normal his oldest sister Mayya stayed in New York.

Despite their economic disadvantage, his sister has done well for herself and has been an inspiration to Fishman.

“My older sister doing college by herself really proved to me that even with our lower income, I can make it,” Fishman said. “My parents were still making sure we could live how we wanted to.”

Because of his financial situations, Fishman said when choosing colleges, finding one that offered a scholarship for his grades and swim ability was essential. For Fishman, Eastern was the best fit because of its affordable tuition and the swim team that accepted him with open arms.

Fishman was accepted into Eastern and right away, he knew he had made the right choice. He said as a foreign freshman, nobody on the team saw him as someone different, but as a swimmer who came ready to compete and prove his worth to the team.

Midway through his freshman year, Fishman received devastating news. His best friend from high school, Jake Miller, had taken his life in January of 2015. Miller was a year younger than Fishman and was one of his biggest motivators throughout his swim career.

“My friend dying really set me back,” Fishman said. “I grew up with the kid, swim buddies, and not having that motivator made me think, ‘why am I doing this anymore?’ He was my best friend and a brother to me. He is one of the guys that really motivated me to get better.”

Whenever he goes into a race during a meet, Fishman imagines himself racing against Miller. By doing this, Fishman said it is a way for him to find that inner drive to keep swimming and to improve.

Then, more challenges confronted Fishman. In his swim career, Fishman had never experienced injuries until sophomore year when he threw out his back early in the season. Even though Fishman only missed a week, he was going in and out of pain throughout the season.

By the end of his sophomore year and as junior year came around, Fishman began to feel healthy again. On Oct. 14, 2016, he suffered a broken collarbone in a skateboarding accident for his second major injury in college.

For the first time in his career, Fishman had to decide what was more important: focusing on staying healthy long term, or to persevere and continue swimming.

“Definitely two setbacks were breaking the collarbone and the back injury, things that made me consider if I should stop and focus on healing and something else,” Fishman said.

Once Fishman overcame his collarbone injury, it was as if he never missed a step with swimming. On Feb. 17, 2017, Fishman broke the Eastern record for the 400-IM with a time of 4:03.76.

Despite all of the setbacks Fishman has endured, he credits his loved ones for the motivation to keep swimming and to never give up on all his hard work.

“With the support and love of my girlfriend, family and friends, I found that drive to keep pushing myself and strive for success,” Fishman said.

Adam Shay can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]