When it was announced that Tiffin University was adding swimming and diving as a varsity sport for next winter, it was understood that whoever took the job as the first coach would be in for a challenge.
The coach would not only be in charge of the swimming and diving program's for men and women, but they would be charged with building a program from scratch.
Rita Kalmikova knows a thing or two about challenges.
Kalmikova was a two-time Olympian for her native Latvia, competing in the 1996 games in Atlanta and the 2000 games in Sidney, Australia. She was a four-time World Cup team member, was named "Best Latvian Female Swimmer" in 1996 and holds the country's national record in the 200 breaststroke.
And she did all of that before coming to America in 2001, and becoming a standout Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference swimmer at Lewis. While there, she qualified for the Division II national meet three times, gaining All-American status five times.
Kalmikova was named Tiffin's swimming coach Thursday.
"Once you meet her, you find out she's energetic, she's really, really passionate about what she wants to do," said TU Athletic Director Lonny Allen. "She's a calming influence on the tough job at hand because she has so much confidence. She has a lot of experience as an assistant. As an athlete, she swam in the GLIAC, she understands what type of athlete we're looking for."
"I'm really thankful for an opportunity," Kalmikova said in an interview Thursday evening. "I know starting a program is hard, but that doesn't scare me."
Kalmikova was an assistant at Bowling Green State University, where she will graduate this May with a master's in sports administration. Prior to that, she was an assistant at Western Kentucky University for four seasons. While there, she worked with swimmer Claire Donahue ("When we recruited her, she was an average swimmer," Kalmikova said), who won two gold medals in Beijing this summer.
"With a squad of 65 athletes, it teaches you a lot about time management," said Kalmikova, who was responsible for individual medleys and breaststroke events, as well as designing and implementing workout regimens while working as recruiting coordinator. "We were able to recruit athletes that were good, after a while they were brilliant."
While Kalmikova was at Western Kentucky, the school won three consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships.
Prior to that, she was an assistant at Union College in New York.
"I couldn't be more excited about who we hired," Allen said.
Kalmikova said she will have a graduate assistant to focus on the diving, but the teams will be treated as one.
"I want to build a team that supports each other," she said. "I have an idea what type of athletes I want. I don't want to have someone on the campus who will not enjoy the culture or environment of Tiffin."
Kalmikova said she has learned plenty from the various coaches she's worked with over the years.
"I have to share it," she said. "I like challenges. If life were easy, it'd be quite boring."