My biggest dream was to be able to compete in college level swimming.

I have been around the competitive pool since I was three years old, watching my mom coach and my siblings practice. I always wanted to swim like my older siblings did. I started lessons when I was three, then started swimming competitively when I was five.

At first I swam for two different club teams in my hometown, but when that was too much I stayed with my year round team. Throughout elementary, middle and high school, I swam at the beginning of September through the end of March and the beginning of May through the end of July.

When I entered ninth grade, I swam in both my club team and my high school team. By junior year of high school, I needed to start looking to my future in college. My priority was finding a great education program at a college or university with a swimming program. Since my first race at a swim meet, I knew I wanted to swim for as long as I could and in high school I wanted to continue onto college.

Attending a college of my choice was a triumph for me as a senior in high school, thinking about the next step in my education. It took me long hours of studying, reading and completing homework to make the grades to be accepted to college.

High school is very different than college though.

Double the readings, the studying and the homework of high school and that’s college. Schedules are also much different in college compared to high school. In high school, I went to the same classes each day, while in college I have had a set of classes one day and another set of classes the next day. But I fully participate in a Division III sport, swimming, on top of the schedules and work load.

It takes me double the already doubled work to balance school and a sport. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to be a student athlete, but what I have learned from being a student first and an athlete second – time management and a healthy lifestyle – is well worth the work load and varying schedules.

Being a student-athlete, I have a schedule laid out for me already.

For me, my Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays begin with breakfast, heading to three of my five classes, grabbing lunch, doing homework, going to practice from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m., grabbing dinner, doing more homework and sleeping at an early time.

Tuesdays and Thursdays begin at 5:20 a.m. when I wake up, grab a snack, head to practice from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m., grab breakfast, take a nap, head to my other two classes, grab lunch, do homework, head to practice from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m., grab dinner, do more homework, and sleep.

Saturdays are either a swim meet or 9:00 a.m. practice and homework.

Sundays are a day of rest, then I start the cycle all over again.

Early morning practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays only last for two or three months out of the six month season.

Image courtesy of  Erin Gillespie Erin Gillespie is a first-year student athlete at King’s College. As a competitive swimmer since the age of five, she has learned many valuable lessons as a student athlete.
Image courtesy of Erin Gillespie
Erin Gillespie is a first-year student athlete at King’s College. As a competitive swimmer since the age of five, she has learned many valuable lessons as a student athlete.

With this schedule, I know I only have certain times of the day to get all my work done; therefore, I have learned how to manage my time. I know that I need to get my work done on time and before I have to go to practice.

But I must also put the same amount of effort into my work as I do for swimming since I want to be both a student and an athlete.

Time management has helped me become a better student-athlete.

Being an athlete second, I have learned to have a healthy life style. Swimming makes me and a lot of others hungry, or as we swimmers call ‘hangry,’ and we are so hungry that if we do not get food soon we become angry. It is not a very pretty sight; however, we need to eat healthy in order to stay in shape.

So the Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs are not the first choice I should choose, but with the amount of calories I burn in one practice or in the days I have doubles I can have a bowl or maybe two. What is more important with being an athlete second is that during off season we can still maintain the shape we were in during season, by eating right and working out.

During the season at practice, I have two to three hours where I can forget about school and just focus on swimming. This helps release stress, which is huge with the schedule and classes I have during the semester.

Now that I have experienced my first season of college swimming and achieved my dream of competing at college level, I would not trade it for anything. It has been the greatest part of college so far. From the dreadful two-a-days, to the meets, to championships, I have fallen even more in love with swimming.

It was difficult at times to balance my class workload and practices, but I stuck it out. I learned so much about being a student-athlete in my first year at college than I did during four years of high school. I learned that I can balance school while participating in a sport I love. I learned that I can balance that schedule of a student-athlete, and I know that the things I learned, time management and a healthy life style, from being a student-athlete will help me later in life.