As winter comes to a close, the flu and other illnesses are running rampant. Most of us can’t fathom walking in the winter chill to get from class to class, but there is a group of students who are willingly getting out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to jump in the( not always warm and cozy) Dow pool. Despite the sicknesses going around, the Men’s and Women’s Swim Team are showing up, putting in the work and fighting through discomfort to achieve more together. According to Paula Nolte (’20), who swims the 100 and 200 breaststroke and the 200 IM, the swim program at Hope is, “very intense, just due to the nature of the sport.” Nolte went on to explain that the swim season is “five months long, which is on the longer side of all the sports seasons at Hope.” When asked about the specifics of what goes on during such a long season, she said that the team speaks those five months “getting absolutely destroyed.” They have two practices a day for one hour and a half in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. They do this at least three times a week and forfeit most of their breaks to stay and train. Fall break, Christmas break, winter break and potentially spring break all coincide with the swim season, and the athletes are typically expected to remain on campus and train.
Nolte says that “With a very demanding schedule and the expectation to do well academically, as classes come first, time management and discipline are critical to be able to balance the workload.” However, this strenuous schedule can reap lots of rewards for the team. She says that consistently spending time with the team, either at practice or at meals, “is our social time, which definitely brings our team together, especially since the men and women’s teams train together every day.” Swimmers are not the only aquatic athletes pressed for time and perfection in their sport. Areal Tolsma (’20) explains the level of dedication required to be a diver at Hope. She noted, “This sport takes extreme commitment. Divers practice 3 mornings a week and 5 afternoons each week. Depending on if we have a meet or not, we are training or competing for 15-18 hours every week for 6 months. During Christmas break, we have 2 weeks of intense training where we practice 2 times a day, 6 days a week. Interestingly enough however, I find that I am more productive during the season because I know my time is limited, so I use the little time I have wisely.”
The work and long hours are well worth it, however, as Erica Slenk (’20) expresses as she reflects on the awards and friendships she has gained along the way. She said, “From the second I stepped foot onto the deck of Hope College Dow pool, I knew this team was something special. I went to multiple recruit nights as a senior in high school, and I loved getting to know the girls’ team. I will never forget when I watched a home swim and dive meet at the Dow, and I already was dreaming of swimming for this team.” As a senior, Slenk reflected on all the good times she has had with the teams, saying, “A favorite memory of mine was when we won Leagues in 2019. It was the best meet, and I could not be more excited to soak in and enjoy my final League meet. It’s still so surreal that this is the end.” Nolte also reflected on her start at Hope and expressed the symbolic ending of her career saying, “In my first meeting with Coach Patnott, who was the head coach at the time, he stressed that swimming for Hope means that it’s all about the team and building a strong team dynamic, which was really appealing to me. This year at the MIAA championships, I’m hoping that the women can win back to back titles. We won our first title since 2004 last year, and it was a really special meet, especially since it was Coach Patnott’s last meet after coaching the past 40 years.”
It is hard to debate the dedication of individuals whose sport doesn’t have half times or time outs, especially when training becomes a part-time job on top of school work. With the end of the season rapidly approaching, Erin Emmert (’20) expressed her disbelief that her swim career at Hope was coming to a close and the hopes she has for her final meet. She expressed, “It’s crazy to think that I am going into my fourth and final League meet. During Leagues, my teammates and I hope to repeat another successful season as we have in recent years. We’re excited to show off what we have been working for the whole season this upcoming week.”