Division III is remarkable. The student-athletes who attend and compete at DIII colleges do so without monetary compensation and often in conjunction with rigorous academic schedules and a good deal of extracurricular activities thrown in as well. Over the course of my own collegiate career, I shared pool space with athletes who developed robots, helped with political campaigns or competed in foreign countries. It is these stories and these athletes who best exemplify what it means to be a student-athlete at the Division III level.
What follows is a tribute to the athletes of Division III, showcasing seniors from across the country who have brought their own passion to swimming and academia. This series of articles strives to capture some of the many incredible, interesting or quirky things our swimming and diving seniors have done while out in the wider world.
All hail Division III.
Eat, Sleep, Swim
Keene State senior Diana Pimer has been swimming since she was four, and since then, her whole life has been wrapped around the water.
“My dad was my head coach,” Pimer said, describing her start in the aquatic world of competitive swimming. “When I was eleven I switched to a USA team, and a couple months into that, he got offered a job on my new USA team.” Not only is Pimer’s immediately family well versed in the sport, but also her extended family as well. “I know whenever I’m swimming that all my cousins, and my aunts, uncles and my dad were all swimming.”
Swimming certainly played a key role in Pimer’s selection of Keene State. “I definitely chose a college based on swimming first, and then if they happened to have my major – like Keene State – then it’s an added bonus,” she confessed. “You invest so much time into it – I’ve invested most of my life into swimming – I want to go to a school where I’m going to get to swim, but it’s also going to be fun at the same time.”
With such a focus on athletics, it seems only natural that her major would be sports related. For Pimer, that was exercise science, with a little twist. “There’s a coaching specialization that goes with exercise science [at Keene State],” Pimer explained.
That specialization has already born some fruit: over the summer, Pimer worked with two summer league teams, acting as Head Coach for one team and an assistant for the other. “The one that I am the head coach for is a very small team, and they have a history of getting last in the Conference Championship,” Pimer said. The Conference champs for her New Hampshire team are for ages five through eighteen. “We had a couple kids win events at the Conference Championship, and four of our relays got second this year,” she added.
In contrast, Pimer’s assistant coaching job is for a bigger team in Vermont with a history of winning the championship each year. Being on opposite extremes is certainly a good way to gain some coaching experience she pointed out. “I really just want to help as many swimmers as I can,” Pimer said.
“[Coaching younger athletes] really reminds me of why I swim,” she added. “Just seeing the joy that they have, and the excitement that they have – I think that is what helps me the most [to] be a better athlete.”
For this coming season, Pimer will have one final opportunity to make the elusive NCAA meet at the end of the year. “When I was a freshman, we had a girl go to NCAAs. The year before that, we had a really strong medley relay at NCAAs. And ever since then, I’ve made B cuts, a couple other girls have made B cuts but we’ve just missed making the meet.” At this point, rather than taking the whole focus of making NCAAs on herself, Pimer is distributing the burden equally: “As a captain this year, it’s really my goal just to get somebody at that meet – whether it’s a diver, or a relay, [or] a freshman.”
Keene’s men’s and women’s teams train together most of the week, with separate practices on Fridays, and with separate end of the year Conference meets. The men compete at MIT while the women race in the NEWMAC conference at Dartmouth. Pimer described the Keene State men’s team as being the brothers of the tight-knit women’s team, which – coming from a very family oriented swimmer – couldn’t be a higher compliment.
The question really only remains now what Pimer will do post college. So far, she has three options she is batting around. “One would be to go to graduate school for sports journalism […] or trying to get a graduate assistantship somewhere or hopefully staying part of the Keene community […] but I definitely am hoping to keep coaching swimming as part of the plan, because that’s ultimately what I want to do.”
The sports journalism is an interesting and necessary deviation from Pimer’s swim-aholic nature. In her non-chlorinated moments, she’s the president of Phi Epsilon Cappa, the president of the SAC committee and the social media editor for the Equinox – Keene’s school paper. This is a bit of a switch from last year when she won an award for the sport’s story of the year with a feature article on why athletes receive harsher penalties than their non-athlete counterparts when it comes to alcohol abuse.
“I take care of all the Facebook and the Twitter for the paper, which is a lot of fun,” Pimer said. The journalistic side of her sports interest also took her to an internship this past summer, working at a magazine called Remedies for Life. The magazine itself is focused on healthy living and a healthful lifestyle. As an editorial intern, Pimer did all the usual intern things, the grunt work and the filing – but also had the opportunity to write a feature story herself.
“[The story] was about stress in elementary school aged kids, and why kids feel stress, but more how to help them,” Pimer said. In writing the article, Pimer was responsible for doing some research on the topic. In the course of her exploration, she found that stress can be brought into the classroom from family life or from competition with other students. “They start so young,” Pimer pointed out. “With the name of the magazine being Remedies, the main focus was remedies for curing that kind of stress.”
Pimer’s Remedies article focused on preventative measures – like calming habits (pre-race routines, anyone?), or discussions with parents (or coaches) – to reduce stress levels before they become unmanageable. “A little bit of stress is good in order to succeed,” she pointed out, “but you don’t want them to be overwhelmed.”
Her work should transfer well to the pool and college for this coming year. “It’s important to have a routine, make sure you take time for yourself, don’t do too much and make sure you have some outlets.”
Learning to Swim
Frostburg senior Sara King has nearly the opposite story. Where she was always interested in sports and competed in various athletic activities – including aerobic gymnastics, which is like a Circe de Soleil-cheerleading hybrid – King did not learn to swim until her sophomore year in college.
Let’s pause and take that sentence again: King did not learn to swim until her sophomore year in college. Unfreeze.
The chain of events leading up to King’s participation on the swim team as one of the more competitive members began with her myriad of jobs. This summer alone, King taught swim lessons, life guarded, taught fitness classes and did waitressing on the side as well as getting formally certified as a strength and performance coach.
“I taught a strength and conditioning program to a few athletes that I had in a class,” King said. “I basically just did strength training stuff with them.” Once she graduates, her goal is to be a strength and conditioning coach herself. The only difference between her summer and her future would be the age group: “Instead of high school kids I’d be working with university level.”
King’s interest stems from a relatively early age: “I’ve been in the gym since age nine,” she said. “I competed in aerobic gymnastics until age fifteen.” For the curious, competitive aerobics is reminiscent of gymnastic floor routines crossed with workout videos. The training regime was something like CrossFit – but before CrossFit had become popular. She also played a variety of high school sports which led her to a surprising realization. “I decided that I was more passionate about the actual process of training than the actual winning the game.”
Knowing where her passions lay, King decided to pursue exercise science as a major. “I was very interested in how things work, how the body systems come together and what the science is behind what I’m doing rather than just doing reps,” she said. “From there I decided that my passion really was to work with people, and I was really interested in performance rather than the sports medicine side.” Having experienced a wide range of sports herself, going into a setting where she was working with all different types of athletes seemed a natural jumping off point.
King has applied to physical therapy school – provided she gets into one of the programs, she will continue on to get her doctorate. “And incorporate sports performance into the sports medicine side of physical therapy,” she added. The hope is “to work directly with athletes; to train them and rehab them […] and be able to also do a regular clinical physical therapy.” Plan B is getting a masters degree in exercise science to further opportunities with strength and conditioning.
But how did King – essentially the picture of a dry land athlete – end up in the water?
“I didn’t know how to swim, and for my job [water aerobics] I had to be able to be a lifeguard,” King explained. “One of my instructors actually taught me how to swim for the class,” she recounted. With the most basic understanding of swimming, King went on to get her guard certification.
Frostburg’s coach at the time saw King swimming and immediately recognized her potential. “[Coach Jun] saw me swimming and tried to recruit me,” King explained. “I contemplated it and I decided to join.” Part of the reason for King’s acceptance of the invitation was the fact that she wanted to compete in athletics collegiately. During her freshman year, King had joined the tennis team, but only the top six athletes garnered play time; King was ranked eighth.
“I learned how to do flip turns the first day of practice,” she said. “I learned how to do starts at the first meet. It was very – very rushed.” And yet, King still had something going for her. “I ended up being competitive among my teammates,” she said. “And then we got a new coach the next year and the team really grew, so now our team is really diverse in level and ability.” There are those who are competitive, those who walked on and found their way on the team, and those who are now recruited to swim. “The team is a very good mixture of people,” King concluded.
Once she had learned how to swim, King said, “I realized how much I really enjoyed it. And then I did it for fun. […] I always wanted to be a swimmer but I never knew I was capable of being one.” For all the upsides, King readily admits, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
As one of the few swimmers in this series who are not captains, King also stands out. Rather than running for captain, she deferred to her year mates who had been part of the team for all four years. “I’m basically just a role model,” she said, downplaying the leadership role that simply being a senior places her in. For Frostburg, King’s times are still competitive; outside the water she also is part of the highly competitive President’s Leadership Circle (PLC) – a prestigious group on campus.
The PLC is a selective group of twelve to fourteen students chosen through rigorous academic, community service and leadership standards to work directly with Frostburg’s president. Among the many activities the group has participated in, King described the international charity trip to Uganda and the tour of the CIA. The PLC also gets involved with helping the freshman get oriented on campus and serves as the link between the student body and the college president.
Being part of the PLC is a leadership role, and will serve King nicely as she makes strides to guide the newcomers to the Frostburg team. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts she can offer the team is a different perspective. “Most people grow up swimming they have those goals in their heads from the time when they’re really young,” King said. “I never had that […] I’ve already gone above and beyond my expectations of myself. Just the fact that I’m doing this – the rest is just bonus.”
While the Division III nature of Frostburg did not play a direct part in King’s selection of the school, she said that if she were to go back in time now, knowing what she does about her own journey, she would absolutely select a Division III school again. “If Division III didn’t exist, I still would never be a swimmer. […] It gives you an opportunity to grow and do things that you never saw yourself doing.”