Of Rocks, Skips, Swimmers and College

Of Rocks, Skips, Swimmers and College


By Sara DiPaolo

People who know me in the real world may have heard my parenthood analogy that refers to the Olympic “sport” of Curling.  I use air quotes because any activity that involves wearing business casual attire doesn’t really qualify as a sport as I know it, but… Anyway, I am going to blatantly plagiarize part of something I wrote several years ago for this post.

You know that awful Olympic sport, Curling…?  The one that seems to be the TV stations’ favorite filler during the Winter Olympics when no other actual SPORT is on at the moment?  Curling, to the uneducated, combines all the funnest elements of shuffleboard and sweeping your house.  Basically, one person sends the granite stone, aka “the rock” (a big disk kind of object) zooming down the ice path while his or her compatriots sweep the ice madly in front of the rock, trying to guide it to a given spot down the road.  Sometimes the rock hits other rocks and alters its course, which then seems to cause frantic sweeping and yelling of commands from the rock launcher, aka “skip”.


I long ago decided that my role as a parent was to launch the rock, aka teenager, down the path of life, and swoop around it, sweeping madly to try and help keep it, er, her, relatively on course.   Sometimes the rock, er, teenager, slams into other rocks and changes course, which elicits much consternation from the skip, er, mother, and further frantic sweeping to adjust course.

BUT.  Ultimately that rock is heading down the course the skip shoved it on, and it’s pretty much all over except the frantic sweeping and a bit of yelling here and there.  And the occasional concussion when the rock slams into another rock head first.

As our human rocks go hurtling down the ice and we go sweeping madly next to them, occasionally having to leap over them as they careen off a stray rock and change direction suddenly, I really do feel like our greatest contribution as parents after a certain point is to stay out of their way.  I’m here for guidance, and consultation, and perspective, and to do laundry and pack lunches and dispense hugs as needed, and occasionally remind the hurtling rocks of the boundaries of their path as long as *I* am still sweeping it….

Which brings me to the point of this post.  It is now the season where our rocks fledge, aka “leave home” – either voluntarily or otherwise – to begin college.  Some don’t go far.  Some, like my oldest, land 800+ miles away.  Some can’t wait to leave home and get some space from parents and siblings.  Some are super close but answer the siren call of dreams and goals that can’t be chased closer to home.  But eventually the rocks do slide out of the range of our sweeping and shouted guidance.

Pretty much every parent I know sends their child on his or her way with great hope, tinged with great terror, as we wonder if we adequately equipped them to navigate the world.  And so enters the Curling analogy – does our hearty shove and frantic sweeping as the rock started its journey down the path translate to future success?

I asked some friends – both parents of successful rocks AND former swimmers who survived college and seem to have been shoved down a good path by THEIR skips – to provide some words of wisdom.  And what I got back was great.  Here’s a sampling:

From a former collegiate swimmer who has coached for decades and raised swimming rocks who are old enough to have their OWN rocks now:

“Regardless if you are an athlete or not the first semester of college is a real adjustment. Stay true to your values and goals,  use time management and organization wisely, don’t take too many classes first semester since you will have so much swim practice time, take advantage of the tutoring they have for athletes. One of the best things about being an athlete  is the bonding you will have with team activities, eating together,etc. A built-in peer group right away which helps adjusting from home and leaving friends and family behind. Study and swim your best but don’t forget to enjoy the experience and make new friends….this will be an adventure you will never forget-good luck!!” 

From a former swimmer who is not far removed from her OWN time as a rock:

  1. “1. Try be productive during the day so you are not stuck cramming for an exam at 2am. Afternoon naps are great, but you might regret it when you cannot hang out with new friends because you have not started your homework.
  2. Find a place on campus where you get quality studying done. Going to the library should not be part of your social life.
  3. Resist the urge to surf the Internet in class.
  4. If you are a girl, do not subject yourself to unsafe situations.
  5. Call your mom!

This is hard to only pick a few. I feel like I was dropped off in my freshmen dorm yesterday. I remember that I made fun of my mom for crying and when they drove away I ran inside and cried for an hour. After that, I loved every second of college. Go Gators!”

From a former swimmer and soccer player:

“You’ll never have as much free time and lack of responsibility as you will in college. It may seem like a lot with practices, studying, etc. but it doesn’t compare to the 9-5 work week that is year round. Take advantage of that time and go on adventures (ie go outside). Go explore your new city-you’ll only be there for three-five years. My biggest regret is not taking advantage of the time I had to explore the mountains around Blacksburg. There was so much to do and I waited until the last few months of my senior year to try and do it. 

Also your first semester can either set you on a path to success (good gpa) or will put you in a position where you’ll end up digging yourself out of the hole you made the rest of your college career (bad gpa). So make good decisions your first semester!”

From a collegiate swimmer, coach, and father to several rocks:

“Don’t start the very first semester of your college career on a bad note… you will always be playing catch up.

It’s okay to not party every weekend.”

From a competitive athlete and father to a collegiate gymnastic rock:

“If you get a D1 college scholarship, your hard work and skill have been rewarded with tremendous privilege.  Many people in a full time career won’t make what you’re getting in scholarship dollars and benefits for the next four years.  Treat it that way; you have a job.  Show up, work hard, and take advantage of the opportunity. 

To balance that out, remember that you are there to get a degree.  Academic accomplishment and a focus on a career after sports are necessary and will reward you long after the Glory Days are gone…

Finally, have fun!  Most people go to college and have to find friends from scratch; you’ll have a whole team of people you can’t get away from.  For better or for worse.”

From a swim mom with rocks who’ve gone away to college AND stayed home:

“First of all to the students leaving the nest, remember as exciting as it is for you (and yes, maybe a little scary), it is a thousand times more scary for your parents. Although this is what we have been preparing for for eighteen years, you are still our “babies”. Having said that, please remember that it is so important and comforting for your parents to hear from you often, even just a simple short text is reassuring. Please take the time to do this!  Leaving you and driving away to let you live on your own goes against everything in our heart as moms and dads!

Secondly and probably most important is to remember bad things can and do happen to young adults while away at school. Don’t think it only happens to “someone  else”. Your parents aren’t nagging you when they say “be careful”. There are so many dangers out there, more than you probably realize. Things can change in an instant. Remember this while you are enjoying your newfound freedom. Yes have fun, but be alert, stay away from drugs and alcohol (ok, at least be RESPONSIBLE when it comes to alcohol), and please please never drink and drive!” 

And finally, from a former rock who swam collegiately:

“Enjoy every minute, time flies.  Be social and get involved. Go to class. If you are on scholarship your job is swimming, and you can’t swim if you don’t get good grades. Find what you really enjoy!


Sara DiPaolo is a former competitive swimmer/water polo player and high school swim coach, a current competitive age-group triathlete, and a parent of one high school swimmer and one she just shoved out of the boat to swim in college. You can reach her at Sara@FloridaSwimNetwork.com.



Florida Swim Network