Sara Baxter: swimming at the D1 level is both ‘intense’ and ‘amazing’

Sara Baxter swims D1 at Stony Brook University.

Sara Baxter, ARHS class of 2022, is a freshman at Stony Brook University in Suffolk County, NY where she is studying civil engineering and swimming at the Division I level, coached by Mark Anderson and assistant coach Brittany Coughlin. I wanted to learn what the day-to-day life of a D1 college swimmer is like, given that I am a swimmer myself and a former teammate of Baxter’s.

LS: What is your favorite and least favorite part about swimming at Stony Brook at the D1 level?

SB: My favorite part is the team I’m on and the team environment. My teammates are all amazing and incredible. I like the support that we have from each other; it’s awesome because we’re all choosing to be here. My least favorite part is getting up super early, like six am. That’s tough, just constant exhaustion [from early mornings].  

LS: How long have you been swimming? Where did you swim before Stony Brook?

SB: I’ve been swimming since I was 8 years old. At home, I swam with my club team, Bluefish Swim Club, and at ARHS.

LS: What are the biggest differences between Bluefish (club team) and swimming D1?

SB: The biggest difference is that at home, like on bluefish it was very individual. It was a little bit more self-oriented but here you have the support of the team and we have a common goal of team success.

LS: What are the biggest differences between swimming high school and swimming D1?

SB: Honestly swimming high school and swimming D1 are more similar to me. It’s a team sport but this is just a lot more serious. It’s a lot more intense, and there are more repercussions for not following the rules.

LS: Are there any similarities between swimming before and now that you are swimming D1? 

SB: Yeah, the team aspect of it is something that’s kept me going the whole time I’ve been swimming. Just knowing that everyone that you’re swimming with is going through the same things as you, in and out of the pool. 

LS: Do you feel more pressure because you are now swimming D1 or is it relatively the same amount of pressure you have always felt?

SB: Honestly, it’s probably a little bit less because at home I always felt this pressure of ‘okay what’s the next step’ like I have something to prove. I felt like I had to get myself to that next level of swimming D1. But now that I’m here it feels like a little bit of weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It’s easier for me to do what I need to do.

LS: What does a typical day in season as a D1 athlete look like for you? 

SB: Mondays and Wednesdays are the same; Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are a little different. Mondays are probably my busiest day. A typical schedule involves waking up at 5:30 a.m. and getting to the pool for 6 a.m. practice. I grab breakfast and have a little break between 8 and 9 a.m., then go to class. Between 10:30 and noon I take a quick little nap. At 12:30, I have physical therapy for an hour. Between 1:30 and 2, I grab a snack and then go to another swim practice between 2 and 4 p.m. I am usually in a study hall between 4:30 and 5:45 p.m., then I go to history class from 6 to 7:30, followed by dinner and work or hanging out with friends. I am usually in my room getting ready for bed by 9 p.m. Tuesdays are a little different. It’s still the 6-8 swim but then we lift from 8-9 a.m. I have three classes on Tuesday so it’s a busy day. They are all long long days.

LS: What is the hardest part of being a D1 athlete?

SB: Time management. It’s just I’m always tired and I’m always hungry and I always have a lot of work to do, so I’m figuring out how to make all the pieces fit.

LS: What do you do to destress and make sure you’re taking care of yourself?

SB: I take lots of naps, I hang out with my friends, I try and take it easy on the weekends. There’s usually a day in my schedule when I have fewer classes so I try and take it easy on that day, I usually have one day a week where it’s pretty low stress. 

LS: Were there any things you did in your swimming career before college that helped you prepare for college swimming?

SB: Just being on such an intense team like Bluefish really got me ready. We would do a lot of tough weeks throughout the year where we would have two practices a day so that would help me get myself ready for this. I think I had an easier transition than a lot of the people on my team because I was so used to the really intense, high volume, lots of yardage practicing twice a day. I know a lot of girls on my team came from doing more like our high school practices, where it would be three to four thousand yards a day. We do six thousand yards twice a day, so it was a big difference for them, but personally, it wasn’t a bad transition for me.

LS: Do you have any big meets coming up? What’s your plan of action going into them?

SB: We have a conference on February 22, and we’re going down to Virginia to compete against the other CAA teams. My plan of action? To continue to work hard at practice and get myself ready. I’m finding ways to get out of my head before the meet to make it as low-stress as possible so I’m able to get in the zone when it’s time to go.

LS: Have you had any injuries? How have those affected your training and/or mental health?

SB: Yeah, I have an ongoing shoulder injury but it was never that bad before I got to college. But when I got here we had meetings with the doctor and the doctor said, “You have to do physical therapy,” so now I do physical therapy for an hour three times a week and it’s been helping. It’s been better but sometimes it really hurts and there’s not much I can do about it other than just push through it. It’s nice to know that a lot of the girls on the team are feeling just as broken down as I am. It’s nice to know that we’re all going through it together.

LS: What is the one thing that keeps you going in swimming through a hard practice?

SB: Just my teammates. During hard practices, where we all know it’s bad, we’re usually able to hype each other up a little bit, like someone will say something funny or just cheering each other on.  Just being able to know that all my teammates are hurting just as much as I am but it will make us better in the long run.

LS: Who is the person that has had the biggest impact on your swimming career?

SB: I would say my mom probably, just because she’s the one that put me into the sport. My coach played us this video a while ago and made us figure out reasons why we swim just to get us to remember our why. We could be doing it for ourselves, but for me, it’s my mom. I definitely swim for my mom. She keeps me going. Whenever things get really tough I just think about her. Other than my mom, though, I used to always look up to Kathleen Baker. She’s a good one. Missy Franklin, too, just for being a backstroker. 

LS: How does your team bond outside of practice?

SB: The first week of school we were the only freshmen on campus so we spent a lot of time together. There are 11 of us which is a big class so that was a lot of team bonding cause that is half of our team. We just spent every moment together that first week of school. We had a mock meet in October and it was red versus navy so we just split in half and we did a lot of team bonding activities then.