Posted: 02/20/2013 | Last updated: February 20, 2013 at 04:31 PM
For senior swimming sensation Emily DiDonato, there was little question as to whether or not her college experience would include daily trips to the pool. Both of her older siblings swam in college and DiDonato had no second thoughts about following in their footsteps. In fact, she was first introduced to Lehigh when her siblings participated in a summer swimming program on campus.
“My older brother swam for Fordham and my older sister swam for Niagara, so I’ve been around the pool and water my whole life,” said DiDonato. ”My older brother and sister went to swim camp here and I always loved the campus.”
DiDonato’s high school career was defined by her success as a breaststroker on both her school’s varsity team and local club team. Swimming capped of both ends of her school day as she woke early for varsity practice and jumped in the water for club practice when classes were over for the day.
When it came time to begin her college search process, DiDonato knew that the mountains of Lehigh were meant to be her new home. After having already fallen in love with the campus during her summer visits with her siblings, swimming as a Mountain Hawk seemed like a no brainer. Luckily for her, Lehigh’s head swim coach, Rob Herb, was just as eager to have her in the pool.
“Emily loved Lehigh,” said Herb. “We knew she swam a strong breaststroke. We needed another female breaststroker. But during the recruiting process, you could tell that she was going to be a great team member. She liked to get involved in things like committees and she was a team leader on her club team. I also knew she was a hard worker and was interested in the innovating training that we were going to offer.”
Once DiDonato arrived on campus, she quickly learned that life as a student-athlete required immense commitment to both time in the pool and in the library. While most freshmen are left alone to figure out the delicate balance, DiDonato was lucky enough to have older team members to help guide her through the process.
“As a freshman, I had a really tightknit group with two other girls who were upper classmen,” said DiDonato. “They led me on the path I should take a Lehigh and were really supportive and hardworking girls. They had the most dedication that I have ever seen somebody have in schoolwork and in the pool. I always tried to achieve their dedication for the sport.”
Ultimately, Emily found her perfect balance and found success both in and out of the pool. DiDonato’s personal accomplishments during her four year career at Lehigh include becoming the school’s record holder in the 400 Medley Relay, being named to the 2012 All-Patriot League second team, winning the 2012 Women’s Swimming and Diving Coaches Award and in 2011, earning a spot on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.
“Emily has been consistently one of the strongest swimmers on our team,” said Herb. “Over the past four years, she has dominated in our dual meets in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. She has placed in the top eight in the 200 breaststroke for two of her last three years.”
“I came to Lehigh as a specialty 200 breaststroker,” said DiDonato. “Since then I have also improved my 100.”
Knowing how much she benefitted from senior leadership from the older swimmers on the team, helping out her younger teammates has been something very important to her as an upperclassman.
“I’m a student mentor and I really enjoy helping the freshman and underclassman figure out how to balance everything,” said DiDonato, who majors in history.
Her nurturing character and strong desire to be there for her teammates in and out of the pool has not gone unnoticed.
“Emily embraces the underclassman to help guide them and motivate them to give the best in the pool and in the classroom,” said Herb. “When it comes to school work, Emily has some experience with the many wonderful opportunities that Lehigh offers for academic help. She has been a great resource for others and that has made a big difference.”
While swimming has been at the center of her college experience, DiDonato has taken full advantage of many other opportunities on campus outside of Taylor Gym. She values her time with her teammates but also found a wonderful group of friends in Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
“I’m lucky to have two groups of friends,” said DiDonato. “I have my swim team friends and I have my sorority so I’m fortunate to have experienced all aspects of college.”
There are many ways that participating in swimming has enriched her college experience and choosing one that stands out the most proved challenging. Ultimately, she describes participating in the Lehigh versus Lafayette rivalry as incredible and something that most students on campus never have the opportunity to do.
“To me, the most exciting thing is actually getting to be a part of the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry, not just being on the sidelines cheering people on,” said DiDonato. “You just can’t get it anywhere else.”
This Thursday begins her final competition as a Mountain Hawk when she will travel to Bucknell University for the Patriot League Championships. Both DiDonato and Herb have high expectations about what she will be able to accomplish when she takes to the water.
“I expect Emily to have a great meet,” said Herb. “I believe she will score in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in the final. She has always been one of the highest scorers at this meet. I know as a senior she will be there to motivate the others to reach their goal of scoring 375 points, 50 points more than last year. Emily always does her share to make sure we get points in the breaststroke and relays.”
“Patriots are always a great time to bring the team together,” said DiDonato. “Everyone is so excited and truly rooting for each other.”
DiDonato’s legacy at Lehigh is one that will not be forgotten when she swims her last laps this weekend.
“We will miss Emily,” said Herb, “but she has truly left her mark at Lehigh and with the Lehigh Swimming and Diving program. Our EM! – can’t spell TEAM without her.”
Story by Taylor Boyd ‘13