At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
She walked in front of me and through the door leading to the viewing deck in the McCann Natatorium. She gracefully hoisted herself onto the bleachers that overlook the pool; we sat exactly where Grace Casolo found her place at Marist College. The smell of the chlorine and hard metal bleachers by no means scream “comfort,” but Grace seemed comfortable.
“I guess I’ve been in the pool my whole life. I started swimming when I was four,” she explained. Although she eventually landed on diving for her collegiate career, Grace’s athletic involvement when she was younger spanned across multiple sports. At 8-years-old, friends of hers from the summer club diving team encouraged Grace to try diving. Using her high energy — the fact that she was always doing cartwheels — she gave it a shot. After trying it out, she began diving on summer clubs, but her love of having fun with friends and her really awesome coaches helped to continue her involvement in the sport.
Splitting her home into multiple stints of living back-and-forth between Connecticut and California over the years, for Grace, playing sports was always her extracurricular. After being on a club team in Connecticut for two years, her family moved back to California, where she joined the Stanford Diving Club.
The positive coaching experiences she had in middle and high school gave Grace made the sport more enjoyable. But struggles in the sport came when her coach, Brian Tanner, was diagnosed with cancer. Trying to learn from multiple people, rather than one coach, proved challenging as she missed the consistency of Tanner’s coaching. Having coached her from seventh grade to her sophomore year of high school, she found difficulty in adjusting to not having that consistency when he passed away.
Looking at Marist, Grace found a place to find success in diving and in the support offered in various ways at Marist. The Diving Head Coach, Melanie Bolstad, helped Grace fill a void that had been in her life for some time. “Coming here with Coach Mel especially, she was able to push me,”she said. “Freshman year to now, there has been a ginormous improvement,” she beamed with excitement, “which I’m so proud of.” She continued on about Coach Mel, “I can go to her about anything.”
There was never pressure from anyone but herself to continue on with sports, or diving, in college. “I was the one pushing to go to school for diving, because I didn’t want to lose it and kind of be running around campus.” But through diving, Grace found benefits beyond athletics. “It was kind of just a fun thing I would do, but it would help me focus,”she said. “And it has helped my focus in other areas not pertaining to diving but just to school in general.”
Her fondness of diving, even through different trials of the sport, extends a greater purpose than exercise for a fun extracurricular activity. Having been heavily involved in various clubs and sports throughout high school, Grace has used sports to keep her grounded. “I’ve struggled with school my whole life. I have multiple kinds of learning disabilities, so school has never been easy or a cake walk for me. But sports have been my balance to get my energy out. Not only that, but when I got frustrated with school it was something I could turn to.”
Grace’s confidence is palpable. She knows where she’s been and the work she has put into where she is now. In school and diving she has worked with her hardships to improve. But, seemingly out of nowhere she told me, “I have the biggest stage fright ever. Fun fact.”
You would never guess it, but improvement has been Grace’s game. “If you looked at me from a freshman year meet to now, it’s changed immensely and my coach has even said that. I would be running around the pool deck. I wouldn’t be able to focus on my dives because I’d be freaking out,”she said. “Now, I step on the board, I take a few deep breaths with my eyes closed…and then I just leave it.”
Grace speaks nothing but highly — even beaming as she talks — of the people and support systems in her life that have helped her long the way. Through her own work with the Marist Center for Student Athlete Enhancement and Ladies Empowerment Action Program (LEAP), Grace has been giving back to the communities that she attributes to helping her over the past four years. “I’m kind of giving back my last two years, and I never would have thought that to happen, but I’m glad it did because it’s a whole other family.”
Grace Casolo knows herself. Through the difficulties she has encountered, she has been able to match them. Using sports to help balance academics and finding a home in the support systems in her life, she keeps looking up and improving, which is really all anyone can ask for.
The qualities she embodies are a rare combination that brighten any room. “I’ve always just tried to be myself. Anywhere I go, with any group I’ve been in, on any club, I’m going to being myself. I’m going to bring my crazy, hyper, self to it, and you know what, if you don’t like me, you don’t like me, but whatever.” This has never been a problem for Grace at Marist. The family mentality proves to be nothing but accepting of her jumping with energy.
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.