Just Keep Swimming

Helaina Sacco, head coach of Colby-Sawyer College’s swimming and diving team, has always been near the water. Growing up on the south shore of Massachusetts, Sacco said, “My parents wanted us to be water safe, which led to swim lessons, and then that led right into competitive swimming.” After college, she decided that she was done with swimming and wanted to go more toward the background side of athletics.

But sometimes your life ends up taking a flip turn.

Coaching was not the thing Sacco wanted to do. After swimming throughout her college career, Sacco graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in sociology before going to Loughborough University in England to get her master’s degree in sociology of sport. She went on to try working in academic support but found that the field was not for her.

Before becoming the head coach for Colby-Sawyer, Sacco was the assistant coach at the University of Mary Washington, Ohio Northern and Dartmouth College. She came to Colby-Sawyer in June of 2020, due to Dartmouth cutting their swimming and diving program and Colby-Sawyer needing a new coach. The new athletic director at Colby-Sawyer called Dartmouth and asked if they knew anybody interested in the swim coach job, and they mentioned Sacco. This led her to the Colby-Sawyer head coaching position .

Two obstacles stood in front of her: a pandemic that complicated things, such as how practices could be held, and a smaller team than she had coached previously. In 2020, the Colby-Sawyer swimming and diving team had 13 swimmers. That was not even a third of the size of the Dartmouth swim team, which had more than 60 swimmers. Luckily, with only 13 swimmers, it was easier to work with the COVID restrictions. The team went through phases and stoppages when COVID seemed like it was going to prevent the season from happening. But Sacco prevailed and was able to have the team swim in some virtual races as well as the end-of-year virtual championship.

In 2021, she found herself coaching an all-women team of 12 swimmers. She was used to working with a mixed-gender team. Sacco said, “I like the balance of coaching both men and women. There is good energy when there is diversity on a team. There is a different feeling ... there is more energy because there is everyone cheering for each other.”

Sacco is going onto her third year of head coaching for the Chargers. She hopes this will be a more normal year than the past two. There is so much that she has already done, and this is just the beginning of her story at Colby-Sawyer.