Mia Zottola ’24, from Arlington, Va, is competing in her third year on the women’s swim and dive team. In this installment of Seven Questions, Zottola discusses her journey to collegiate athletics, the challenges of practicing through a Covid-19 impacted season and her scorching hot take on the best meal at Middlebury.
Owen Park: How did you first become involved in swimming?
Mia Zottola: I’ve been swimming for as long as I can remember. I started when I was about five or six, when my parents signed me up for my first lessons just so I could have the basics down. My dad swam in college, so I like to think that he’s a big reason that swimming became such a big part of my life. After the first few lessons, I started practicing regularly but couldn’t compete because I was too young. Later on, Marian, my sister, and I joined a team and began to swim competitively throughout the year.
OP: Did you always know that you wanted to swim in college?
MZ: Not really. During high school, I competed in lacrosse and swimming. When it came time to start thinking about the college process, I wanted to see which sport could get me into the best school. The recruitment process for swimming is much simpler and starts much later than other sports, so it wasn’t on the forefront of my mind the same way it would be for other athletes. It wasn’t until my junior year that I decided to focus on swimming and to drop lacrosse — the culture wasn’t for me, and it’s a very injury-heavy sport. As such, I began to look at colleges where I knew I could swim. From there, it was a matter of deciding which school I liked the best. Middlebury was by far my favorite. Growing up, I visited Vermont regularly, so the whole area feels really familiar and comfortable. I’m also a big skier, so being near the mountains is a big plus.
OP: What is your fondest memory of being on the swim team?
MZ: Honestly, there are a lot. My freshman year was marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, so we weren’t able to have a real season. To make up for lost competitions, we held small meets in which the team was split into two smaller teams that competed against one another. The highlight of these meets were “stupid relays,” which were relay races where everyone was obviously cheating and more focused on having a good time than anything else. I remember it being really fun because it was the first time that year that we were able to really enjoy an event as a team. One of the best parts of being a member of the swim team are the people and the amazing community it provides. There are about 80 people on the team, which means I can expect to run into someone that I know whenever I walk around campus.
OP: So did Covid-19 pose a big obstacle to your season?
MZ: For sure. Covid-19 hit when I was a senior in high school, and it caused all the pools around me to close down. Some people tried swimming in their backyard pools, which are way too small to properly train in. As for myself, I didn’t swim at all that year. Even when I came to Midd, and our informal season began, we could only swim sprints and practice for an hour a day. Also, we were limited to swimming with only two people per lane with a clear one on each side. Essentially, we could still swim, but we were never able to fully practice. It was one of those situations where we just had to roll with the punches.
OP: Coming out of the pandemic, was it challenging trying to adjust back to a normal schedule?
MZ: Definitely. Last season was the first normal season since Covid-19 hit, and it required some effort getting used to normal practice conditions again. For example, having people swim close to me definitely took some time getting mentally readjusted to. Practices became longer than they were during the pandemic and were more specific based on the events you swam. Taking a full year off was definitely tough at first, but having swam for the better part of my life, I found that everything came back to me pretty easily.
OP: Looking to the future, what are you most excited about being on the swim team?
MZ: Honestly, I haven’t thought about that. I’m always excited for our next meet, and I’m just enjoying swimming in general. Getting a new personal best time would be amazing, but I would say I'm more excited for the upcoming season as a whole than anything specific.
OP: What is your favorite meal on campus?
MZ: Bang-bang shrimp — apparently that’s a really hot take. I’ll fill up an entire plate of shame — my housemates’ words — with nothing but that. I don’t know what it is about the dish — I just really love seafood. Whenever I see bang-bang shrimp on the menu, I’m going to that dining hall. The most recent time that Midd served bang-bang shrimp, I wasn’t able to get any, but one of my friends brought me an entire bowl of it, and I ended up eating it like popcorn.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.