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Erndl Makes Swimming US National Team


Erndl makes swimming U.S. National team

Annabelle Tometich October 12, 2009

As the alarm clock sounded at 4 a.m., Erika Erndl rolled over and let it blare.

It was late summer in 2005, and four years removed from a successful swimming career at the University of North Carolina, the wake-up call wasn't for her.

Pool-side sunrises were becoming a distant memory for the then-27-year-old.

A first-grade teacher at Naples Park Elementary in Naples, Fla., Erndl's alarm wouldn't go off until hours later.

The current clatter was for her husband.

Also a UNC swimming alum, Kevin Erndl had just started coaching U.S. Masters classes with a local swim club. He tried to get his wife back in the water. She wanted no part of it.

"I didn't really miss it or anything," Erika Erndl said. "I was like, 'You have fun waking up at 4 a.m. I don't do that anymore.'"

But eventually she caved.

What started as just a morning workout-in addition to her spinning classes and jogging sessions-turned into a bid to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. But the ensuing trip to the Trials in Omaha, Neb., wasn't enough.

Erndl left the classroom and returned her focus to the pool. She shaved seconds off of her college records and, at the U.S. Open Championships in Federal Way, Wash., in August, Erndl had the performance of her career, winning the 100-meter freestyle in a meet-record time of 54.59 seconds. It was the seventh-fastest 100 in the country and the 33rd fastest in the world.

USA Swimming came calling a couple of weeks later.At the age of 31, Erndl is one of the oldest members of the U.S. National team, second only to 42-year-old phenomenon Dara Torres. And like Torres, Erndl is proving that some swimmers can improve with age.

Earlier this month, Erndl participated in her first USA Swimming national team retreat, which focused more on classroom sessions than workouts in the pool. She was one of 23 national team members at the event in Seattle. The average age of the national team swimmer is 20.

"I really, definitely would say that you can continue to get faster as you get older," Erndl said. "To an extent, I think that Dara's an amazing exception being 42, but I don't see why up to the age of 35 you can't continue to get stronger, why you can't continue to generate more power. And that's what the 100 free is all about."

A native of Gladwyne, Penn., Erndl, then known as Erika Acuff, started swimming when she was 6.

She still remembers her first competition. She swam the 25-yard freestyle at a meet with the Wilmington Aquatic Club in Delaware. She won the event and her competitive spirit was ignited.

Erndl was a four-year All-American at UNC, specializing in the individual medley and the breaststroke. Late in her senior year, Erndl retired from the sport after breaking her finger in a supposedly friendly game of basketball with her husband-to-be.

"I couldn't just play for fun,'' Erndl said. "I was competitive like I always am and I ran into him and broke my finger pretty bad.

"I thought it was a sign, like maybe I'm meant to be finished right now. I didn't feel ready to quit, but logically that's what everyone did. So I just stopped and never thought anything of it."

For four years, that is.

Erndl's competitiveness got the best of her yet again shortly after her return to swimming in 2005. Her husband convinced her to compete in a Masters championship meet in Fort Lauderdale. That was the beginning of the end of Erndl's retirement.

"She took second in an event there and she was highly irritated by that," Kevin Erndl said. "So she set some goals. She's always wanted to represent the U.S. in some way. I think it became a reality for her when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. That's when I saw her serious side come back out, and I knew she was committed.

"That's when she went all in."

Erndl started training with coach Darryl Sullivan of Swim Florida in 2006, while continuing her dry-land workouts with her husband. No longer teaching, Erndl spent all of her free time building strength and power into her 5-8, 140-pound frame.

She practiced alongside swimmers less than half her age. Erndl found herself serving as a sort of in-water coach for the adolescents and teenagers who shared her lanes. She found herself outpacing those youngsters, as well.

Initially, Erndl's focus was the IM, but after finishing in the top 40 of the 100 at the 2008 Trials, Erndl's mindset changed.

"I'd always been a good freestyler, but had never focused much of my training on it. I thought I'd still train in the IM, but it wasn't my main priority anymore," Erndl said.

In just over a year, she whittled 1.44 seconds off of her time in the 100 free.

As a member of the national team, Erndl is hoping access to things like blood-work analysis and elite swimming facilities will make her even faster. 

She is training exclusively with her husband again, hoping the less restrictive schedule will allow her more pool time and help her to concentrate on improving.

She still hangs out with teenagers occasionally, but it's as a coach for the Community School of Naples high school swim team.

Erndl and her husband aren't much for projections, but the London 2012 Olympic Games loom large in the distant future.

"It's out there,'' Kevin Erndl said. "It's a blip. It's part of the long-term focus, but we're worried more about the short term right now.''

When their alarm clock sounds these days, both Erndls are forced out of bed and into another long day of training.

"There's a lot of work ahead, but I'm excited about it," Erika Erndl said.

"I may not be the top person in my event, but I have this opportunity to work with the best of the best to try and get there,'' she added. "I've just got to keep chipping away."

Story courtesy  Red Line Editorial, Inc.  Annabelle Tometich is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

This article can be found here:  TeamUSA.org