By Reed Shimberg
PHOENIX, Arizona, July 19. ERIKA Erndl had an illustrious high school and college career but had decided that she would retire from swimming more than 10 years ago. Well, she is back in the sport and succeeding at a greater level than ever before, and she took time out to speak with Swimming World.
Erndl qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials and swam well yet failed to make the Olympic team. But more importantly, she was back in the sport and she was loving it. She decided to have her husband, Kevin, who had swam at UNC with her, be her primary coach and they set off on a path to have Erndl achieve the most success possible.
After a disappointing World Championship Trials in 2009, Erndl knew she had more in her. She went to the U.S. Open with the goal of swimming faster. And that she certainly did. Aside from setting multiple U.S. Open records, she won the 100 freestyle and qualified for the National Team in a time that would have put on the World Championship Team that swam in Rome.
This summer, she is back with the same goal: make a US international team and represent her country at an elite level international swim meet. At nationals, she will be focusing on the 100 and 200 freestyle while also swimming the 50 freestyle and possibly the 100 fly and 200 IM. I caught up with Erndl just a few weeks before nationals to see what she was up to and how she was doing.
What is it like having your husband as your coach?
Having my husband as a coach has been unbelievable so far. He knows me really well and he knows how to challenge me. We are also able to communicate a lot since we are married. Kevin is the type of coach that tries to figure things out which keeps practices interesting and fun. Most importantly, he's an intelligent coach and I trust him completely. Our team also recently brought on Paul Yetter as our head coach, and he gives us a resource to discuss training and race preparation which is great.
How much success did you have at UNC?
While I would consider my collegiate career at UNC successful, I would say that I have built on and surpassed that success since coming out of retirement. I was a seven-time first team All American and I won 15 conference titles. I was part of a tremendous team that I had the opportunity to Co-Captain. Some of my recent success I think is because of the experiences I had as a collegiate athlete. When my collegiate career ended, I remember thinking that I was not finished and that I was capable of accomplishing more.
How much success did you have as a high schooler?
I went to 1996 Olympic Trials in the 200 IM and I was a National qualifier in five events. I was good swimmer in high school, but I also played field hockey all four years, and have been steadily improving since high school.
Was Dara Torres an inspiration for you to get back in the pool?
I decided to get back in the pool after about five years off when Kevin started coaching Masters. Then I got the bug and made the goal to try to make Olympic Trials again in 2008. So, while Dara was not the reason that I got back in, she has inspired me to try to reach a higher level. Dara's idea that you should never give up on yourself and not allowing age to put limits on your dreams does fuel me. I definitely believe that.
What does it mean to you to finally make the national team?
The opportunity has been tremendous to be able to be exposed to some of the resources that USA Swimming has to offer through their coaches, support staff, as well as the camps I have attended. I feel fortunate to be exposed to so many resources and view them as opportunities to improve to get to the next level of swimming.
Can you tell us a little about what kind of training you do now and how it is the same/different from what you did in high school/college?
The training that I do now is very different from what I did in high school and in college. Up until this year, I have not focused on training freestyle. I have always been an IMer or breastroker or butterflyer which I think is to my advantage now. I still do some stroke in practice for cross training and fitness purposes but most of my training is freestyle. I think the one constant is that I have always and continue to kick a lot in practice.
Since Kevin has been coaching me since last July, everything I do is very calculated. Sometimes I am working on my stroke and sometimes we are measuring things to track my progress. We identify my goals and figure out what it's going to take to get there. I focus a lot on measureable improvements in practices and have a long term outlook when it comes to training.
Once we decide what I'm trying to accomplish, Kevin's approach is very granular in that we can break down the events into small increments and know how fast I need to be at each part of the race. I need to know that I can travel at those speeds and to sustain them in my races so there's a combination of threshold, power and speed based training that allows me to get there.
What are your goals for this summer?
I always want to improve and do personal-best times, so my goal is to go faster than last summer. If I do that then I will put myself in the position to represent the USA internationally which would be a tremendous honor.
What is your favorite event and why?
My favorite event is the 200 freestyle because it isn't too short but yet it is important to have early speed to be successful. I think it's a difficult event to master and I am still working on learning how to improve the way I swim it.
What were your expectations going into the U.S. Open in 2009? Did you have any idea it would be your breakout meet?
After a somewhat disappointing World Championship Trials meet, I felt like I could go faster and I knew that my limits hadn't been reached. The U.S. Open presented the next opportunity for me to race. I went into the U.S. Open knowing that I could put myself on the National Team and that it would be a breakthrough for me, but that wasn't necessarily my focus. I went into the meet knowing that I was going to swim really fast for myself and I tried to relax and have a great time.
What benefits does being on the national team have and have you taken advantage of any of them?
I think that USA Swimming has a lot of tremendous resources available and the support staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. The resources are all really great and I think I have taken advantage of a lot of them. Going to the meets and having the ability to review video of my races is very helpful. Also having race stats so that I can evaluate my performances to try to improve is great. Having a massage therapist is also amazing. The camps I have attended have been wonderful experiences so I am definitely taking advantage of the opportunities available to me as a National Team member.