By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Erika Erndl is taking a break from competitive swimming – and for a very good reason.
In just a few short months, the U.S. National Team member will welcome her first child into the world, and in order to allow her body time to adapt to her pregnancy, she had to cut down her training and put her swimming career on hold.
Due in October, she acknowledges being a mom may ultimately usurp any future thoughts or plans she has to continue racing toward her Olympic dream in 2016, but she also knows that it’s been done before – so why can’t she do it too?
“I would certainly never say never (to competing again) because there have been women like Dara (Torres), Amanda (Beard) and Megan (Jendrick) before me who have come back,” Erndl said. “What those women accomplished is incredible, and I have so much respect for them, especially now that I am going through this.
“I would love to compete again, but things will be very different. I am fortunate to have a lot of family support around me to help out if I want to train. Both of my parents live here in Naples and one of my sisters moved here about a year ago. But I know that my perspective will change as soon as I hold this baby for the first time. Right now my priority is to take care of him and stay healthy for him. I will have to wait and see what happens.”
Still months away from meeting her first child in person, Erndl continues to swim daily and works as a coach and lesson coordinator for the Naples (Fla.) Swim School.
Once he arrives (they are kicking around some names but haven’t decided upon one yet), Erndl said she already has had several parents and kids on the team who have offered to babysit while she swims or gives lessons.
“I've been fortunate to continue with my normal routine, including coaching and doing lessons as well as swimming,” said Erndl, an All-American at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “My doctor recommended that I tone down my training which was tough at first because I felt fine, but I really wasn't supposed to push myself more than about 80 percent effort. Early on, I would push myself for a 25 or a 50 just to see what I could do but lately it's become a bit more difficult to do that so I look at swimming more as exercise.
“It's been an amazing experience watching my body change to support this baby as well as an adjustment. I've had a very easy pregnancy so far. I wasn't too sick or tired, and up until recently, haven't felt too big but I'm starting to sport quite the belly.”
Having recently celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary to fellow UNC swimmer Kevin, Erndl said they always planned on having a family but she wasn’t ready to stop training and competing yet, especially with the next Olympic Trials just over two years away.
However, when she turned 35 last year, she said they realized that while she wants to keep swimming forever, they also didn’t want to be the parents at school mistaken for grandparents.
“We knew it was time after this past summer to readjust our priorities and start trying to have a family,” Erndl said. “I took a break from swimming until December after last summer, and was just starting to get back into fighting shape when I got pregnant.
“I had a really good workout on a Tuesday morning in February. The next day I was lethargic at practice. This wasn't a normal thing for me. It wasn't something that a long nap and a recovery day could cure. I took a test the next day and was really excited but not completely shocked because I had a feeling it may happen.”
Experiencing so much recent success in the later stages of her career has kept Erndl going and keeps her going if she decides to return to training and competition post-baby.
When she started experiencing success, it was difficult for her to have that feeling taken away.
It’s something she said she knows will influence her decision whether or not to make a run at the 2016 Rio Olympics in two years.
“I have been able to build on each of my experiences as an athlete and really mature and learn about myself, and not just as a swimmer but as a person,” said Erndl, who retired after college but returned in 2007. “The past couple of years, I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by incredible influences. I have a coach who showed me that I was capable of achieving things that I may not have realized on my own. I have also been blessed to have some really great teammates.
“Some of these girls have achieved things beyond what I was even striving for. They kept me going and motivated me to achieve more all the time. Some of those teammates are still my best friends. Above all, the support of my family, and, in particular, my husband, for supporting me on this journey made it possible for me to continue toward my dreams.”
And should we watch for the name Erndl on the U.S. National Team in 18 years or so considering mom and dad are both top caliber swimmers?
“My husband was also a swimmer at UNC, so maybe he will be a swimmer, but we will have to wait and see,” said Erndl, who said making the 2011 Pan American Team is the highlight of her swimming career thus far. “I'm sure that he will be around water a lot since we live in Florida, but who knows? He has already held up the number one finger in an ultra sound, so we are thinking he may be a bit competitive.”