BY HANNAH PROCTER
Six high school state championships, two Division I National Championships, a best time at the 2008 Olympic trials after a career altering injury, all leading up to coaching at a Division III university. This is the story nearly every competitive swimmer dreams of telling. For Courtney Eronemo, this is not a dream; this is her reality.
Eronemo began swimming at age seven, when her family moved to their home in Kent, WA. Her father swam his entire life and wanted to teach Eronemo and her younger brother to swim. By the time Eronemo graduated from Kentwood High School in 2006, she had won six high school championships in six different events, a feat no swimmer had accomplished in the state of Washington at that time.
Eronemo had her pick of Division I universities from which to choose. “I didn’t apply to schools. I got to choose where I wanted to go to school,” she said. Ultimately, Eronemo chose the University of California-Berkeley. “I felt at home [at Cal]” Eronemo said. “I didn’t feel like the coach [Teri McKeever] was trying to sell herself and I saw the opportunity to grow as a person, not just get fast times.”
Though Eronemo could choose from thousands of swims, she sees her 2008 Olympic trials swim as her most successful. After a body boarding accident that broke her shoulder, Eronemo successfully overcame her injury to swim a best time in the 400 meter individual medley.
Eronemo graduated from Cal Berkeley in 2010 with a degree in microcellular biology. After spending a summer working in a lab, Eronemo moved back to Washington state. She said, “I didn’t know the next steps in my life. I’d always known I wanted to be a nurse, so I moved home to start applying to schools.” Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) was the first school to which she applied and upon her acceptance to the university, Eronemo got in contact with PLU head swim coach Matt Sellman.
“I wasn’t done with swimming,” Eronemo said. “I learned so much from swimming and I wanted to give the love and passion of swimming to others. I wanted to help them find it.”
For Sellman, bringing Eronemo onto the coaching staff was a no-brainer. “Her background as an elite, highly competitive athlete was appealing,” Sellman said. “Her personality matched the culture we were creating at PLU.”
Now in her second season of coaching at PLU, Eronemo has become “a sounding board to talk to about training and philosophy,” Sellman said. “She has helped create a program as solid as any in the country. Courtney has helped create a competitive culture within the women’s program here at PLU. She has shown that it is okay to be tough and competitive, all while being feminine.”
Kina Ackerman, a junior in her third year of swimming for PLU said, “[Eronemo] immediately earned the trust of the whole team. She was intimidating at first because of her experience. But we needed her. Courtney is the best of the best. She’s what we needed at a Division III school.”
When asked about the impact Eronemo has made on her athletes, Ackerman said, “[Eronemo] has raised the level of what kind of team we should to be. She knows each athlete and caters to our strengths. She knows exactly what I need for my swimming and is my biggest mental cheerleader.”
“When I coach, I don’t tell what I think, I ask what [the swimmers] think,” Eronemo says. “I want them to figure it out, not have the coach say it looks good. Teri [Eronemo’s coach at Cal] taught me to coach swimmers to be good people, not just good swimmers.”
Eronemo has favorite parts of coaching, as well. “At conference, I never looked at the clock. I looked at [the swimmer’s] face,” she said. ” To see their pride in their accomplishments made every 6 a.m. workout worth it.”
“I feel lucky to learn from the swimmers, as well as coach them,” Eronemo said. “I want to leave the swimmers as a part of their career when they were successful and I was a part of their learning.”
When asked Eronemo’s greatest strength, Sellman says, “Courtney has an innate ability to connect with people where they are at. You either have that or you don’t and Courtney’s got it.”