By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala - Before her first day of 10th grade, Erin Falconer set a goal to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
Before her first day at Auburn, she achieved it.
Erin attended the 2012 trials in Omaha, Neb., supporting her brother Patrick, who swam at Michigan State.
“When I experienced that, it’s a meet like no other,” she says. “Once you go and watch it, without swimming, it makes you want to qualify even more.”
Four years later, Erin is going to back to Omaha, this time as a participant.
She qualified last summer in the 200 backstroke after graduating from high school near Chicago.
“It was probably one of the most exciting swims of my career,” Erin says.
Ironically, Erin says the 200 back is probably her second or third best event, behind the 200 and 400 freestyles.
The youngest of six siblings, including five collegiate swimmers, Erin never took lessons.
With a pool in the backyard, and all of those role models in the family, lessons were unnecessary.
“I honestly think I’m the swimmer I am today just from watching my siblings and seeing what they do that works. And what they did, that didn’t work,” she says. “And I really think that made me into a better swimmer.”
Falconer contributed immediately at Auburn, finishing second in the 200 free and 500 free in her first meet.
Being away from her close-knit family back in Illinois was a challenge, but Erin says coming to Auburn was a “smooth adjustment.”
“I found my place on the team really soon,” she says. “Found my place in how to interact with the coaches. And I think I’ve grown really strong relationships that really helped my swimming out.”
Erin believes the bonds Auburn’s freshmen formed last season will benefit the Tigers.
“I think that our future is really bright. This year, we had a lot of very good seniors, but we also had a lot of inexperienced freshmen. And I think that’s good. We are really strong in the swimming aspect. It’s just getting that experience.
“And I learned it myself, going to my first NCAAs. I walked in and I didn’t know what to expect. I still swam well, but you learn so much just from watching that,” Erin says. “And I think we have so much potential. Our team has a lot of talent. But not only talent, we have hard work. And I think the hard work is what’s going to really impact us in the future.”
That impact extends beyond the pool deck.
“Swimming has ultimately taught me how to deal with people,” she says. “How to deal with failure. How to bounce back from that and keep moving on. Just working hard. Not always with the acknowledgment. I think it’s a really good sport for patience.”
Erin says training for months to compete in races that end in minutes, or even seconds, instills discipline in swimmers. But it makes her unsympathetic to students who grumble about 8 a.m. classes.
“That’s the worst when people are complaining in class about that. I’m like, ‘I’ve been up for five hours,’” she says, smiling. “I’m going to be able to wake up for my job at 7 o’clock, and think, ‘I’m sleeping in.’”
Erin hopes all of her preparation will lead to a spot in the top 16, the semifinals, when the Olympic trials begin on June 26th.
“It’s potentially the fastest meet that you can ever go to, even more so than the Olympics,” she says. “Because a lot of the people could get eighth at the Olympic Trials and be eighth in the Olympics. It just depends. So, it’s pretty exciting. The top meet of our sport basically.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer