Erika Ackerlund: The Triathlon Champion
One hour, one minute, and twenty-seven seconds. That's all it took for junior Erika Ackerlund to eclipse forty-seven other competitors and secure the title at the Women's Collegiate Triathlon National Championship. In that time, Erika completed a four hundred meter swim in open, choppy water, biked twenty kilometers, and ended with a five kilometer run. Not bad for someone who had only participated in the event once before, placing eleventh.
She didn't take her preparations for the Championship lightly. Erika maintained a rigorous schedule of two or three training sessions a day: swimming in the morning, and running and/or biking in the afternoon. "That was my main focus of last fall," she says. However, it wasn't her only focus. As an Exercise Science major and Presidential Leadership Scholar, Erika still had her GPA and homework to worry about. Finding a balance between the intensive training and her studies was challenging, she says. While she'd been training with a coach since her first year at UM, this balance was "definitely something I learned." During her sophomore year, Erika added classes to an already-full schedule, and describes it as a year of "go, go, go." So, she pared down her classes so that they were manageable and yet still put her on track to graduate as a University Scholar.
Erika relies on an innate sense of structure to help her maintain this hard-earned balance. "I grew up going to Montessori school," she says, and that educational approach had an effect on the way that she organizes her world. "Every day I have a plan. I could probably tell you on Monday what I'm going to be doing on Thursday." A supportive family has also helped. Erika's parents have always encouraged her to participate in endurance sports, starting with long hikes when she was young. It was her mother who actually told her about UM's Triathlon Club, provoking in her daughter a deep passion for the sport. Erika says she likes the focus, "the feeling of pushing really hard and still hitting times."
It's a good thing she loves it, because Erika has more races coming up: the Camtri U23 American Championships for athletes under the age of twenty-three, and, ideally, the U23 Worlds Championships after that. And, she's been accepted into the Major League Triathlon: a relay race of shorter triathlon events, involving eight teams of four athletes each. The goal is to make triathlons more accessible and spectator-friendly. She has much to forward to in the next year. But even with all of the training on the horizon, Erika has yet another wish. "If I could add skiing to the triathlon, I definitely would."