This month we are profiling Erica McLain. Before Erica became "Erica, the triple jumper" she was an elite-level gymnast training with renown Olympic coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. She picked up the triple jump in high school, earned three Texas state championships in the triple jump and NCAA indoor and outdoor titles while at Stanford with Coach Edrick Floreal. I personally remember the smile on Floreal's face when he told me she had signed with Stanford becoming one of the first of many Texas athletes under his tutelage.
Erica was a "regular" at NSSF indoor and outdoor national championships while in high school, jumping her way to several NSSF championship rings. She began her Team USA representation first as a 16 year old on the World Junior team in 2002 and followed-up with the World Championships in 2003, another World Juniors in 2004 and World Championships in 2005. In between she won two outdoor national championships and later made the 2008 Olympic team. Her 47'-11" wind-aided jump is number 2 all-time under any conditions for an American female triple jumper. Recently, however, her dreams for the 2012 Olympics were shattered by a gut-wrenching injury. Undaunted, Erica continues onward! Be sure to visit her blog and see the Resources at the bottom of this article.
We recently quizzed Erica on her thoughts surrounding her life in track and field.
NSSF: Who inspired you to run track?
Erica: I can't say I was really "inspired" by a particular person. I've always been involved with sports and got curious about track in middle school, because it was the spring season sport after volleyball and basketball finished up. It wasn't until my freshman year of high school when I learned about the triple jump simply by during some of my gymnastics moves around the track.
NSSF: What was it like being a student athlete and running at your high school?
Erica: My high school, Plano East Senior High, was loaded with some amazing athletes. My best friend in high school, Terrence Wheatley, was also a triple jumper. It was fun to have a “partner-in-crime” as well as someone to constantly challenge me to push myself to jump farther. It helped that he was also a nerd, like me, so I didn't feel like such an outcast all the time. I was always the one at the meets doing homework under the bleachers. Although I had a great team, I spent the majority of my high school track days training away from my high school with a private coach named John Turek. I am thankful to have had such a knowledgable coach who not only helped me on the track, but also guided me through the college application process.
NSSF: What was it like being a student-athlete and running at Stanford?
Erica: Competing for Stanford was an honor that I will cherish forever. I never regretted my decision to be a Cardinal even once. My coach, Edrick Floreal, is phenomenal. And to be surrounded by the intelligent, competitive and talented student-athletes that comprised the Stanford team, created a wonderful environment (and family) that I could learn from both on and off the track. We really were family, complete with dysfunctional moments and all the love that makes it all worth it.
NSSF: What is your favorite memory from high school?!
Erica: Wow. That's a tough one... I would have to say the day I got the call from Coach Floreal that I had been accepted to Stanford. I was in Walmart, buying candy, and when he told me over the phone, I shrieked at the top of my lungs, right into his ear and ran up and down the aisles of Walmart giggling my head off.
NSSF: What is your favorite memory from college?
Erica: My last jump of my collegiate career to win the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, IA. I wasn't having my best day, but I had already won the competition. On my last jump, I stepped on to the run way and got the crowd clapping. I had never done that before, but I figured, "What the heck. It's the last jump I'll ever take in a Stanford uniform; LET'S HAVE SOME FUN!" With the energy of the crowed, I soared to a mark of 47'11". It was unfortunately wind aided, but still 6 inches of the American record and the 2nd longest jump under any conditions by an American female triple jumper.
NSSF: What was your most exciting event or race?
Erica: I definitely have to say representing the US in Beijing in the 2008 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, I had torn my hamstring just before going over, so I was unable to compete at my best. Nevertheless, it was still an amazing experience.
NSSF: What have you been doing since you left college and how long have you been doing it?
Erica: I am still playing in a sandbox. I have been fortunate enough to be sponsored by Nike since graduating from Stanford in 2008. I finished my 2010 season by ranking 12th in the world in the triple jump. In March 2011, I suffered a traumatic ankle injury that ended my season before it had a chance to begin. I’m currently rehabbing and training towards my dream of making a second Olympic team. It’s been a long, tough year trying to recover from the ankle dislocation but I’m staying positive. I started a blog, www.eahops.com, to share my story.
Outside of track, I do a lot of volunteer work and have done a bit of coaching in volleyball, basketball, and mostly recently, track. I also started my own personal training business.
NSSF: What advice would you give to other student athletes?
Erica: Be curious!!! Ask questions! It's often not enough to just expect your coach to get you into summer meets and a college. I've come across so many athletes who've never heard of the USATF Junior National meet. That's how I got my true start in track and made my first IAAF Junior World team at the age of 16. Track is an individual sport and you have to be accountable for your individual success to a large degree. Don’t just sit back and expect everything to be handled for you. Be proactive. Be coachable. Be eager to excel.
Photo credit: Victah Sailer for PhotoRun