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HR Director Lapping Up Athletic Success
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  5/29/2012
 

Editor's Note:  On Sunday, July 1, 2012, Braun tied for 116th place out of 154 swimmers in the 50-meter freestyle event at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., making her ineligible to advance in the competition.

Erika L. Braun, PHR, knows how to make a big splash.

The HR director at Golden Corral Corp. in Raleigh, N.C., is headed to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials—Swimming June 26 through July 2, 2012, in Omaha, Neb., competing in the 50-meter freestyle.

Braun’s event is July 1. Top finishers progress to the semifinals that day; top finishers of the semifinals advance to the finals July 2. Those top two finishers represent the U.S. at the Olympics in England. 

The 40-year-old former high school and collegiate competitor returned to the sport in November 2003 when, at 31, she decided to train for a triathlon at a friend’s urging.

Getting back in the water “really invigorated my love of the sport,” said the Society for Human Resource Management and North Carolina SHRM chapter member. She never did compete in a triathlon.

“I fell back into competitive swimming and never looked back.”

It had been 12 years since she left competitive swimming as a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Georgia, where she had earned a swim scholarship. Juggling academics and her training and competition schedule had become too challenging; after two years of collegiate competition, Braun chose academics over sport.

“I had accomplished a lot in my swim career at that point,” she said, including qualifying at 16 for the 1988 Olympic Swim Trials in Austin, Texas, while a high school junior in Minnesota. She also earned a swim scholarship to Georgia, where she competed for two years.

She then gave swimming a wide berth for a dozen years.

“I may have jumped in a pool at a party … but I didn’t swim any laps,” she said with a laugh. “I never put on a [swim] cap and goggles and swam a lap since leaving Georgia.”

When she returned to competitive swimming, it was on a Masters team—for swimmers 18 and older—in Raleigh, N.C. There were challenges, she found, such as building up her endurance to train, working to make her stroke more efficient, and adjusting to a changing sport.

“Our sport has continually progressed. My stroke and head position I used way back when has totally changed. I kind of had to re-learn the way I swam,” she explained.

In the Swim of Things

Braun began noticing on the Excel spreadsheet where she logged her times that she was getting faster. At the 2010 U.S. Masters Nationals, she was speedier than in her teen and college years, and a fellow master swimmer urged her to shoot for the Olympic trials.

“It just kind of dawned on me at that point it was an achievable goal.”

She went on to win four races and placed second in two others at the U.S. Masters Spring Short Course National Championships in Mesa, Ariz., in April 2011. 

She stepped up her training and a year later while preparing to qualify for the Olympic Trials, Braun won national championships in all six of her individual events at the U.S. Masters Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.

While there she also broke a national record in the 100-meter individual medley and swam personal best times in all six events. 

She trains four to five times a week in the water and three times a week with her performance and nutrition coach. Her workouts are before and after work—5:30 a.m. and 6:45 p.m.

She trains with the Raleigh Area Masters, which includes a range of swimming levels and ages, and the senior team of the Marlins of Raleigh, a USA Swimming age group team made up of competitive swimmers. The senior team is made up of swimmers age 15 to 18.

Recalling her decision two decades ago to leave swimming, Braun reflected that “at age 20, I never in a million years would have dreamt I would have been back at this point,” heading once again to the Olympic Trials.

It’s been rewarding, she said, to achieve a goal that she set for herself and worked hard to achieve. She is quick, though, to squelch any discussion of advancing to the U.S. Olympic team.

“This is a part-time gig for me,” she said, noting that there are elite swimmers in the running. Among them is Dara Torres, 45, in the 50-meter competition. Torres has set three world records and has won 12 Olympic medals, including the 50-meter freestyle race at Beijing in 2008, where she missed winning the gold medal by 1/100th of a second.

Braun’s husband Eric and other family members will be in Omaha cheering her on. Braun’s employer of 12 years has been very supportive, she said.

“They’ve certainly been there for me,” she said of Golden Corral Corp., which permits her to take time off to travel to a meet. “One of our beliefs … is we never stop striving to improve. I think everyone should embrace that.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

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